How to Become a Helicopter Pilot

If you are passionate about flying and if you are not very keen on regular office job, you may consider becoming a helicopter pilot. This could be a dream job for those who wish to fly helicopter and possess excellent hand-to-eye coordination.

A helicopter pilot is a trained professional who flies single and multi-engine helicopters for business, leisure or emergency response purposes.


As a helicopter pilot, you are expected to perform various tasks such as:

Before take-off

  • To check weather conditions and airspace restrictions along your planned route
  • To work out fuel requirements and maximum loads
  • Drafting flight plans
  • To check various equipments and instruments
  • To carry out safety checks
  • To gain take off clearance from air traffic control
  • Lead crew and team members

During flight

  • To navigate, control height and speed
  • To communicate with air traffic controllers

After landing

To complete post-flight paperwork

Working Conditions

Your flight duties generally include working days, nights or weekends. When covering longer distances, you may have to stay away from home for nights.

You spend most of your time in the helicopter's cockpit. You are expected to deal with cramped and noisy conditions all the time. You may have to wear a survival suit if you are working as an offshore pilot.


Your income may vary depending upon your area of work.

Starting level 

 Up to £25,000 a year

Pilots on passenger-carrying craft

 £45,000 to £60,000 a year

You may get extra earnings through allowances paid for overnight stays or visits to inhospitable areas.


Skills and Interests Needed

To be a helicopter pilot, it is vital that you demonstrate the following:

  • Ability to make rational judgments
  • Excellent hand-to-eye co-ordination
  • Spatial awareness
  • Responsible attitude towards work
  • Be able to concentrate for longer hours
  • Calmness
  • Be able to handle difficult situations and act decisively at the time of any crisis
  • Impeccable communication skills
  • Team working skills

Job Requirements

To become a helicopter pilot, you must be over 18 and hold a license by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA).

JAA licenses are issued and enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). You may train yourself for a:

  • Private Pilot's License – PPL(H) – to be used as a first step to commercial flying but does not allow you to charge for services
  • Commercial Pilot License – CPL(H) – the standard license needed to fly for a living
  • Advanced Airline Transport Pilot License – ATPL(H) – the senior license required for piloting two-crew helicopters

To be eligible for a CPL (H) training course, you generally need five GCSEs (A-C), including English, Mathematics and Physics, or equivalent qualifications. You are also required to get through aptitude and medical tests.

If you have a Private Pilot's License, you may then apply for commercial training to gain the CPL (H). You may have to complete some pre- course training to prove your mettle. Another way to receive training is to sign up for pilot training with the armed forces.

You may consider referring to British Helicopter Association and Flying Start for more details on this career.


There are options for either an integrated or modular training.

You may take this course to train yourself to the basic level of proficiency needed for a CPL (H). The key features are:

  • A minimum of 135 hours' flight training
  • 500 hours' theoretical knowledge
  • Duration of full-time course: 12 months

This is for those who already have a Private Pilot's License and need to reach the level needed to obtain a CPL (H). Its key features are:

  • A minimum of 155 hours' flying experience
  • A 35-hour commercial flying course
  • 500 hours of theoretical knowledge
  • Nine written exams and a skill test
  • Duration of full-time course: At least 9 months

Career Prospects

In this profession, you normally start your job as a co-pilot. With experience you may be able to progress to a captain’s position.

You may also get opportunities to do administrative jobs or you may start your own business in the future. You may provide recreational flights or freight services. You may also choose to become a flying instructor.

Lastly, this job is only for very passionate individuals and involves a lot of risk. You need to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.


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