Helicopter pilots fly helicopters to transport goods, people including photographers, spread fertiliser, spray crops, lift items into difficult sites and provide air rescue and ambulance services.
New helicopter pilots often work part time.
Helicopter pilots with over 3 years’ experience usually earn
$55K-$200K per year
Source: Ringa Hora, 2023
Pay for helicopter pilots varies depending on skills, experience and the type of work they do.
- Entry-level helicopter pilots often work part time and may start on about $25 an hour.
- Helicopter pilots with three to five years' experience usually earn between $55,000 and $80,000 a year.
- Senior helicopter pilots can earn $120,000 to $200,000 a year, or more.
Source: Ringa Hora Workforce Development Council, careers.govt.nz interview, 2023.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Helicopter pilots may do some or all of the following:
- prepare and check flight plans
- do preflight checks of weather, equipment and the helicopter
- calculate the amount of fuel needed for flights, and refuel the helicopter
- explain flight and safety details to passengers
- control the helicopter on the ground and in the air
- provide ground support such as maintenance, tying down loads, and safety control.
Specialised helicopter pilots may also:
- provide a commentary to tourists during scenic flights
- fly photographers so they can take photos or videos
- instruct new pilots
- apply fertiliser, bait or other chemicals to farmland or conservation areas
- work with other emergency services (such as hospitals or search and rescue services)
- muster animals such as sheep, horses or cattle
- carry and dump large buckets of water to put out fires,
- lift items into difficult sites
Skills and knowledge
Helicopter pilots need to have:
- excellent flying skills
- knowledge of flight theory and flight planning
- skill in interpreting flight plans, weather and navigation data
- understanding of civil aviation laws
- knowledge of helicopter mechanics and aerodynamics.
- may work regular business hours, or weekends, or do on-call work
- work in conditions that are often noisy, and can include hazards such as bad weather or smoke
- may travel nationally or internationally for work.
What's the job really like?
Helicopter pilot video
Kate Herdson talks about life as a helicopter pilot – 2.27 mins.
As a helicopter pilot, we fly helicopters, getting passengers from A to B,
instructing, flying for the police or for photography survey work.
There's a huge variety. So we've just come upstairs to the main office.This
is where we all plan and check the weather and prepare for our flight.
The biggest thing we're looking at here is the visibility.
We've got 20 kilometer vis, [visibility]
which is going to be fantastic for our flight today. I think the most difficult
thing about my job is making that decision about whether or not to take the
flight or once we're up in the air, if the conditions deteriorate,
telling our passengers, 'Hey, we actually can't get you to your destination,
"we're going have to turn around". It sounds like we've got the police helicopter
landing at the moment. We'll see them pop down shortly into view.
We do operate the police helicopters here as well.
So it's a pretty good career progression for our pilots.
Going from the charter and the corporate flying into the police. To be a
helicopter pilot, you'll need a commercial helicopter pilot license.
So this starts with a private pilot license and then you can move on to a
commercial pilot license.
These doors are a bit heavy. So I've been flying for 4 and 1/2
I got my commercial license in 3 years,
but I was doing it part-time so it can be done in a year or 2.
I swear my flying's better than my driving. Should we go for a fly?
So here we have Iain. He's coming along as a safety pilot. Iain: "Hi". Kate Herdson:
So we have 3 main controls. We've got our cyclic.
We use the cyclic for gaining air speed.
Turning pedals down by our feet to keep us in balance,
and a collective lever by my left hand adds power basically.
So we raise collective and the helicopter's going climb. Some good skills that
you could have would be great communication, problem solving,
being able to stay calm under pressure and thinking on the spot.
I just love being able to explore New Zealand. We've got some amazing sights.
Showing them to other people is so much fun.
So that's probably the biggest driver behind me becoming a helicopter pilot.
I love the outdoors and this is the best way to see it.
Commercial helicopter pilots
To become a commercial helicopter pilot you need to have a Commercial Pilot Licence - Helicopter, also known as CPL(H). To get this you need to:
- hold a Private Pilot Licence for helicopters (PPL (H))
- complete at least 150 hours of flying
- pass a Class 1 medical exam, written exams, an English language test, and a flying test
- satisfy the Civil Aviation Authority's fit and proper person requirements
You can gain your CPL(H) as part of completing a New Zealand Diploma in Aviation - Aeroplane and Helicopter (Level 5).
You need to pass the ADAPT pre-pilot screening test and attend a selection interview first.
- Information on New Zealand Diploma in Aviation
- ServiceIQ website - information about the ADAPT pre-pilot test
As well as a CPL(H), flying instructors need a Flight Instructor Rating (C Category).
Military helicopter pilots
To become a military helicopter pilot, you need to join the navy or airforce and complete their training.
- Defence Careers website - navy helicopter pilot information
- Defence Careers website - airforce helicopter pilot information
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a helicopter pilot, but NCEA Level 3 English, maths and physics are useful.
Helicopter pilots need to be:
- responsible and safety-conscious
- good at planning, thinking logically and following procedures
- excellent at working under pressure
- able to make quick, sound decisions
- good leaders
- skilled communicators
- able to relate to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds
Useful experience for helicopter pilots includes:
- experience in the industry you want to fly in
- flying experience
- customer service roles, logistics or staff management
- engineering or mechanical work.
Helicopter pilots need to have:
- good hearing and eyesight (with or without corrective lenses)
- good reflexes and co-ordination
- a good level of fitness and health (to pass a medical exam every year).
Find out more about training
- Aviation New Zealand
- (04) 472 2707- www.aia.org.nz
- Defence Careers
- 0800 136 723 - www.defencecareers.mil.nz
- Service IQ
- 0800 863 693 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.serviceiq.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Helicopter pilots in demand
Opportunities for helicopter pilots are good because:
- older helicopter pilots are retiring
- there's continuing demand for experienced agricultural helicopter pilots
- there's a demand for scenic flight operators.
According to the Census, 534 helicopter pilots worked in New Zealand in 2018.
How to get your first helicopter pilot job
Your chances of getting a helicopter job are best if you:
- work as ground crew for a helicopter operator (often part-time) and gain flying hours
- gain the necessary ratings to work as a helicopter flight instructor
- consider travelling overseas to work (you'll need an aviation licence for the country you want to work in).
Most helicopter pilots work for small companies
Most helicopter operators in New Zealand employ fewer than 10 staff. Some helicopter pilots are self-employed or work as flying instructors.
Helicopter pilots can also work for businesses involved in:
- oil and gas exploration
- mustering (gathering livestock)
- search and rescue
- Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, 'Pilot Licence Statistics', accessed March 2020, (www.caa.govt.nz).
- Ringa Hora Workforce Development Council, careers.govt.nz interview, March 2023.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Helicopter pilots may progress to set up their own business, move into safety manager or operations manager roles, or become flying instructors.
Helicopter pilots may specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Agricultural Helicopter Pilot
- Agricultural helicopter pilots apply agricultural chemicals or fertiliser, flying close to the ground.
- Air Force/Navy Helicopter Pilot
- Air Force/Navy helicopter pilots fly military helicopters.
- Charter Helicopter Pilot
- Charter helicopter pilots work in oil and gas, tourism and forestry areas.
- Firefighter Helicopter Pilot
- Firefighter helicopter pilots put out large fires, dropping water from buckets they carry.
- Mustering Helicopter Pilot
- Mustering helicopter pilots round up animals such as sheep and horses.
- Rescue Helicopter Pilot
- Rescue helicopter pilots work with search and rescue services and fly people to hospital.
Last updated 7 August 2023