Kaiwhakahaere Waka Rererangi
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
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 New Zealand Aviation Institute, 2016.
Pay for aeroplane pilots varies depending on their position, the type of plane they fly, the route they travel, their length of service and the employer.
- Entry-level charter pilots usually work part time, on call, and are usually 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 a few may 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.
Source: Air New Zealand Aviation Institute, 2016
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
- understanding of civil 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 the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act and the Resource Management Act
- knowledge of air and water quality plans and industry codes of practice.
- may 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 challenge 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."
Find out about being a pilot with the Royal NZ Air Force (RNZAF) - 7.50 mins. (Video courtesy of NZRAF)
Clinton: That’s great Nicola because there's a lot to learn about flying for the New Zealand Air Force and flying officer Aaron Lloyd is going to get you started.
Aaron: Hi Nicky.
Nicky: Hi, nice to meet you.
Aaron: You too, my name’s Aaron – welcome to Whenuapai. Here’s your uniform.
Aaron: Are you interested in being in the Air Force Nicky?
Nicky: Yeah, quite interested in flying and being a pilot and all that.
Aaron: Oh great, well let's go put a flight plan in the system and get going.
Clinton: There is a whole lot of work to be done before a plane like the C-130 Hercules even gets off the ground. So Aaron takes Nicola to base operations to prepare a flight plan.
Aaron: OK, well normally if we were going up on a flight in New Zealand this is one of the reference maps we’d use – this is a north-south airways chart.
Clinton: The chart identifies the highways of the sky, and pilots use them to plot their course. They consult satellite imaging to check weather patterns they will encounter on the way.
Nicky: What’s the worst weather condition that you guys can fly in?
Aaron: The worst weather for us taking off would be a zero-foot cloud base, 800 metres vis[ibility].
Nicky: So not much puts you off?
Aaron: Not really, no. You just need the 800 metres vis[ibility] so you can see the runway in front of you, and the cloud can be right down to the deck.
Clinton: And with all their decisions made the course information is then fed into the air traffic control system so that their flight can be co-ordinated with all the other flights around New Zealand.
Aaron: Preparation for a flight generally depends on what the type of flight is – whether or not it’s a training flight, a tasked flight in support of a mission, or a tactical flight.
Clinton: Aaron flies the C-130 Hercules, which has a wingspan of over 40 metres, and a maximum speed of 610 kilometres per hour. The plane has a flight ceiling of 10,000 metres and can travel 3,800 kilometres without refuelling.
Aaron: Well Nicky, this is the flight deck of the C-130 Hercules.
Aaron: You see on the left there is where the captain sits, co-pilot sits on the right, this seat here is where the flight engineer sits, and this seat here is where the navigator sits.
Nicky: What is the Hercules mostly used for?
Aaron: Mostly used for transporting cargo and/or people.
Aaron: Why don’t you take a seat in the co-pilot's seat there – co-pilot’s job to pre-flight the aircraft so we’ll go through what needs to be done.
Aaron: Just making sure that the lights are all set up for the cockpit for what we need, moving across, getting our oxygen.
Nicky: That’s weird!
Aaron: I’ve always wanted to fly the Hercules. I’m interested in the number of operations that the C-130 performs – all over New Zealand and all over the world. It really is an aircraft that I think goes everywhere and does everything.
Aaron: Well Nicky, this is the cargo compartment of the C-130, and we carry 80 troops down the back here – 80 people – also can be configured to carry equipment or a combination of equipment and personnel. We can fit drive-on vehicles, pallets, even an Iroquois helicopter down the back.
Clinton: The Hercules aircraft are also used for parachute drops which requires great skill from the pilot as they often occur at night and from low altitudes. But to get that good they need to keep their skills sharp and flying officer Matt Ferris is doing pre-flight checks for a training flight to Gisborne.
Matt: Hi Nicky, great to meet you. I’m Matt Ferris. I’m the co-pilot today, and we’re just going on a training flight out of Whenuapai. We’re going to go to Gisborne – do an instrument approach there for training. We’ll do a stop-and-go – so we’ll stop the aircraft on the runway, turn around, take off again. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it – if you’ve got any questions, please ask.
Aaron: I think the challenges of a Hercules is the integration of the entire crew – bringing everyone together. It’s an entire crew, you can’t get the aircraft airborne with any one person, you need the whole crew and working together as a team can be quite a challenge.
Nicky: What’s it like to be flying the plane guys?
Matt: It’s pretty easy because I’ve got on the auto-pilot so it’s doing most of the work right now.
