Kaiwhakahaere Waka Rererangi
Aeroplane pilots fly aircraft to transport people or goods. Some pilots fly aircraft to aerially spread fertiliser or bait.
Pilots flying domestic routes usually earn
$50K-$190K per year
Pilots flying international routes usually earn
$80K-$300K per year
Source: Air Nelson, Aviation New Zealand and Massey University School of Aviation, 2018.
Pay for aeroplane pilots varies depending on their position, skills, and experience.
- Entry-level charter pilots usually work part time, on call, and are paid between $25 and $80 an hour, rather than an annual salary.
- Agricultural pilots start on between $50,000 and $70,000 a year, and can earn as much as $150,000.
- Pilots starting out on domestic routes (as first officers) usually earn $50,000 on turboprops and $90,000 on jet aircraft. They can progress to a maximum of about $150,000 on turboprops and $190,000 on jet aircraft when working as captains.
- Pilots starting out on international routes (as second officers) start on a training rate of about $80,000, rising to $92,000 when they qualify. As captains, they can earn up to $300,000.
Sources: Air Nelson, Aviation New Zealand and Massey University School of Aviation, 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Aeroplane pilots may do some or all of the following:
- prepare or check flight plans
- do pre-flight checks, including checking weather forecasts, the plane's load, fuel and equipment
- calculate the amount of fuel needed for flights
- programme flight management systems
- liaise with air traffic control
- navigate and fly the plane to its destination
- write flight reports and keep a flight log
- greet passengers, give them assistance if needed, and ensure they are seated.
Agricultural pilots may also:
- consult with customers about the chemicals or fertiliser to be used and the area to be covered
- calculate the amount and cost of chemicals or fertiliser required
- apply chemicals or fertiliser to farm land and keep records.
Skills and knowledge
Aeroplane pilots need to have:
- excellent flying skills
- knowledge of flight theory and flight planning
- skill in interpreting flight plans, weather information and navigation data
- knowledge of aircraft systems
- understanding of civil aviation laws
- knowledge of safety rules and emergency procedures
- management skills.
Agricultural pilots also need to have:
- knowledge of different types of farming, and the chemicals and fertilisers farmers use
- an understanding of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act and the Resource Management Act
- knowledge of air and water quality plans (to avoid pollution) and industry codes of practice.
- work irregular hours – some do shift work or seasonal work (agricultural pilots)
- work in airports and aeroplane cockpits
- work in conditions that are often noisy, and can be rough or uncomfortable in bad weather
- travel between local or international destinations.
What's the job really like?
Being a pilot is exciting and challenging
Charter pilot Sheryl Jones thrives on challenge – and that's just as well. "All of a sudden I can have a flight I need to prepare for – it's exciting and very challenging."
Sheryl's customers range from aerial photographers and fish spotters, to tourists, who she provides with sightseeing information. "We mainly fly overseas visitors, who are very interested in history and geology.
"I love the job because each flight is different, and I love the people. But it's a big responsibility – plus dealing with the wind and the weather.
"It's different from airline piloting. We don't have scheduled services, and it can be difficult to fit in being on call for flights with your lifestyle."
Love of flying vital for career as a pilot
Sheryl says prospective pilots need to understand the challenges. "You have to be very tenacious to become a pilot.
"There's a lot of training and it's expensive. Entry-level pilot jobs don't have very high pay. You really have to love flying, knock on doors of the places you want to work for, and be very proactive.
"But flying gets into your blood, and it's hard to get away from it. I think you'll hear that from any pilot."
To become a commercial aeroplane pilot you need to have a New Zealand Diploma in Aviation and a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL).
To get either qualification you must:
- be at least 18 years old
- pass (with average or above) the ADAPT pre-pilot screening test
- pass a Class 1 Medical Examination
- hold a current NZ Private Pilot Licence (which you can get once you are 17)
- pass written exams
- complete 200 hours' minimum flying time
- satisfy the Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) fit and proper person requirements
- pass the English Language Proficiency test.
You need additional hours and/or qualifications to fly:
- as an agricultural pilot
- by instrument, which means you can't use visual references
- bigger types of aircraft such as turboprops or jet-engine planes.
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include English, maths and physics.
Flying experience at aero clubs
If you are between 12 and 18 years old, you can apply to join the Young Eagles flying experience programme, run through local aero clubs.
Aeroplane pilots need to be:
- able to lead a team
- good at planning, thinking logically and following procedures
- excellent at working under pressure and making quick, sound decisions
- skilled at communicating and getting along with a wide variety of people
- good at record-keeping.
Useful experience for aeroplane pilots includes work:
- in the aviation industry
- as an aircraft engineer
- as a loader/driver
- with navigational and radio equipment
- in customer service.
Aeroplane pilots need to have good hearing and eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), and good reflexes and co-ordination.
They must also have a good level of fitness and health. They need to pass a medical exam every year.
Find out more about training
- Air New Zealand Aviation Institute
- (09) 255 5701 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.aviationinstitute.co.nz
- Aviation New Zealand
- (04) 472 2707 - www.aia.org.nz
- 0800 863 693 - email@example.com - www.serviceiq.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Strong demand for aeroplane pilots
Opportunities for aeroplane pilots are increasing due to more people travelling on domestic and international routes.
Over 4,000 New Zealanders have Airline Transport Pilot Licences, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.
According to the Census, 2580 aeroplane pilots worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Demand for agricultural pilots fluctuates
Demand for agricultural pilots fluctuates as it depends on activity in the agriculture, horticulture and forestry sectors. Currently these sectors are strong, so demand for agricultural pilots is reasonably high.
Your chances of getting agricultural pilot work are best if you can secure an entry-level position in an agricultural flying business. This type of position can involve administrative tasks and flying one to two hours a week, for example.
Pilot vacancies at agricultural businesses are rarely advertised and are usually filled by internal candidates. Sometimes they are filled by word of mouth, so it’s worth approaching employers directly.
Air New Zealand the main employer of aeroplane pilots
About 80% of aeroplane pilots in New Zealand work for Air New Zealand. Jetstar and Virgin Australia also employ New Zealand pilots.
Pilots may also work for:
- charter companies
- private and corporate (business) air services
- the Royal NZ Air Force
- agricultural flying businesses.
- Alexander, G, training and development chair, Aviation New Zealand, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, February 2018.
- Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, 'Pilot Licence Statistics', accessed March 2018, (www.caa.govt.nz).
- Lukey, M, training manager pilot, Air Nelson, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, February 2018.
- MacGregor, B, executive officer, Aviation New Zealand, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, February 2018.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- Whyte, C, chief flight instructor, Massey University School of Aviation, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, February 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Aeroplane pilots may progress to operating larger, more complex aircraft. They can also move into the role of flying instructor.
Pilots may also choose to specialise in flying smaller planes.
- Agricultural Pilot
- Agricultural pilots fly aircraft to apply agricultural chemicals or fertilisers to farmland. They may fly fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters.
- Charter Pilot
- Charter pilots fly tourist or air ambulance services, or provide services such as aerial photography or land surveying.
Last updated 12 March 2020