A commercial helicopter pilot is someone who has first trained to fly a helicopter and has obtained a private pilot license. Further flight training typically is required, including in-air flight time and passage of an extensive test in order to obtain a Commercial Pilot License for helicopters [CPL (H)]. Some commercial helicopter pilots have trained in the armed forces, but many people complete the training at civilian flight schools and pay for the training themselves.
Typically, a commercial helicopter pilot will have his or her choice of a variety of jobs once qualified and experienced. Newly qualified commercial helicopter pilots, however, may find it difficult to initially obtain work until he or she has logged a large number of flight hours. New commercial pilots often also obtain an instructor rating and gain experience through teaching others to fly helicopters. If he or she is lucky, the new commercial helicopter pilot may obtain work conducting pleasure or charter flights, or in countries such as Australia where cattle-mustering by helicopter is a popular option.
Once a commercial helicopter pilot has more experience, a variety of jobs are likely to be available, depending on where he or she lives in the world. A commercial helicopter pilot may work for the police, fly an air ambulance, conduct search and rescue missions, or do emergency medical work. In some countries, jobs could include pipeline patrol, working with wildlife, or chartering flights for VIPs. Helicopters are used to ferry workers to and from oil rigs, and are used in the leisure industry for pleasure flights and sightseeing trips.
There are disadvantages, however, to this way of life. A commercial helicopter pilot typically is not nearly as well paid as his or her fixed-wing equivalent, who most likely will be working for major airlines. Few rotary flying positions offer any job security, and the commercial helicopter pilot usually must be prepared to travel to where there is work, making family life difficult. Many of the jobs are difficult and dangerous; for example, search and rescue helicopter pilots often work in poor weather conditions and at odd hours.
It is rare for someone to become a commercial helicopter pilot for the money. Usually, an individual obtains a helicopter license because he or she loves flying flexible rotary aircraft. For some, having a helicopter for a desk and the sky for an office are the best fringe benefits.