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Degree Vs Helicopter Pilot – A Student’s Career Guide to Becoming a Helicopter Pilot

You face a momentous decision that will impact the rest of your life… What career can keep you happy, challenged and engaged for the rest of your life?

It’s easy to spend too much time agonising over what career path to choose. You may be feeling pressured to choose a traditional route from college to university. But with greater uncertainty around the value of a traditional degree; especially with the rising cost of higher education, there has never been a better time to jump into a more challenging career.

Read on to find out how training to become a Helicopter Pilot compares with the UK undergraduate degree.

The important questions

How old do I need to be?

You can start your career flying with a commercial pilot’s licence from 18 years old, potentially gaining years of flight experience and career progression before your peers have finished their undergraduate degree.


How much does it cost?

The overall cost of training to become a qualified helicopter pilot with a CPL (Commercial Pilot’s Licence) is roughly the same as a degree, making it a simple choice with both being financially viable. The location of where you do your training, the courses you need to take to meet your career goal and the type of aircraft you fly can vary the cost of gaining your CPL.


What licence do I need?

Pilots across Europe are required to be licenced by the European Safety Agency (EASA) before they can fly any aircraft, apart from when on a recognised training course. In the UK these licences are issued and enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

EASA Pilot’s Licence is highly regarded across the globe and will open many doors to you especially in Europe, the Middle East, and the US. With a Commercial Pilot’s (Helicopters) Licence CPL(H) you can start taking advantage of these opportunities.

Hummingbird Helicopters is registered with the CAA to train student pilots for their Private Pilot’s Licence (Helicopters) (PPL(H)). Click here to learn more specific information about the PPL(H).


How long does it take?

The PPL(H) is a prerequisite for being able to gain your CPL(H). It makes the perfect stepping stone to a potential career as a helicopter pilot as the hours of flight time you gain from doing the PPL(H) count towards the 155 hours flight time, you must have completed before you take the CPL (H). But you can start logging trial time without commitment straight away through trial lessons to get a feel for the thrill of flying.  The breakdown of required training can be found here: www.caa.co.uk/Commercial-industry/Pilot-licences/Training/CPL-modular/CPL-(H)-modular-course—helicopters/

Depending on your circumstances and how much time you can devote to learning to fly it can take anywhere between a few months to a few years, less than the 4 years required for most undergraduate courses. You will also receive hands on learning all the way and not just in a sandwich year.


What is the expected salary for a commercial helicopter pilot?

Salaries for a newly trained commercial helicopter pilot operating in the North Sea, servicing oil and gas rigs, start at £55,000 and can rise to over £100,000 at senior level. According to My World of Work the average UK salary for helicopter pilots is £112,840; with a 5 year job forecast of +9.25%, which shows the industry is on track for healthy growth. Compare that with the average starting salaries of traditional graduates, £19,000 – £22,000, the median starting salary for UK graduates in 2019-2020.


What if I decide it’s not for me?

Hummingbird offers bespoke pilot training that builds a training course to meet your individual needs. If you are unsure about whether a career as a commercial pilot you can restructure or try trial lessons that allow you to give it a go before you commit to a course.


What opportunities are there for a commercial helicopter pilot?

There really has never been a better time to become a helicopter pilot. The industry is growing in all areas but it particularly in the following sectors:

  • Air ambulance
  • Search and Rescue
  • Oil and Gas

Keep an open mind


No-one should have just one career option in mind. Keep your mind and options open in the first instance. It can be easy to rule careers out that we cannot see ourselves having the competence and skill to carry out, without seeing the bigger picture. Your career will span 80’000+ hours of work. Is there anything at all you can’t eventually become an expert in after 80’000+ hours over the course of your career?

Top tips for choosing a career


It’s important that you learn as much as you can about the different career opportunities available to you. Research career paths online and and be systematic about it, taking notes as you go so that you can compare them later.

Some good ways to research careers

Talk it out

Talk your career options over with your parents and friends but more importantly reach out directly to people with experience in the areas that interest you.

  • Use your own network and make new connections online
  • Attend careers events and employer presentations
  • Use your school’s careers advisers or careers database

You don’t need to explore every available option in depth. You just need to identify a few that you wish to explore further.

Next Steps

Becoming a helicopter pilot is more accessible than it has ever been and a genuine career option that should be considered by pupils from high school age upwards. It is now more affordable than ever before and the career progression makes it one of the most desirable jobs. Being a helicopter pilot is well suited to people who have plenty of ambition and like to be challenged to learn new skills.

Career days will give you access to experienced experts in the field and start a discovery process that will lead to answers.

The industry needs more pilots and our Helicopter Pilot Career Days are designed to openly inform you about the opportunities that are available to you, how you can get there with us here at Hummingbird Helicopters.

Attend a career day

If you are thinking about beginning flight training, please do come along to our free Career Day event.

We will take you through the process of becoming a professional pilot from your very first trial lesson, to graduating your commercial course. You will leave with your questions answered having heard from our professional team of instructors and staff including our Head of Training, Matt Rake, who has 20 years of commercial helicopter experience having flown in the offshore oil and gas sector as well as HEMS.

We have already announced the date of our next Helicopter Pilot Career Day on the 30th March where we hope to welcome another group of budding student pilots. If you are interested in attending and would like to find out more information, please follow the link to our contact form attached below or call us on 01302 802221.