Making A Career Of Helicopters
A career in helicopters can be Fun, Challenging, Exhilarating, and Rewarding. There are many opportunities for a motivated person. I’m not here to tell you how great everything is and how easy it is going to be. I will not make promises like some flight schools of “Come train with us and you will be able to get that high paying job in no time.” I am here to tell you what many flight schools won’t tell you. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that this career is a great one, but you need to be realistic. If you know what to expect ahead of time, it will save you money and disappointment.
The road to that Ideal job is a tough one. It takes determination and perseverance. The problem is that insurance companies drive the industry and they require a considerable amount of flight time (1000 hours). If you think about it and put yourself in their shoes of having to pay out for an accident, you too would require an experienced person who is going to fly a multi million dollar aircraft with several passengers onboard. The real challenge is to get those 1000 hours. It really doesn’t matter what school you went to at that point. All the insurance companies care about are the hours flown, and what ratings you hold. Once you reach this point the opportunities open up.
The most common way to reach that 1000 hour point is to become a Flight Instructor. Ironically, the insurance companies feel it’s not that risky for a low time instructor (app. 200hrs) to be teaching someone, in an unstable machine, who has never been flying before. Most career pilots choose this route. It is the fastest way to build time (a few years). I do caution that you should only become a flight instructor because you want to teach flying, otherwise the quality of your instruction will suffer and that benefits nobody. You can build your time by other means. There are a few companies that hire low time commercial pilots (Boatpix is one example).
So you decided to go the route of being an instructor. When considering a large flight school for your training, they may offer the opportunity to be hired back on their staff, but you might not get that opportunity because of the large numbers of graduates. If the school doesn’t hire you, you are now faced with applying to other operators for work and you’ll find that they also hire from within. They will wonder why you didn’t train with them. The odds of getting that job goes way down and this is where many graduates give up. I suggest getting hooked up with the smaller operator, work on your ratings with them, they will get to know you and most likely work you into their operation. That is what we do here at Lakeshore Helicopter.
You will find that getting to be a Certified Flight Instructor will cost a lot of money ($70,000-$80,000). There are ways to reduce the cost or at least get more for the money, that is to interject Fixed Wing training. I suggest if you use fixed wing in your training that you get all of the fixed wing certificates as well. You can get all the fixed wing and helicopter ratings for about the same money as helicopter only. Many will try to argue that you will be at a disadvantage because you will have fewer helicopter hours. It is true that when going for a helicopter job, they look at mainly the helicopter time. However, what those people are not telling you, is that being dual rated opens many more opportunities (especially in the corporate world), and once you are working as a flight instructor the reality is about 6 months difference in time. When you reach that 1000 hr mark and you are applying for that helicopter job, your dual ratings will make you more marketable.
Something to be wary of is the Turbine Transition. There is no turbine rating or endorsement required on your certificate. Your certificate allows you to fly any helicopter up to 12,500 lbs, be it piston, turbine, twin engine, or on floats. Many schools offer this training, but the fact is it won’t help you. They are offering it because they have a turbine helicopter there, and they are trying to put time on it. They claim that you need this training in order to get that job later. The couple of hours that you flew in your initial training will count for nothing to the insurance company or the operator you’re applying at. What matters is the 1000 hrs flight time, the instrument rating, and the Factory Course (for Bell 206 it is about $10,000). I suggest saving your money and applying the funds towards the Factory Course, if you can’t get an operator to hire you and pay for it. There are operators (tour operators in Alaska) that hire contract pilots for seasonal work. They don’t require the factory course or any turbine engine experience, just have the 1000 hrs. Don’t get me wrong, turbine experience is valuable time, as is flying different types of aircraft. You need to get that experience at the proper time. If you spend the money on that turbine experience, do it because you want to see what all the hype is about, not for what it will do for you later.
One might consider getting their Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics Certificate. Although it requires a couple years of schooling, the pilot that holds this valuable rating usually will be the first one hired, last one fired. Many operators will hire a pilot with very few hours of flight time if they hold a mechanics certificate. This certificate can be a two edge sword. When the operator needs a flight to go out and has maintenance to be done, guess who gets to stay in the shop. It was this rating that allowed me to stay local here in Wisconsin. This certificate is also a good backup in case one looses their medical.
In conclusion, to the pilot who is realistic, determined and tenacious, he/she will be able to overcome the obstacles and enjoy a rewarding career in helicopters.