Clinton: Nicky is sitting in the engineer’s seat and it's the engineer's job to manage the engine power and fuel consumption. The navigator sets the course, the pilot and co-pilot fly the plane, and the loadmaster looks after the cargo, and they all like to have a bit of fun with each other.
Matt: Favourite part is…
Engineer: The people I work with!
Matt: I was very close to saying that. But it’s not!
Engineer: Got the wrong crew for that, eh…
Instructing navigator: The instructional staff are warm and friendly.
Engineer: It’s a loving, positive environment to learn in.
Matt: Yep, that’s the official answer I think I’ll stick with.
Aaron: A good air force pilot is one that is continuously learning and improving, and looks at his or her flying from an outside perspective and continually wants to improve.
Clinton: The Hercules regularly lands on unprepared runways and even the Antarctic ice but today they descend towards Gisborne airport for the point of this training trip – an instrument approach and stop-and-go landing.
Clinton: They don’t even get out of the plane and are soon on their way back to Whenuapai.
Clinton: And although he’s got a navigator sitting behind him, the co-pilot has a good grip on where they are in the sky at all times.
Nicky: A lot of maths involved?
Matt: Not a lot – it’s pretty simple what maths is involved – it's not, I think, hard or anything.
Engineer: There’s two ways – you can either work it out, or you can just guess something. So if it goes horribly wrong, you can blame it on bad maths or a bad guess. They’re usually one and the same.
Clinton: The joking is put aside as the team gets ready for the serious business of landing a 36-tonne plane in low-visibility conditions – just one of the many challenges a RNZAF pilot will face.
Aaron: Well I’m looking forward to future upgrades and future challenges. I’m looking forward to getting into low-level tactical flying in the Hercules – a combination of air drops, and combats, onloads and offloads, working in shorter, unprepared strips, a variety of missions dropping stuff out the back, and that’s pretty exciting.
Aaron: I think Nicky’s prepared to give it a go. I think it’s definitely been evident she’s keen to give it a try, and I think it’s a quality that would suit her well.
Nicky: It was a great experience. I really enjoyed getting to see the ins and outs of being a part of the Air Force and it was really exciting to be up in the Hercules.
Clinton: To enter the Royal New Zealand Air Force you must be at least 17 years old, a New Zealand citizen (or have New Zealand permanent residency if you are a citizen of the UK, USA, Australia or Canada). You will need 18 NCEA Level 2 credits in English, mathematics, and a science subject. Physics is preferred. Pilots need to be self-disciplined, know how to lead, and work well under pressure. They must have a good level of fitness, health and strength – including good hearing, eyesight and normal colour vision. You also need to be given security clearance, so any criminal convictions you have will be looked at.
To become a commercial aeroplane pilot you need a New Zealand Diploma in Aviation or a Bachelor of Aviation, which includes 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 when 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, fly by instrument, or fly bigger types of aircraft such as turboprops or jet-engine planes.
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. This includes 14 credits in English (or an English-rich subject such as history), and 14 credits in a number-oriented subject (such as statistics).
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
- work as an aircraft engineer
- loader/driver work
- experience with navigational and radio equipment.
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 - email@example.com - www.aviationinstitute.co.nz
- Aviation New Zealand
- (04) 472 2707 - www.aia.org.nz/
- New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA)
- (03) 577 5679 - www.aia.org.nz/NZAAA
- ServiceIQ -
- 0800 863 693 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.serviceiq.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Air New Zealand hiring 300 aeroplane pilots
To keep pace with growing demand from tourists, Air New Zealand is expanding its fleet and will be hiring approximately 300 aeroplane pilots by the end of 2017. This will include promoting pilots to larger aeroplanes and filling entry-level positions.
Aeroplane pilots with more logged flight time have the best chances of getting into higher positions such as first officer or captain.
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 these 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
Air New Zealand is the biggest employer of aeroplane pilots, with about 80% of New Zealand's pilots on its staff. Jetstar and Virgin Australia also recruit New Zealand pilots.
Pilots may also work for:
- charter companies
- private and corporate (business) air services
- the Royal New Zealand Air Force
- agricultural flying businesses.
- Kriechbaum, C, manager institute partner relationships, Air New Zealand Aviation Institute, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2016.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Sinclair, J, executive officer, NZ Agricultural Aviation Association, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2016.
Progression and specialisations
Progression for aeroplane pilots depends a lot on their length of service and the amount of flying hours they have completed. As they gain more experience, they can train to fly 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 11 January 2018