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Helicopter pilot

Helicopter pilots fly single- and multi-engined helicopters for business, leisure or emergency response.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £25,000 - £45,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

To fly helicopters for a living, you’ll need to be 18 and hold a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL(H)) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

To get on to a CPL(H) training course you’ll usually need:

  • GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English, maths or science 
  • to pass skills tests and a thorough medical assessment
  • a minimum of 155 hours’ flying time

The number of flying hours needed may be lower for trained aeroplane pilots.

You could train for a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL(H)) as a first step to commercial flying. 

Training is expensive and you’ll usually have to fund it yourself.

You could also join the army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force as a trainee pilot.

The British Helicopter Association has more information about becoming a helicopter pilot.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • excellent hand-to-eye co-ordination and spatial awareness
  • good concentration skills
  • the ability to remain calm in a crisis and act decisively
  • communication skills
  • sound judgement

3. What you'll do

Your main responsibilities before a flight would include:

  • checking weather conditions and airspace restrictions along your planned route
  • filing flight plans with authorities
  • working out fuel requirements and maximum load
  • checking the helicopter's equipment and instruments
  • carrying out safety checks
  • gaining clearance from air traffic control

During the flight, you’ll use instruments to navigate, control height and speed, and communicate with air traffic controllers.

After landing, you’d complete paperwork before preparing for the next flight. This will include a duty hours log. 

You may work alone or as a captain and co-pilot team on a larger helicopter.

4. Salary

Starter: £25,000 (newly qualified)

Experienced: £45,000 (helicopter pilots carrying people)

There is no set income for helicopter pilots as it depends on your area of work.

You may be paid allowances for overnight stays or visits to inhospitable areas.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

With experience, you could combine flying with ground duties, recruitment or training. 

You could also start your own business providing recreational flights or freight services, or become a flying instructor.

6. Career path and progression

With experience, you could combine flying with ground duties, recruitment or training.

You could also start your own business providing recreational flights or freight services, or become a flying instructor.

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Last updated: 22 August 2017