How to Become a Helicopter Pilot in Canada or the U.S.


Becoming a professional helicopter pilot doesn’t require formal education, although the training you’ll need requires investing a substantial amount time, effort and money. You’ll need good hand-eye co-ordination, many hours of practice, and between $50,000 and $120,000 to get started in this career.


If you want to become a helicopter pilot, you'll first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. Does the following describe you?


• You enjoy the idea of operating aircraft for a living

• You are comfortable with heights and loud noises

• You are willing to pursue a career path wherein job postings are highly competitive

• You are able to keep calm and be decisive in difficult and stressful situations

• You are willing to take responsibility for the well-being of a helicopter, its cargo, crew and passengers

• You are able to remain mentally and physically alert for long periods of time

• You have excellent hand-eye coordination and a good sense of spatial orientation


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a helicopter pilot. We've also included helpful occupational information, such as salary expectations, an outline of the skills you’ll need, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Helicopter Pilot

To work in this field, you'll likely need a high school diploma. Very few employers will require you to have a post-secondary diploma or degree of any kind, although many will consider it an asset. Although you likely won't need formal education to get started in this career, the training for becoming a professional helicopter pilot requires investing a substantial amount time, effort and money.





General Job Description

Helicopter pilots are responsible for transporting passengers and freight by helicopter. Helicopter pilots may work alone, or in a captain and co-pilot team on a larger helicopter.


During the flight, they use a range of instruments to control the height and speed of the helicopter, navigate, and communicate with air traffic controllers. After landing, they are responsible for completing all post-flight paperwork, which typically includes a duty hours log.


Helicopter pilots may fly single and multi-engine helicopters for a wide variety of commercial, leisure, military, or emergency response purposes, such as:


• Aerial surveys

• Aerial tours and sightseeing (also known as "heli tours")

• Agricultural spraying

• Charter transport (such as flying to offshore oil rigs)

• Combat and troop transport

• Commercial aviation

• Forest firefighting

• Heavy lifting (such as "heli logging")

• Hospital patient transport

• Law enforcement

• News and traffic reporting

• Search and rescue



Typical Job Duties

The job duties of a helicopter pilot can vary greatly from one job to another, depending on a variety of factors. In general however, they are responsible for performing the following duties:


• Checking weather conditions and airspace restrictions along the planned route

• Determining fuel requirements and maximum loads

• Checking the helicopter's equipment and instruments

• Performing safety checks

• Instructing passengers on safety

• Gaining clearance from air traffic control to take off

• Operating the helicopter

• Conducting training programs for junior-level pilots

• Supervising flight crews

• Filling out and filing post-flight paperwork



Licensing Needed

Below are the general licensing requirements for becoming a professional helicopter pilot in Canada and the United States. Please note, this is general information that does not cover every exception or detail, it is only meant to provide a general understanding.


Canada: In Canada, helicopter pilots must be licensed by Transport Canada as a Commercial Helicopter Pilot. To qualify for a license, you must be over 18, and you must complete a 100-hour long course, which takes 3-6 months to complete, and costs somewhere between $50,000 and $90,000 (depending on the types of helicopters used for training). Several Transport Canada accredited helicopter flight schools within Canada offer these training courses.


United States: All professional helicopter pilots in the United States must at least have a Commercial Rotorcraft License, which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A Commercial Rotorcraft License can be acquired through a number of different FAA accredited helicopter flight schools. To qualify for a Commercial Rotorcraft License, you must meet the following criteria:


• Be at least 18 years old

• Be able to read, write, understand, and speak English

• Hold at least a private pilot license for any category of aircraft

• Hold a current FAA Medical Certificate

• Have at least 150 hours total flight time (including night flying, solo time, etc.)

• Complete ground instruction on the required subjects with a Certified Flight or Ground Instructor

• Receive a grade of 90% or better on the FAA Commercial Pilot Helicopter Written Knowledge test

• Pass an FAA oral and practical flight test with an FAA Designated Examiner 



Personal & Professional Interests You Should Have

In order to take enjoyment from a career as a helicopter pilot, your interests should align with this career, as should what you can tolerate within the day-to-day work:


• Enjoy talking to people (applicable to roles such as helicopter-tour guides)

• Willing to travel cross-border

• Comfortable with heights and loud noises

• Enjoy operating aircraft and related equipment

• Enjoy evaluating aircraft performance

• Willing to pursue a highly competitive career, with low employment prospects

• Willing to “build time” (accumulate hours and hours of flight training and experience)

• Able to keep calm and be decisive in difficult and stressful situations

• Willing to take responsibility for the helicopter, cargo, crew and passengers





Experience Needed

Many employers prefer to hire helicopter pilots with a certain amount of flight experience that is above and beyond what is required to become licensed. Depending on the job and the employer, this may range from 200 to 2,500 hours of flight experience.


