Commercial Helicopter Pilot: Job Description, Duties and Outlook
Commercial helicopter pilots are employed in a variety of industries. They may be hired to transport passengers between destinations, conduct aerial tours of cities, landmarks and other features, transport cargo and provide electronic coverage for a news station.
A commercial helicopter pilot usually transports passengers or cargo between destinations, or be assigned to complete specific tasks such as aerial surveys or tours. These pilots may work in industries such as health care services, agriculture or tourism.
Commercial helicopter pilots must have a commercial pilot's license, an instrument rating, a medical certificate and a certification to operate a helicopter. These type of aircraft pilots may be trained by the military or through a flight training school. They must meet strict physical requirements, including 20/20 vision and good hearing.
Helicopter pilots face possible professional risks depending on what type of work performed. For example, pilots of crop-dusting helicopters may be exposed to toxic chemicals. Also, they may risk hearing loss from the constant sound of the helicopter engines and may need to work in an exposed cockpit in all types of weather.
Commercial helicopter pilots ensure the safety of their aircraft, passengers and cargo through pre-flight checks and strict adherence to flight safety policies and procedures. They are in constant communication with weather forecasters, dispatchers and tower control personnel. A commercial helicopter pilot plots a course and communicates take-off, landing and other aircraft procedures. They need to remain highly alert and be able to make precise adjustments to controls. Helicopter pilots must also possess good spatial orientation.
Helicopters generally make shorter trips at a lower altitude than airplanes. A commercial helicopter pilot must be aware of trees, power-lines and other low-lying obstacles. He or she must monitor devices that detect sudden shifts in the wind and other dangers that could cause a malfunction or crash. Exact duties vary by job, but a commercial helicopter pilot may be responsible for dusting crops, transporting passengers, taking photos or collecting traffic information, among other things.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted the overall employment of airline and commercial pilots to grow by 11% between 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). States with the highest concentration of commercial pilot jobs include Alaska and North Dakota. College graduates and former military pilots with extensive flight hours have the best job opportunities in this competitive job field. According to BLS, the middle 50% of commercial pilots earned between $53,050 and $96,810 in May 2012, with a mean annual wage of $80,140.
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