Southern Utah University Blog

How much money do helicopter pilots make?

Posted: July 02, 2019 | Author: SUU Aviation | Read Time: 6 minutes

How much money does a helicopter pilot make? This is an important factor to consider when looking to become a pilot. These days it’s becoming more important to make good money, and one way to do so is to become a pilot. You might be shocked by how much money some pilots are making. As a helicopter pilot, not only will you make good money, but you will also get generous benefits and meet some really cool people. Plus, the life of a helicopter pilot is amazing. You will get paid to fly for a living! How cool is that? 

The Average Helicopter Pilot Salary

While flying a helicopter, you’ll be in charge of other people’s lives. Because of this, companies want to be sure that you know what you’re doing. This means that you’ll start by working a lower paying job and will work your way up from there, until you are making as much money as possible.

As of May 31, 2019, the average salary of a helicopter pilot is $94,519 a year. On average, helicopter pilots make anywhere from $80,148 to $121,547 a year. This lower number is found in beginning helicopter pilot jobs, and as you work your way up from there, your salary will grow until you’re making over $120,000 a year. 

Who wouldn’t want that?

The Starting Salary 

Once you graduate flight school, you’ll most likely begin working as a flight school instructor. As an instructor, you can expect to earn about $66,000 a year, according to payscale.com. This job is a great way to help you build your flight hours and get relevant experience that will impress your future employers. It takes about 1,000 hours of flight time to qualify for a great helicopter pilot gig, and a lot of those hours will be earned as an instructor. 

Types of Helicopter Pilot Jobs

There are many different types of helicopter jobs in many different industries, so you’ll never be without options. Those industries include agriculture, entertainment, medical, or military. If you go into one job and then decide that you want to try a different one, you can easily transition with a minimum amount of extra training. With so many options, you’re bound to find a job that works with your schedule and that you look forward to every day! 

Low salary jobs: As a newly certified pilot, it’s common to get a job as a flight school instructor, which will help you build your hours until you qualify for the higher paying jobs. Other options for new pilots include working for a tour company, such as at the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas, or flying for a tuna boat company.  

Medium salary jobs: In the medium salary scale are jobs like flying helicopters for a touring company, flying for emergency services (firefighter, search and rescue, life flight), border patrol, and law enforcement, etc.

High salary jobs: When you’ve ‘paid your dues’ and earned enough flight hours to get a high paying job, you’re likely to find yourself flying helicopters for an offshore oil rig, private companies, business executives, or celebrities, etc. Depending on who you work for, you’ll likely have a lot of freedom and some major benefits. 

How to maximize your pay as a helicopter pilot

Factors that improve pay

If you want to maximize your salary, then you'll definitely want to get every certification possible. More certifications means more training and the more training you have, the better you’ll be paid. Here's a list of certifications that you'll want in order to maximize your pay:

  • Private helicopter pilot certification
  • Commercial helicopter pilot certification
  • Instrument rating
  • Certified flight instructor
  • Certified flight instructor instrument
  • Turbine transition
  • External load
  • Mountain operations
  • Night vision goggles

If you attend a flight school that has all of these certifications, then you’re well on your way to becoming a professional helicopter pilot for the company of your choice. 

Another way to maximize your pay is to have a degree. Having a degree, especially a Bachelor's degree, will set you above the competition, give you more experience, and help you log flight hours. 

The Bachelor’s Degree Strategy

By earning a Bachelor’s degree, you can continue to build your flight hours, extend, or even improve your funding options, and develop your skills. You’ll likely be a certified flight instructor after earning an Associate’s degree. This means that if you choose to continue on to a Bachelor’s degree, you may have the opportunity to work as a flight instructor while still in school. This will give you  more flight hours and allow you to make money at the same time. Plus, by staying in school longer, any student loans you may have taken out will not be due until after you graduate, giving you more time to earn money and pay them back. If you’re a veteran, then this won’t be a problem, because it is very likely that all of your flight school tuition will be paid for by your VA benefits. 

Other helicopter pilot compensation benefits

In addition to your pilot salary, you will have many benefits. These benefits may include health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance, retirement, travel insurance, tips, housing, and more. 

What you’ll need to become a helicopter pilot

In order to become a helicopter pilot you’ll need to attend one of the many flight schools around the world and earn your private pilot license and commercial pilot license, depending on what industry you want to go into. This is the bare minimum that is required to become a paid pilot, and with only these licenses, it may be difficult to find a job that pays well. To make good money as a helicopter pilot, you will need to earn as many certifications as you can and log as many flight hours as possible. By carefully choosing a flight school, you can graduate with extra certifications and a high amount of flight hours. Most flight schools offer the maximum amount of training, but with careful research, you can find one that will allow you to graduate as a fully licensed, qualified helicopter pilot in as little as two years. 

Is it a good time to become a pilot?

Helicopter pilots are in high demand, and that demand is expected to grow even higher in coming years. For the next 18 years, the helicopter industry expects to face a shortage of 49,000 pilots worldwide. As demand for pilots rises even higher, so will salaries, benefits, and job opportunities. That makes now the perfect time to become a helicopter pilot! 

Looking for the right flight school? Check out the SUU Aviation program or come take a tour of the hangar. We’ll show you what it’s like to become a pilot and walk you through key questions like how to fund your flight training.


This was written by the SUU Aviation program. Learn more about Aviation and how to train to become a helicopter pilot or an airplane pilot.

Tags: Aviation

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