Helicopter pilot

A helicopter pilot


Helicopter pilots fly helicopters to transport passengers and cargo from one place to another. They plan flights using aeronautical charts and navigation instruments. Before departure, they inspect helicopters following checklists to detect leaking hydraulic fluid, inoperative control, low fuel level, or other unsafe conditions.

Helicopter pilots typically do the following duties:

  • check weather conditions and airspace restrictions along your planned route
  • file flight plans with authorities
  • work out fuel requirements and maximum load
  • check the helicopter’s equipment and instruments
  • carry out safety checks
  • gain clearance from air traffic control
  • during flights, use instruments to navigate, control height and speed, and communicate with air traffic controllers
  • after landing, complete the paperwork before preparing for the next flight

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to helicopter pilot:

commercial helicopter pilot
pilot of helicopters
airline helicopter transport pilot
helicopter operator

Working conditions

A helicopter pilot works in the helicopter cockpit. Their schedule is often unpredictable, especially when working as an emergency services provider. Commercial helicopter pilots may have set hours, although they may work additional hours to meet flight needs, particularly in industries such as law enforcement or medical services. Pilots spend most of their working hours sitting in the cockpit. They use complex equipment and instruments to make sure the aircraft is operating safely and correctly.

Minimum qualifications

It is not absolutely necessary to have a bachelor’s degree to become a helicopter pilot. Many helicopter pilots have only a high school diploma, but all helicopter pilots who fly for profit must earn a commercial pilot’s license for helicopters approved by local aviation authorities. Before they can qualify for a commercial license, they must first become certified as private helicopter pilots and earn a private helicopter rating. After becoming licensed to fly helicopters for personal use, they can pursue a commercial license.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Helicopter pilot is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Helicopter pilot career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to helicopter pilot.

private pilot
airline transport pilot
second officer
aircraft pilot

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of helicopter pilot. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of helicopter pilot with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

airspace manager
flight test engineer
aviation surveillance and code coordination manager
air force officer
air traffic instructor

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of helicopter pilot.

  • Visual flight rules: Types of flight rules which are a compilation of regulations that allow pilots to fly aircrafts in clear as well as unclear weather conditions whereby it is declared that outside visual reference to the ground and other obstructions are not safe.
  • Geographic areas: Know the geographic area in detail; know where different organisations carry out operations.
  • Airport planning: Know airport planning for different types of aircrafts; use that information to mobilise resources and people in order to handle the aircrafts while they are in the airport.
  • Aircraft flight control systems: Know the setting, features and operation of aircraft flight control systems. Manage flight control surfaces, cockpit controls, connections, and operating mechanisms required to control the flight direction of an aircraft. Operate aircraft engine controls in order to change aircraft speed.
  • Freight transport methods: Understand different modalities of transport such as air, sea, or intermodal freight transport. Specialise in one of the modalities and possess a deeper knowledge of the details and procedures of that modality.
  • Air transport law: Know air transport laws and regulations. Due to the nature of aviation, knowledge of air transport laws partially overlaps with knowledge of international law.
  • Air traffic control operations: Understand the tasks performed by air traffic controllers, including Interaction and effective communication between aircraft and air traffic controllers; execution of follow-up activities, and ensuring smooth operations during flights.
  • Aviation meteorology: Understand aviation meteorology to deal with the impact of weather on air traffic management (ATM). Understand how thorough changes in pressure and temperature values at airports can create variations in head and tail-wind components, and may impose low visibility operating conditions. Knowledge of aviation meteorology can help to reduce negative impact on the ATM system by diminishing disruption and the consequent problems of disturbed flow rates, lost capacity and induced additional costs.
  • Civil aviation regulations: Know civil aviation regulations, rules and signals, including marshalling signals.
  • Common aviation safety regulations: The body of legislation and regulations that apply to the field of civil aviation at regional, national, European and International levels. Understand that regulations aimed at protecting citizens at all times in civil aviation; ensure that operators, citizens, and organisations comply with these rules.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of helicopter pilot.

