“The pay isn’t high and the opportunities are hard to come by especially at first but remember, there doesn’t have to be plenty of jobs available in your chosen field, there only needs to be one and if you want it, you need to make sure that you’re the one who gets it! If being a helicopter pilot is truly what you want to do, you’ll find a way, if it’s not you’ll find an excuse. And that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, be honest with yourself, it’ll save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.”
That was the closing section in Part 1…but you’re still with me, which means you’re not easily discouraged. Good, because that’s definitely not what I wanted to do. The statement above, in a general sense, is most certainly true. Ask any pilot who lost their job during the last Oil price decline and who are now doing something else entirely (Real Estate anyone?”), however, what’s also true is that if you position yourself well, there are a lot of opportunities both in terms of jobs and in terms of making a good salary.
“The pay isn’t high…”
The Corporate industry would completely disagree with my “pay isn’t high” statement, and rightly so. You can earn in the region of $200k/year as a corporate pilot but you won’t see those jobs advertised too often. If this is what you want to do you’ll have to pursue it and it’s very doable. First, find out what aircraft they fly (probably S76 or AW139) then get enough hours to get to the Gulf of Mexico, work for a Louisiana or Texas-based company that flies your chosen aircraft, get the hours you need and “wallah!!!” you’ve already put yourself in a good position to get the job you want.
Same goes for firefighting, check out Transparent California for an example of what firefighting pilots can make, you’ll see numbers well above $300k/yr including overtime. Sure, to get there you’ll have to do a lot of firefighting on a 12 day on/2 day off schedule flying a Bell 407 or Astar, you’ll then need to fly a medium such as a Bell 205 or a Bell 412, but again it’s all about positioning yourself to get the experience you need for your chosen field. Eventually, you could qualify for a job with the likes of LA County Fire Dept and earn a lot of money
…”opportunities are hard to come”
The EMS/Medevac industry would rightfully disagree with my second statement “opportunities are hard to come”. Well, again, it’s very true if you don’t have the experience that they’re looking for, but if you put yourself in a position where you are marketable you’ll quickly find that you have a lot of opportunities.
For example, Air Methods, one of the biggest EMS Rotary wing operators in the country, currently has 94 “Helicopter Pilot” openings, Air Evac Lifeteam (AEL) currently has over 40 Pilot openings as of this Blog post and a popular aviation job website right now is showing a whopping 196 “Helicopter Pilot” openings.
The jobs are out there and if you make a plan before you even start flight training, you’ll waste less time and ultimately end up in, and hopefully stay in, the job you always wanted. The way to get experience in the US is almost always to start as a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor). There are other routes too but be careful of going with the shiny opportunity too early. For example, instead of flying around a 1300lb, 2-seater Robinson R22 as an instructor, let’s say you take an opportunity to be a co-pilot in a 50,000lb CH47 Chinook. I can assure you, you’d be the envy of your instructor friends.
However, 1000 hrs of flight time later, all you have is “Second in Command” time (SIC) and your friends are moving on to other jobs with their 1000 hrs of “Pilot in Command” (PIC) time. You might get very good at flying that Chinook but your employer will have to figure out a way to get you PIC time before they can put you in the command seat.
If you read my, “How did I get here?” post, you’ll know that I had a goal and it wasn’t for a specific segment of the industry or a location in which to settle down.
For me at least, the goal was aircraft specific. I was absolutely determined (the term tunnel vision comes to mind) to fly the Dauphin and the Superpuma, I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I never planned on flying Law Enforcement or Offshore, EMS or Tours.
I did, however, have goals and the pursuit of those goals led me all around the world and to many parts of the industry that I thought I’d never see.
Once you’ve answered the question of “Why?” and you’re determined to push ahead with flight training, then having a specific goal in mind is not a prerequisite to starting your training. Not having one, however, will mean you will be lacking that inspiration when things get tough, It might be the difference between existing and thriving.
So make a goal, as outrageous as you like. Pick your aircraft, location, type of flying or a combination thereof. You can always change it, as you invariably will when you learn of opportunities you didn’t know existed.
Browse the big job websites like JSFirm, HeliJobs, and AviationJobNet to learn about the operators. Find out who they are, where they are and what they fly. By the time flight training is done you should have a good feel for the direction you want to take your career…then come back here and share your unique story!
An Aerial Saw pilot is a year-round position in that there is no busy or slow season. The 500D models we fly are like migratory birds chasing fine weather up and down the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways.