13 November 2011 0 Comments

Bored with a ‘feet on the ground’ life? Become a helicopter pilot

One of the world’s fun careers, flying is every small boy’s dream, with the few who make the dream come true able to choose between fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. Nowadays, with computers controlling almost everything via the autopilot on a fixed wing aircraft, many ‘hands on’ flyers make the switch to helicopters for seat-of-the-pants flying and infinitely more varied opportunities in the worldwide jobs market.

The first steps for qualifying as a pilot can be taken in several ways, provided at least 5 good GCSE grades including English, maths and physics have been achieved and aptitude and medical tests are satisfactory. If you’re going it alone, a basic private pilot’s license (PPL) at a CAA registered aviation college or flying school is an expensive undertaking, with signing up with the military for flight training at age 18 for a 12-year stint an alternative for the cash-strapped.

If military life doesn’t appeal and you’re prepared to get into heavy debt, training at a flight school for your commercial pilot’s license (CPL) is the next step after your PPL Once that’s achieved, you can fly for a living and subsidise or save for your rotary wing training. A few commercial companies may offer sponsorship to those with serious aptitude; it pays to ask around.

Become a helicopter pilot

If it’s helicopters alone you’re obsessed with, you can skip the above and go straight for a PPL(H) which will allow you to fly certain types of helicopters after completion of the course. Onwards and upwards involves a commercial helicopter pilots’ license, involving more theoretical examinations and even higher costs, but gives you the freedom to charge for your services or apply for a position with a commercial company. CPL(H) corporate sponsorship packages are available, but usually require basic PPL(H) qualifications.
Once you’re fully qualified, jobs range from the comparatively routine to the totally bizarre, suiting all temperaments. Corporate work includes everything from transporting VIPs to carrying supplies and workers to offshore oil rigs; local government work ranges from the Air Ambulance service to the essential Search and Rescue teams. Police helicopter pilots involved in law enforcement gather aerial intelligence and Fire Service pilots regularly fly emergency missions.

Glamourous jobs involving ferrying celebrities to and from events or taking upscale tourists on chartered trips around the Caribbean may be few and far between, but the job itself is exciting and challenging enough in its more everyday guises. You’ll need good teamwork skills, excellent stress management techniques, strong decision-making and quick-thinking abilities, effective communications skills, dedication and the ability to concentrate in an extremely noisy environment.

Competition in the sector is strong, especially for the higher-paying corporate positions offering salaries of up to $135,000 (£90,000) and more. Entry-level salaries for qualified pilots start at around $47,500 (£35,000) in local government, police and fire services as well as the military, although these sectors provide perks such as pensions and subsidised accommodation. Salaries for dangerous jobs in troubled overseas locations such as Afghanistan pay high rates with many extras.

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