Getting a job as a helicopter pilot is extremely competitive, especially for highly sought after jobs like search and rescue, and hospital transport. Because of the high level of competition for these jobs, the more experienced you are, the better your job prospects will be.


Success Tips:


• Odd jobs are a great way to gain flight experience, such as jobs transporting helicopters for maintenance

• Helicopter flight schools may be the easiest to get a job with once you qualify as a licensed pilot

• Buying your own helicopter is one way to gain hours of flight experience



Typical Salary Level

The salary level of helicopter pilots can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of experience and aptitude

• The region in which they work

• The specific responsibilities of their job

• The size and type of their employer


Helicopter Pilot Salary - Canada: According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors occupational group earn an average salary of $64,265 per year. In British Columbia, those working in the same occupational group earn an annual provincial median salary of $66,664 (according to WorkBC). Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (September 15, 2019).


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers is $115,670 per year (May, 2018 figures).



Skills Needed to Be Successful

Becoming a competent helicopter pilot requires a certain set of physical and mental skills. Some of these skills come to helicopter pilots naturally, and others are gained as the result many hours of training and practice.


• A good sense of spatial orientation

• Excellent hand-eye coordination

• Able to distinguish between colours

• Able to remain attentive for long periods

• Customer service skills

• Able to effectively deal with people when they are stressed and aggressive

• Able to work effectively with personnel ranging from labourers to company presidents

• Able to work for long periods without supervision

• Precise mental and physical coordination (such as when spinning a basketball on your finger and reciting the alphabet backwards simultaneously)



Who Employs Helicopter Pilots?

Jobs for helicopter pilots can either be found with civilian organizations or with the military. They may be employed on a part-time, full-time, or contractual basis.


Civilian Route: From transporting hospital patients during emergencies, to reporting on traffic conditions, there are a wide variety of jobs available for professional helicopter pilots in the civilian area. The following types of organizations employ civilian helicopter pilots:


• Flight instruction schools (often the first job you can get when you qualify as a pilot)

• Law enforcement agencies

• TV and radio news stations

• Hospitals and health care authorities

• Aerial survey and photography companies

• Aerial sight-seeing and tour companies

• Agricultural organizations

• Search and rescue organizations

• Regional fire departments

• Charter flight services

• Governmental agencies (conservation, forestry, border patrol and other services)


Military Route: In the military area, all branches of the Armed Forces train helicopter pilots for a wide variety of jobs. The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard all use helicopters in their day-to-day missions for purposes such as combat, troop and cargo transport, search-and-rescue operations, and others.


If you’re considering the military route for employment, you must realize, however, that as a military pilot, you are a military officer first, and a pilot second. This means your priority is attending to military duties, responsibilities and commitments.


Success Tip: Use the network of contacts you establish during training to learn about open helicopter pilot jobs.



Current Job Opportunities

Our job board below has "helicopter pilot" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:




Working Hours

The working hours for helicopter pilots can vary significantly, typically depending on the type of job they have, and whether they work full-time or part-time.


Their hours can be irregular and, some days, they may be on call. For example, some jobs, such as a hospital transport pilot, may involve on-call shift work, where the pilot is on call 24 hours a day for a few days, then has an equal amount of days off. Other jobs, such as a flight school instructor, may involve more normalized working hours.


There are strict rules governing maximum flying hours for helicopter pilots, but flight duties could include working days, nights or weekends. Some jobs over longer distances could involve overnight stays away from home.



Working Conditions

A career as a helicopter pilot is one that involves a combination of sitting, standing and walking. Most of a helicopter pilot’s time however, is spent in the helicopter's cockpit, where conditions can be cramped and noisy. It is important to block these conditions out, because when flying a helicopter, a moment's inattention can invite all sorts of problems. Helicopter pilots also spend time loading and unloading cargo, and performing safety checks.


Work in this field can be very fast-paced, and very appealing to those who love flying and those who enjoy talking to people. It does have its fair share of challenges though. The pressure of dealing with difficult customers and the need to be constantly alert combined with tight flight schedules or deadlines can make the working conditions for helicopter pilots quite stressful at times.



Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "helicopter pilot", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Air Traffic Controller

Airline Pilot


Robotics Technologist

Tour Guide




To find out more about what a helicopter pilot does, how much they earn, and other details of this career, please consult the following resources:


Occupations in Alberta:Helicopter Pilot.” (March 31, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved December 20, 2019.

Transportation and Material Moving:Airline and Commercial Pilots.” (December 11, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved December 20, 2019.

Work & Careers:How do I become … a helicopter pilot.” Anna Tims (May 7, 2013). The Guardian website. Retrieved December 20, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Helicopter Pilot

Scholarships in our system are organized by field of study. The fields that are relevant to this profession are listed below on our "Relevant Areas of Study" section below. Any scholarships found within those fields will be suitable, all of which can be found on our Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Areas of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a helicopter pilot. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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