Kaiwhakahaere Waka Rererangi
Aeroplane pilots fly planes that transport people and goods, or spread fertiliser or bait.
Aeroplane pilots who fly for airlines or the military usually earn
$50K-$150K per year
Source: careers.govt.nz research, 2020.
Pay for aeroplane pilots varies depending on experience, qualifications, location and what type of plane they fly.
New pilots' work may be irregular and part time. They may need to rely on a supplementary job to make a living, until they have enough flying experience to apply for work at an airline.
Charter or agricultural pilots and flying instructors
Charter pilots, agricultural pilots and flying instructors often work part time. They usually earn $25 to $80 an hour.
- Pilots who fly turboprop (propeller) planes on domestic routes earn between $50,000 and $150,000 a year.
- Pilots who fly jet planes on domestic or international routes earn between $80,000 and $190,000 or more.
- International jet pilot captains can earn up to $300,000.
Pilots working for the Royal NZ Air Force are bonded (expected to stay in the job) for 10 years.
- Recruits start on $40,000 a year.
- Qualified military pilots earn between $58,000 and $140,000.
Sources: careers.govt.nz research, 2020; and Defence Careers, 2020.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Defence Careers website - information about working as a pilot
(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 of weather forecasts and 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 and assist them if necessary.
Agricultural pilots may also:
- consult with customers about chemicals and fertiliser
- calculate the amount and cost of chemicals or fertiliser
- 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 aviation laws
- knowledge of safety rules and emergency procedures.
Agricultural pilots also need to have:
- knowledge of different types of farming, and the chemicals and fertilisers farmers use
- an understanding of Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations, and the Resource Management Act
- knowledge of air and water quality plans (to avoid pollution) and industry codes of practice.
- work irregular hours. Some pilots do shift work, and agricultural pilots may do seasonal work
- work in airports and aeroplane cockpits
- work in conditions that may be noisy, and can be uncomfortable in bad weather
- travel within New Zealand or internationally.
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."
Commercial aeroplane pilots
To become a commercial aeroplane pilot you need a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL). To get this you need to:
- hold a Private Pilot Licence (PPL)
- complete at least 200 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 – for example, by showing you don’t have serious convictions.
The CPL enables you to fly small planes such as those used for scenic and charter flights.
- Civil Aviation Authority website - how to be a pilot (PDF - 607KB)
- Air New Zealand Academy of Learning website - flight training organisations preferred by Air New Zealand
You can gain your CPL as part of completing either of the following qualifications:
- New Zealand Diploma in Aviation – Aeroplane and Helicopter (Level 6) with strands in airline preparation and flight instruction.
- Massey University's Bachelor of Aviation.
You need to pass the ADAPT pre-pilot screening test and attend a selection interview to enter these courses.
- Information on New Zealand Diploma in Aviation - Aeroplane and Helicopter (Level 6) courses
- Massey University website - Bachelor of Aviation information
- ServiceIQ website - information about the ADAPT pre-pilot test
In addition to a CPL, flight instructors need a Flight Instructor Rating (C Category).
In addition to a CPL, airline pilots on turboprop (propellor) planes and jet aircraft need:
- a Multi-engine Instrument Rating (which allows you to fly in cloud)
- at least 500 hours of flying time (though the number of hours required can change from year to year).
To become a military pilot, you need to join the Royal NZ Air Force and complete their training.
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 for the Young Eagles flying experience programme, run through local aero clubs.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
To become an aircraft captain of a plane that needs a co-pilot, you must also have an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL).
Aeroplane pilots need to be:
- 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
- good at record-keeping.
Useful experience for aeroplane pilots includes:
- aviation industry work
- aircraft engineer work
- loader/driver work
- work with navigational and radio equipment
- customer service.
Aeroplane 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, as they must pass a medical exam every year.
Find out more about training
- Air New Zealand Academy of Learning
- (09) 255 5701 - www.airnzlearning.co.nz/ai/
- Aviation New Zealand
- (04) 472 2707 - www.aia.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
COVID-19 pandemic decreases demand for airline pilots
Job opportunities for airline pilots are poor because the COVID-19 pandemic caused a major reduction in passenger flights.
Air New Zealand – the largest employer of aeroplane pilots in the country – cut its workforce by a third in 2020, but planned to recall about a hundred pilots a year in 2022 and 2023.
However, a number of pilots have left permanently. As a result, in March 2022 Air New Zealand asked qualified people to register for first officer work flying turboprop (propellor) planes. First officer is the entry role to becoming a pilot.
Air New Zealand predicts it could take years to return to previous staffing levels due to the fall in demand for:
- international flights, which previously made up two-thirds of its profits
- domestic flights by the 1.5 million international tourists who previously visited New Zealand each year.
According to the Census, 2,580 aeroplane pilots worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Demand for agricultural pilots varies
Demand for agricultural pilots varies depending on the strength of the agriculture, horticulture and forestry economies.
Ways to get your first pilot job
It can be particularly difficult for new aeroplane pilots to secure their first job. A 2018 survey of new pilots found only 43% had work as a pilot within one year of getting their Commercial Pilot Licence. Often this was part time.
To gain your first flying job it helps to:
- be prepared to live in different parts of the county
- make contacts who could refer you to employers with vacancies
- gain a Flight Instructor Rating (C Category) and work as a flying instructor
- travel overseas to get flying experience.
Air New Zealand the main employer of aeroplane pilots
Most aeroplane pilots work for Air New Zealand. Others work for:
- charter companies, which offer sightseeing, air ambulance or land surveying services, for example
- private and corporate (business) air services
- the Royal NZ Air Force
- agricultural flying businesses.
- Air New Zealand, 'Pilots', accessed March 2022, (careers.airnewzealand.co.nz).
- Air New Zealand, 'Expression of Interest - First Officer, Turboprop Fleet', accessed 8 March 2022, (www.jobs.airnewzealand.co.nz).
- Anthony, J, 'Air New Zealand Looking to Hire Pilots For Turboprop Fleet', 4 March 2022, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Bradley, G, 'COVID-19 Coronavirus: Air New Zealand Slashes Jobs, Greg Foran Lays it on the Line', 31 March 2020, (www.nzherald.co.nz).
- Civil Aviation Authority, 'How to Be a Pilot', January 2019, (www.aviation.govt.nz).
- Griffin, D, and Murrie, J, 'Pilot Career Progression in New Zealand: A Study Conducted by NZALPA and Massey University School of Aviation', 30 November 2018, (mro.massey.ac.nz).
- Jetstar, 'Being a Pilot at Jetstar', accessed February 2020, (www.jetstar.com.au).
- Lake, D, 'Hundreds of Air NZ pilots to be Recalled as Airline Looks at Possible Return to Service for Grounded Boeing 777-300s', 29 November 2021, www.newshub.co.nz).
- RNZ, 'COVID-19: Air New Zealand to Start Cutting Staff After Revenue Slashed', 31 March 2020, (www.rnz.co.nz).
- 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
Newly qualified aeroplane pilots often complete further training to work as flying instructors. This means they can build up enough flying hours to apply for work at an airline.
Aeroplane pilots can specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Agricultural Pilot
- Agricultural pilots fly aircraft to apply chemicals or fertiliser 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 1 April 2022