Helicopter pilot or airplane pilot?  The answer depends on whom you ask. Experienced helicopter and airplane pilots will be very specific with their answer to this question.  But what about “aspiring pilots”, those who are not yet pilots, but their dream is to become commercial pilots? To an aspiring pilot, the response to this question varies tremendously. However, the answer to this query will define their career, so they need to get it right.

The Main Difference between Helicopters and Airplanes

The main difference between the two types of pilots is obvious; airplanes and helicopters are completely different machines with different flight characteristics, capabilities, and missions. Therefore, for the purpose of this article we are going to focus on the reason pilots become a specific type of pilot. The outcome of this question really depends upon your “heart and passion” for flying, as well as your individual life goals.

For a detailed list of information as to the differences between professional helicopter pilots and career airplane pilots read the article below (underneath the video “Airplane versus Helicopter”). The article may contain information you never thought of, but need to know.

The “career” is where the key differences between the helicopter pilot and airplane pilot reside. With both airplanes and helicopters, pilots need to build hours (flight time) to get a job. For airplane pilots, you will need 1,500 hours as a pilot and get what the FAA calls an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, known as your ATP, before you will see your first job. This is a requirement for airplane pilots in order to begin working for Air Carrier operators.

Once you are a certified airplane pilot you will being to work on getting the required flight hours before you start your move up the employment ladder.  As an airplane pilot you may have to take two or three “entry level” jobs before you can enjoy a lucrative career as a commercial airline pilot (working for a major air carrier hauling passengers or cargo). Airplane pilots have to compete in a very competitive job market. Without a college degree, it is almost impossible to move up the job ladder.

Should you become a helicopter pilot or airplane pilot?When it comes to helicopter pilots the flight time and requirements are similar to the airplane path described above, but there is less competition for the best jobs (there are less helicopter pilots available combined with a very high global demand for helicopter pilots – all good news for helicopter pilots).

Typically, helicopter pilots can reach the top paying jobs faster than that of an airplane pilot.  The real question boils down to… do you want to fly straight line distances at 30,000 feet on autopilot, or do you want to FLY in a dynamic environment, landing almost anywhere?

Airplane flying can’t be compared with helicopter flying. Most people have one or the other in their blood, and the decision is easy.

You have to ask yourself what type of flying you actually want to be doing for your career. Hopefully, your career will be long, so you have to make the right decision for yourself. Although there are are plenty of flight careers for both airplane and helicopter pilots, those with the right training and education get the better opportunities.

Below is a Short List of Possible Career Paths for Experienced Airplane Pilots.
  • Airline Pilot carrying Passengers or Cargo.
  • Private Charter Pilot
  • Certain Law Enforcement or Government Operations
  • Bush Flying or Division of Wildlife Work
  • Professional Instructor Pilot
  • I’m sure there’s more, but if we’re being honest, most who choose to be an Airplane Pilot are looking for a career with a Major Airline.
Here’s a List of Possible Career Paths for the Experienced Helicopter Pilot.
  • EMS Pilot
  • Pipeline Patrol Pilot
  • Offshore Oil Rig Pilot
  • Air Tour Pilot
  • Charter Pilot
  • Logging Pilot
  • Bush Pilot
  • Utility Pilot Carrying External Loads (How do they get those Air Conditioning Units on top of those Skyscrapers anyway?)
  • Border Patrol
  • Local, State or Federal Law Enforcement
  • Professional Instructor Pilot (Many start their career as an Instructor, but don’t forget there are Chief Instructors who are at the top of the Industry when it comes to flight experience at Every School).
How Much are You Motivated by Money?

We recommend that money should not be your primary factor when it comes to deciding between a career as an helicopter pilot or airplane pilot. Unfortunately, for many people “money” is the sole motivating factor. And that’s okay. Some people are motivated by materialistic things and they measure their success based on the size of their bank account and the list of toys they have acquired. Be forewarned: working 65-80 hours a week performing a job that you hate is not good. Would you rather make less money doing what you love (flying)?

