There are some jobs that pass you buy – you take them for granted without a thought or care for those who actually do them. One of these jobs is power line helicopter piloting. Some would say you’d have to be nuts to do it. Yet those who do it love the challenge and the adrenalin rush they experience when doing the work. They are also motivated by the fact that they are providing an extremely valuable service to society; one that few can or will do. Power lines serve many hundred thousands of people; power companies cannot easily shut them down- not least because the cost impact of that - so repairs and routine maintenance are done when the lines are live. Here’s a quick summary of what you need to know about power line helicopter piloting.
What does a power line helicopter pilot do?
Power line helicopter pilots fly qualified electrical engineers to live, high voltage (230,000 volts or more) power lines in order to inspect and repair faults in power lines. These tremendously skilled pilots fly perilously close - often just a few inches - to these live wires: a wrong move or turn could prove fatal. The electrician tasked with doing the engineering work sits on a platform of the helicopter to perform his repairs. Watch this extraordinary video by Yakui Sama of a power line helicopter pilot and his engineer in action.
In the UK, power line pilots earn in the region of £50,000 - £70,000 a year (source: Guardian).
Skills and attributes required
- Calm under pressure – repairs are conducted within inches of the live wires
- Strong spatial awareness
- A high regard for safety
- Quick thinking and good judgement
- Excellent communication skills
Qualifications and entry requirements
To fly a helicopter you are required to be at least 18 years old and have five GCSEs, which must include English, mathematics and physics. You will also need a pilot’s licence. Here are the key requirements:
- A private helicopter pilot
- An EASA/JAR commercial pilot’s licence
For the specific role of power line helicopter pilot, companies typically require the following (source: Aviation Job Search):
- 2,000 total helicopter hours , which should include flying in obstructed areas and close to the ground
- At least 500 “multi-engine helicopter hours”
- Experience of flying the specific helicopters used for power line inspections
Before you undergo any training, it is advisable to undertake pilot aptitude tests. Training for a commercial pilot’s licence is costly and you will typically have to pay for it yourself. If you have the aptitude to be a pilot and are aware of the financial commitment required to train as a pilot, you can look towards training. You could pursue one of two routes to training: the integrated option, which takes about a year to complete, or the modular route, which allows you to complete the training in your own time.
There is no linear career development path for power line helicopter pilots in the UK - though many will become trainers of other pilots seeking to become power line pilots.
Job opportunities are plenty. As power line helicopter pilots are so highly skilled and have clocked up such a prodigious number of flying hours, there are many opportunities to work in other specialist fields: search and rescue; aerial photography and filming; oil and natural gas industries - the largest employers of helicopter pilots; and emergency medical services, amongst others (Mauna Loa Heliopters).
The job of power line helicopter pilot is not for the fainthearted. But if you love flying and are attracted to the idea of a lucrative, exciting and challenging flying career, this could be the job for you.