  • Operate radio equipment: Set up and operate radio devices and accessories, such as broadcast consoles, amplifiers, and microphones. Understand the basics of radio operator language and, when necessary, provide instruction in handling radio equipment correctly.
  • Undertake procedures to meet helicopter flight requirements: Ensure that operation certificates are valid, guarantee that take-off mass is a maximum of 3,175 kg, verify that the minimum crew is adequate according to regulations and needs, ensure that the configuration setting is correct, and check if engines are suitable for the flight.
  • Use meteorological information: Use and interpret meteorological information for operations dependent on climatic conditions. Use this information to provide advise on safe operations in relation to weather conditions.
  • Ensure ongoing compliance with regulations: Conduct tasks and procedures to ensure that aviation certificates maintain their validity; undertake safeguarding measures as appropriate.
  • Perform risk analysis: Identify and assess factors that may jeopardise the success of a project or threaten the organisation’s functioning. Implement procedures to avoid or minimise their impact.
  • Possess visual literacy: Interpret charts, maps, graphics, and other pictorial presentations used in place of the written word. The graphics used vary from process to process; therefore, the professional must have sufficient knowledge of the field in order to follow and use the information presented.
  • Operate radio navigation instruments: Operate radio navigation instruments to determine the position of aircraft in the airspace.
  • Operate two-way radio systems: Use radios that can receive and transmit sound signals in order to communicate with similar radios on the same frequency such as mobile phones and walkie talkies.
  • Read maps: Read maps effectively.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Implement airside safety procedures: Apply a series of airfield safety rules and procedures to ensure a safe working environment for airport crew.
  • Have spatial awareness: Be aware of your position and the space around you. Understand the relationship of objects around you when there is a change of position.
  • Address aircraft mechanical issues: Identify and resolve mechanical issues which arise during flight; identify malfunctions in fuel gauges, pressure indicators and other electrical, mechanical or hydraulic components.
  • Operate cockpit control panels: Operates control panels in the cockpit or flight deck according to the needs of the flight. Manage on-board electronic systems to ensure a smooth flight.
  • Perform flight manoeuvres: Perform flight manoeuvres in critical situations, and associated ‘upset’ manoeuvres, in order to avoid collision.
  • Read 3D displays: Read 3D-displays and understand the information they provide on positions, distances, and other parameters.
  • Apply signalling control procedures: Control train movements; operate railway signals and block systems to ensure that trains operate safely, on correct routes, and on time.
  • Comply with air traffic control operations: Act in compliance with instruction provided by air traffic controllers.
  • Perform take off and landing: Perform normal and cross-wind take-off and landing operations.
  • Respond to changing navigation circumstances: Respond decisively and in sufficient time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations while navigating.
  • Handle stressful situations: Deal with and manage highly stressful situations in the workplace by following adequate procedures, communicating in a quiet and effective manner, and remaining level-headed when taking decisions.
  • Ensure compliance with civil aviation regulations: Ensure best practice standards are adopted and all regulatory requirements met
  • Ensure aircraft compliance with regulation: Ensure that every aircraft complies with applicable regulation and all components and equipment have officially valid components.
  • Operate radar equipment: Operate radar screens and other radar equipment; ensure that aircraft fly at a safe distance from one another.
  • Comprehensively inspect aircraft: Conduct inspections of aircraft and aircraft components, namely their parts, appliances, and equipment, to identify malfunctions such as fuel leaks or flaws in electrical and pressurisation systems.
  • Comply with checklists: Follow checklists and ensure compliance with all the items included in them.
  • Undertake procedures to meet aircraft flight requirements: Ensure that operation certificates are valid, guarantee that take-off mass is a maximum of 3,175 kg, verify that the minimum crew is adequate according to regulations and needs, ensure that the configuration settings are correct, and check if engines are suitable for the flight.
  • Perform routine flight operations checks: Perform checks before and during flight: conduct pre-flight and in-flight inspections of aircraft performance, route and fuel usage, runway availability, airspace restrictions, etc.
  • Follow verbal instructions: Have the ability to follow spoken instructions received from colleagues. Strive to understand and clarify what is being requested.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of helicopter pilot. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Act reliably: Proceed in a way that one can be relied on or depended on.
  • Carry out navigational calculations: Solve mathematical problems to achieve safe navigation.
  • Have computer literacy: Utilise computers, IT equipment and modern day technology in an efficient way.
  • Create a flight plan: Develop a flight plan which details the flight altitude, route to be followed and the amount of fuel required using different sources of information (weather reports and other data from air traffic control).

ISCO group and title

3153 – Aircraft pilots and related associate professionals

  1. Helicopter pilot – ESCO
  2. Helicopter pilot | Explore careers – National Careers Service
  3. Learn About Being a Helicopter Pilot – Duties
  4. Featured image: Photo by Oscar Sutton on Unsplash
Last updated on March 20, 2023