How does “money” fit into our conversation on becoming a helicopter pilot or airplane pilot? Simple, in the long run, you potentially make more money as an airplane pilot. This is due to simple logistics; Airplanes can carry more passengers or cargo. If you are solely motivated by money, you may want to consider becoming an airplane pilot. Mature experienced airplane pilots can make well over $100,000 per year, but it takes longer to get to the big money than it does for helicopter pilots. Experienced helicopter pilots can make $65,000 to $85,000, and some make up to 100K and above.

Flying at high altitudes going in one straight line on autopilot is not very much fun for helicopter pilots. If you want to be creative, adventurous, and “free” consider becoming a helicopter pilot. Regardless of the pathway you choose, if you are considering becoming a Professional Pilot, you need to ask yourself what motivates you and why you want to be a pilot (either type). When you find that answer, Upper Limit Aviation is here to help you make it happen.

Airplane Pilots: Job Opportunities and Salaries

For valid information regarding the job opportunities and salaries of airplane pilots, click here. Airplane pilots flying turbo-prop planes enter the aviation industry making around $20,000 to $25,000 per year (entry level jobs). New pilots take these jobs to build flight hours. They sacrifice money for flight hours so that they can advance their careers and make “the big money” later down the line. They may fly for 2 to 5 years with a Regional Airline (turbo-prop or jets) before they can compete for a piloting job with a major airline. Airplane pilots flying for the major airlines can make $100,000 to $200,000.

Recently, Boeing proclaimed that the world will need at least 28,000 new pilots per year to keep up with the demand. The same report claims that the world will need 500,000 new pilots between now and 2034.  This is great news for airplane pilots.

Helicopter Pilots Job Opportunities and Salaries

Newly certified commercial helicopter pilots will make $25,000 to $30,000 per year as a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor). Once they have accumulated 1,200 to 1,500 flight hours, they start looking for what is known as a “Tier 1” pilot job (for more info about Tier 1 jobs, click here). It will take a year or two as a CFI to build 1,200 to 1,500 flight hours.

However, Tier 1 helicopter pilots make $45,000 to $65, 000. Pilots with 3,000 to 5,000 flight hours can advance to “Tier 2” pilots jobs (click here for more info on Tier 2 pilot jobs), making $65,000 to $85,000 per year. Next comes “Tier 3” pilot jobs. The best helicopter pilots with 5,000 hours or more can compete for Tier 3 jobs and make $100K plus (Tier 3 Jobs, click here).

Aviation Schools Online published an article recently pointing to reports from the Bureau of Labor Statics regarding job forecasts for all pilots. The article is especially important to helicopter pilots. The point is that the world will need new helicopter pilots for decades to come. Right now there is a huge shortage of pilots, and this is not expected to change anytime soon. The pilots with the best training, most hours, and top education will have less competition for the best piloting jobs anywhere in the world. For more on the story of helicopter pilot jobs, click here. Simply do a Google search and you will find dozens of articles from reputable sources, and all of them are saying the same thing – the world needs helicopter pilots!

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (801) 596-7722.

4 comments

  1. March 6, 2018 at 4:11 pm
    Jacqui A

    Love this! Gave me Clarity!

  2. April 10, 2019 at 9:45 am
    Giovanna Gutierrez

    Hi Jacqui and Upper Limit Aviation, this is an excellent post for someone like me just beginning a life alongside aviation and flying!

  3. April 24, 2019 at 3:56 pm
    Jacob Heath

    Thanks for the article. It was very insightful! I appreciate the prospects shown from both sides.

  4. August 23, 2019 at 6:34 am
    Mike

    Thanks for this article. It really helped me out. I hate my current job and have been conflicted between training for rotor or fixed wing careers. I am going all in for Rotor baby. Thanks a bunch and fly on!!

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