Each month we take a look at one of the 650 career pathways featured within Indigo. This month, we explore the role of a Helicopter Pilot.

So what is a Helicopter Pilot?

You will most likely pilot a helicopter alone and you will be responsible for the safety of your passengers. You will carry out fuel, weather and route checks before taking off and you will keep in contact with air traffic controllers while navigating and monitoring the helicopter during the flight.

After landing you will log your hours and details from the flight.

You may fly for a variety of purposes including searching for missing persons, emergency work, crop spraying, photography, leisure trips or ferrying supplies.


If you are a pilot within the leisure and tourism industry, you will most likely work during the daytime only. Emergency and business services may require you to fly through the night and at weekends. 


You will spend your time flying a helicopter, most of your time will be spent alone in a small space.

Type of work

Helicopter pilots are usually provided with a uniform. If you fly over the sea for emergency services you will wear a survival suit. 

Things to consider

High starting costs

Helicopter training is expensive and you will need to raise a lot of money if you are unable to gain sponsorship.

Travel and long time away likely

Commercial piloting could lead you to be away from home for prolonged stretches of time, which could put a strain on your personal life.

Meet range of people

You can meet new and interesting people during the course of your career, perhaps even celebrities.

Varied work

No two days will be the same and it is exciting to be unaware of what each flight will hold.

Very competitive

Competition is intense for newly qualified helicopter pilots.

Most people have 5 GCSEs and you will need further professional training

You need to be over the age of 18 and hold a Commercial Pilot License (CPL(H)), which is issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). You will need at least 5 GCSEs/National 5s (C or above, or 4 or above in England), including English, Maths and a science (preferably Physics).

You can obtain a CPL(H) through an integrated course that involves full time training for 12 months to complete 350 hours of theoretical study, 135 hours of flight training and a flight skills test.

Alternatively, if you already have a Private Pilot’s Licence for helicopter flying (PPL(H)) and have 155 hours of flying experience, you may undertake modular training to qualify for your CPL(H). You must complete at least 30 hours of dual flight instruction and 185 hours of flight time before taking the skills test. You can take this route at your own pace, but it will take at least 9 months to complete full-time.

Salary progression
Newly qualified commercial helicopter pilots can earn up to £30,000 per year. Pilots with extensive experience captaining passenger-carrying helicopters can achieve between £45,000 and £65,000.

Top Tip
With 1,000 hours of flight experience and 250 hours as ‘pilot in command’, you can go on to get your Airline Transport Pilot Licence (Helicopter) (ATPL(H)). You can then fly multi-engine, multi-pilot helicopters for commercial air transport. You could also set up your own air taxi service company or become self-employed.

Click here to explore the full library of over 650 career profiles, including multimedia content and LMI data for students to interpret and discuss.