If you read my “How did I get here?” post, you’ll know I’ve always wanted to be a helicopter pilot and never even considered the possibility of being a commercial fixed wing pilot but I’ll be honest, over the last few years it has captivated me, as much as it seems to have captivated almost all of the Rotorcraft industry. The news is filled with headlines regarding the upcoming shortage of pilots and the airlines are struggling to come up with viable solutions. It seems every option is on the table, even the controversial idea of Single Pilot operations, which is something that we haven’t heard the last of.
However one of the most obvious solutions is simply to tap the Helicopter Pilot community and entice them to make the switch. Perhaps it looks like an obvious solution now but it’s been a long time coming and now it’s really picking up the pace.
It won’t be a long term solution and it’s not without its pitfalls, eventually, the pool of qualified applicants will run dry and if the expected
The already struggling helicopter pilot community is losing more every day due in part to the “Vietnam Era” pilot retirements and, along with an increase in offshore wind farm development and oil price rebound in recent years, the Helicopter Pilot shortage will continue. In fact, a joint study by the University of North Dakota (UND) and Helicopter Association International (HAI) has indicated that the Helicopter Pilot shortage is projected to grow to 7649 pilots in the United States between 2018 and 2036. By 2020 the University expects a deficit of as many as 2,200 pilots. The airlines face a similar problem albeit a bigger one, due to the size of their industry. A recent Boeing study estimates that 790,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide over the next two decades which could leave the US with a shortfall of about 35,000 pilots in the same period. Along with a mandatory retirement age of 65, contributing to the shortage is the FAA’s change in the requirements for First Officers in July 2013.
It increased the hour requirement for a Restricted ATP but differentiated between Military and Civilian pilots with the former only requiring 750 hrs total time and 250 hrs fixed wing time and the latter requiring 1500 hrs total time and 250 hrs fixed wing time. This led to the airlines creating what is known generally as the Rotorcraft Transition Program. Although
For the most part, the participating airlines accept both Military and Civilian Helicopter pilots into the program. Some,
The transition can take anywhere from 3-6 months and quite often
- 750 hours total time
- 250 hours fixed-wing PIC, which must include 100 hours of cross-country and 25 hours of
- 200 hours cross-country
- 100 hours night
- 75 hours instrument
- 25 hours multi-engine
- 1500 hours total time
- 250 hours fixed-wing PIC, which must include 100 hours of cross-country and 25 hours of night
- 200 hours cross country time
- 100 hours night
- 75 hours instrument time
- 25 hours multi-engine time
To start your research I highly recommend you visit the Rotary to
Is it for me?
Not all programs are the same, Some contribute more money for training than others, Yet, still more want you to have a certain amount fixed wing time and others don’t.
The big questions for most might be, where can I live and what are the affiliations with the Major airlines like? Keep in mind some airlines take the money from your sign-on bonus to pay for any fixed wing training that you need and you’d get to keep any unused portion of that money. Other airlines see it as separate money and you get to keep any sign-on bonus offered. It goes without saying the appeal varies from one pilot to another but the new opportunities, new environment, ability to live in a certain location and a fairly attractive payscale and schedule will have most helicopter pilots at least consider the program at one stage or another.
Some Participating airlines and a link to their RTP or Career information page:
An interesting Boeing study on the pilot and technician outlook for 2018-2037 can be found here
Another helpful information source is Coast Flight Academy. They have affiliations with multiple airlines as well as a stand-alone Transition Program of their own.
Infinity Flight Group provide their Helicopter Transition Program in Partnership with Piedmont Airlines and Mercer Co Community College, although their program does not require that you go with Piedmont/American Airlines if that’s not your choice.