Helicopter Career Opportunities
Vehicle Tracking: Due to the high rate of vehicle theft and hijacking, most car insurance companies require that a vehicle is fitted with a tracking devise. Helicopters fitted with radio receivers are used extensively to track stolen vehicles due to their versatility and superb manoeuvrability. The vehicle tracking helicopter pilot must be able to think on-the-go as the nature of the job is unpredictable and there is no time for extensive planning before getting airborne. A great opportunity for new commercial helicopter pilots, despite long shifts and often fairly low pay, this job is an ideal experience-builder as it requires flying day or night in all types of weather conditions and anywhere within a 500km radius from base. The busy cockpit environment, where the pilot is simultaneously monitoring air traffic and company ground crew while continually calculating fuel, distance and weather conditions is the perfect training ground for more complex operational flying.
Helicopter Charters/Sightseeing: Another ideal job for commercial pilots looking to build time and experience, charter flying is much like on-demand air taxis. Usually a helicopter charter trip is a relatively short hop due to the expense of hiring a helicopter, but can be several hundred miles long. One of the advantages of using a helicopter over an aeroplane for charter flying is that a helicopter can land in tight, confined areas, inaccessible to other modes of transport. Generally flying below 1000ft above ground, the scenic view from a helicopter is unparalleled and passengers have a bird’s eye view of an area from a perspective that most people never see.
Helicopter Flight Instructor: A very fulfilling career for those who have an aptitude for teaching. Although you can begin to instruct immediately after passing your commercial licence, it is a good idea to gain a few hundred hours of operational flying experience first. Flight Instructors teach students all of the required practical flight manoeuvres and the theoretical knowledge necessary to pass the various CAA examinations and flight tests. Becoming a flight instructor is a very good way to hone your flying skills; an instructor is always leading by an exacting example and is always up-to-speed on how to respond in any emergency situation because he/she is continuously demonstrating and teaching the correct recovery techniques. Besides being fairly well paid, the working hours are excellent and you are seldom away from home. Patience, people skills and the ability to communicate clearly are essential for this career.
EMS/ Air Ambulance: EMS (Emergency Medical Services) flying is a very challenging and rewarding career and helicopter pilots who choose this path have the added benefit of knowing that they’re helping people in need and saving lives. EMS pilots perform a number of functions most notably responding to life threatening emergencies but they also provide other services such as non-emergency medical transport. EMS pilots are highly skilled and experienced, so while this is not a start-up job, it is a position to aspire to once you have gained the necessary experience and flying time.
Off-shore: Off-shore oil support helicopter pilots fly in support of the oil and gas industry. They perform numerous functions but the two most common are transporting equipment and personnel to and from oil rigs from strategically located shore bases. Off-Shore flying is the biggest employer of helicopter pilots worldwide and as the need for energy increases the need for more pilots to support the energy industry will also increase. Globally there are many locations such as the Gulf coast, the North Sea, Indonesia, Alaska and Nigeria to name a few. A wide variety of both light single engine and medium twin engine helicopters are used to support the industry. If a career as an off-shore oil support pilot interests you, you’re entering at a good time as there is currently a lack of pilots as increasing numbers of veteran pilots retire. Typically a high-skill, high-hour job, but most pilots begin as a co-pilot to learn the ropes when entering this field.
Helicopter Aerial Filming: Most major sporting events and movies rely heavily on aerial shots. The life of an aerial filming pilot can be exciting but it can also consist of very long days and lots of travel. Long days at movie shoots in remote locations, often with tedious repetitions keep many pilots from pursuing this line of work. For the person willing to make the required sacrifices, a career as helicopter pilot flying for the film industry is both exciting and lucrative.
Fire Fighting: Aerial fire-fighting is probably one of the most exciting career types a helicopter pilot can have. Fire-fighting helicopter pilots battle forest fires predominantly but there have been instances where helicopters are used to put out fires in high rise buildings. Helicopters are the ideal platform to combat blazes in remote locations. Aircraft can be dispatched to attack a small fire before it’s able to grow and are also ideal when fighting a specific portion of a larger fire. Pilots usually work six months a year (during the fire season), which leaves them time to pursue other interests. During the fire season they are mostly away from home for extended periods of time and are often based in remote locations.
Game Capture, Crop Spraying, Power Line/ Pipeline Inspection: These are aerial jobs that only a helicopter can perform. All of them require a great deal of risk-taking as they are performed at very low level and are considered to be operating within the “Dead Man’s Curve” where a safe recovery in the event of an engine failure is marginal and the risk of flying into wires, obstacles and terrain is higher. This type of pilot needs to be both highly skilled, super alert and have a very good understanding of the micro-meteorology of wind and its effects on the helicopter.