Helicopter Pilot Salary: How Much Can You Make?

John Peltier

If you’re considering a career as a helicopter pilot, one of the many aspects you’re undoubtedly wondering about is a helicopter pilot’s salary. I wish there was an easy answer for this, but the truth is that with all of the helicopter pilot jobs available, the helicopter pilot salary range is very wide. But that’s one of the things that make helicopters so cool – the wide variety of missions that you can fly!

On the low end, a commercial helicopter pilot may only earn $25,000 per year while on the high end a salary may be as much as $150,000. The website Payscale.com has surveyed helicopter pilots and found that the average helicopter pilot salary is roughly $73,000.

The Starting Helicopter Pilot Salary

If you’re a new commercial helicopter pilot, chances are you’ll have to pay your dues as a flight instructor. Some tour companies will let new pilots fly piston helicopters on tours if the flight hours for insurance minimums are met.

Flight instructors are for the most part not on “salary”; they get paid by the hour. And this varies between flight hours, ground instructor hours, simulator hours, etc. Different schools also have big swings in pay scales depending on instructor experience and operating costs of the school. If you have a lot of students at a big school chances are you’ll be doing well. At a small school with only a couple of students, you may need to take on a second job until you can build more hours. An average, full-time flight instructor can anticipate making $30,000 during the first year. It may not sound like a lot of money but is necessary for building helicopter flight time for pilot jobs with a higher salary.

The Mid-Range Helicopter Pilot Salary

Helicopter pilot flying a helicopter over a forested area - Helicopter Pilot Salary

Once you get somewhere over 1,000 hours you’ll be able to secure better helicopter pilot jobs, and most definitely one with a better salary than what you have been earning. Flying as a tour pilot in a turbine helicopter is usually the next progression. An entry-level turbine tour pilot usually makes somewhere around $40,000-$50,000. But again, much of this depends on location, company size, experience level, etc.

Pilots in emergency services generally make more money. A helicopter pilot salary for EMS can range from $50,000-$90,000 per year. Firefighting helicopter pilots typically only work those jobs during the fire season, somewhere around six months, and earn on average $75,000 in the six-month period.

The High-End Helicopter Pilot Salary

The high end of helicopter pilot salaries include jobs flying the offshore oilrigs, and for business executives and other VIPs. These helicopter pilots can expect to earn over $100,000 per year.

Payscale.com has also found that some of the higher-paying helicopter pilot jobs are in Jacksonville, Florida, where an average helicopter pilot salary of $108,000 was reported. Similar salaries were reported in San Diego and New York City. Some of this is compensation for living expenses in those areas. You may be earning more, but you’ll also be forced to spend more.

Bonuses may be available for jobs that require moving around (a relocation allowance) and/or for time in remote areas like the Arctic.

In Conclusion

The bottom line is, don’t expect to earn a lot of money your first few years as a helicopter pilot. This is true in any pilot job. Many people hear “pilot” and immediately see dollar signs in their head. Just like any job you’ll have to pay your dues first and it will challenge you. But it pays off, not only with a better salary later on down the road, but also with the opportunities to do things with a helicopter that fixed-wing pilots only dream of.

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