Helicopter pilots fly helicopters to transport people, spread fertiliser and bait, or provide air rescue and ambulance services.
Helicopter pilots with up to three years’ experience usually earn
$42K-$45K per year
Helicopter pilots with more than three years’ experience usually earn
$45K-$180K per year
Source: Aviation New Zealand, May 2020.
Pay for helicopter pilots varies depending on skills, experience and the type of work they do.
- Entry-level helicopter often work part time and may start on about $20 an hour or $42,000 a year.
- Helicopter pilots with three to five years' experience can earn between $45,000 and $80,000.
- Senior helicopter pilots can earn $100,000 to $180,000 or more.
Source: Aviation New Zealand, careers.govt.nz interview, May 2020.
(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
Specialised helicopter pilots may also:
- provide a commentary to tourists during scenic flights
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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 (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,
You can gain your CPL(H) as part of completing a New Zealand Diploma in Aviation - Aeroplane and Helicopter (Level 6) with strands in airline preparation and flight instruction.
You need to pass the ADAPT pre-pilot screening test and attend a selection interview first.
- Information on New Zealand Diploma in Aviation - Aeroplane and Helicopter (Level 6) courses
- 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, physics and computing are useful.
Helicopter 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
Useful experience for helicopter pilots includes:
- experience in the industry you want to fly in, for example, for rescue helicopter work experience as a medic
- flying experience
- customer service roles
- 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
- Flying New Zealand
- 0800 422 635 - email@example.com - www.flyingnz.co.nz
- Service IQ
- 0800 863 693 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.serviceiq.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Helicopter pilot jobs hard to find
Opportunities for helicopter pilots are poor because:
- it's a small occupation
- there are few job vacancies
- there's an oversupply of graduates
- there's decreased demand for scenic flight operators, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, there is still some demand for experienced helicopter pilots, particularly in agriculture.
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).
- Nicholson, J, chief executive, Aviation New Zealand, careers.govt.nz interview, May 2020.
- 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 30 August 2022