Typically, an airborne law enforcement pilot is a coveted position, and it takes a great deal of training and professional achievement to become a viable candidate for this type of piloting job.
The vast majority of law enforcement agencies require their pilots to have time as a patrolman or law enforcement agent before being eligible to apply to the air support unit. Typically, law enforcement agencies require pilot candidates to have 1 to 5 years on patrol (as a law enforcement agent), plus at least a private pilot’s license. This will be just the beginning. There will be a great deal more law enforcement flight training, but at least you can get your first job.
There is a very small percentage of law enforcement departments that hire pilots without law enforcement experience, but they must have a lot of flight hours in lieu of the experience. These pilots are non-sworn personnel. Count on getting 2,500 flight hours or more. Plus, it’s much harder to find these types of jobs without law enforcement experience.
In order to become an employed airborne law enforcement pilot, our recommendation is that you must want to be a legitimate law enforcement agent (cop/police officer/agent, etc.) first. You have to love both aviation and law enforcement, and be dedicated to being the best at both, and totally committed to your career. You will always improve your career opportunities by being an outstanding police officer with an impeccable reputation as a licensed pilot.
A college degree with pilot certificates/ratings might help you get a foot in the door with a federal law enforcement agency (FBI, DEA, CBP, etc.), but there are no guarantees that you will be hired as a pilot. Have a back up plan. The U.S. Border Patrol will hire experienced pilots without a law enforcement background.
Once any flight school student completes their flight training and has earned the proper certificates, they are eligible to start an aviation career and get paid to fly as a commercial pilot. Typically, helicopter flight school graduates take a job as a Certified Flight Instructor after graduation. The goal is to log 1,200 or more flight hours in order to beome eligible for a Tier 1 helicopter pilot job. The pilot graduate should continue to build flight hours (upwards of 2,500 to 3,500 hours) and at this point a pilot’s career options for Tier 2 and Tier 3 jobs improve greatly.
An airborne law enforcement helicopter pilot is considered a Tier 2, or Tier 3 pilot position. Meaning, pilots looking into this career need to build experience and flight hours before they will become eligible for a law enforcement job. In addition, you will still need law enforcement experience to effectlvely compete for these kinds of jobs. The best information we can give you is this… you must want to be both a pilot and a law enforcement agent.
Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network (ALEAN)
Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA)
Police Aviation News (PAN)
Helicopter Association International (HAI)