Helicopter pilots fly helicopters for business, leisure or emergency response purposes.

What does a helicopter pilot do?

This role would involve flying single- and multi-engined helicopters to transfer oil rig workers to an offshore platform, or ferry business clients between cities as part of a charter service, for example.

The main responsibilities before a flight would include:

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

During the flight, helicopter pilots use a range of instruments to navigate, control height and speed, and communicate with air traffic controllers.

After landing, they would complete all post-flight paperwork before preparing for the next flight. This would include a duty hours log. Helicopter pilots may work alone or as part of a captain-and-co-pilot team on a larger helicopter.

What do I need to do to become a helicopter pilot?

To fly a helicopter you must be over 18 and licensed by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). JAA licences are issued and enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). You could train for a:

  • Private Pilot's Licence, PPL(H), which you can use as a first step to commercial flying but does not allow you to charge for services
  • Commercial Pilot Licence, CPL(H), which is the standard licence needed to fly for a living

For entry onto a CPL(H) training course you would normally need five GCSEs (A-C), including English, maths or physics, or equivalent qualifications. You will also have to pass aptitude and medical tests.

Training for a commercial licence is expensive and you will normally have to fund it yourself. Occasionally, company sponsorships are offered, but these are quite rare. You could take a trial lesson with a flight school to make sure this is the right career for you before making the financial commitment to a full course.

If you already have a Private Pilot's Licence you could apply for commercial training to gain the CPL(H). The flight school would assess your skills, and could ask you to take some pre-course training to prove you have the level of ability and skills required.

Another way to gain flying experience is to sign up for pilot training with the armed forces. Visit the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force job profiles for more information.

Take a look at the British Helicopter Association (BHA) and Flying Start websites for more details about careers and flight training centres.

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Discipline
  • Teamwork

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs (A-C), including English, maths or physics, or equivalent qualifications

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

Most of your time would be spent in the helicopter's cockpit, where conditions can be cramped and noisy. If you work as an offshore pilot, you would be expected to wear a survival suit.

Some jobs over longer distances could involve overnight stays away from home.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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