I am starting to think seriously about getting a commercial license to start a career as a helicopter pilot, but I have a couple of important questions that I can't seem to fond answers.
Most schools offer training on R22, for average 50 000$ in Canada. Upon completion, will I be able to find work with 100 hours experience on a R22? It seems like pistons helicopters like the R22 are mostly used for training, so I doubt that the basic commercial license training will be enough to find any work, am I wrong? What kind of other training should I look at if I want better chance at finding work.
Some schools offer turbine powered helicopter training on Bell 206, like Chinook Helicopters in BC, for an extra 30 000? IS it worth it to pay that kind of training from the beginning?
Usually, how does pilot gain their experience on different types of aircraft, night training, mountain course, IFR? is it by paying for all the extra specific training or there is another way around like giving time to an employer in exchange of extra specialization?
50 000 is a lot of money, but it seems like it is really not enough to find work, am I wrong?
Thank you !
Disclaimer: I'm a low-timer; only 222 hours. I have no turbine endorsement, and I'm currently seeking work in the industry. The following are my thoughts based on my own observations, advice given to me by more experienced folks, along with my own meagre experience in the industry. YMMV.
The short answer: It depends.
First, what can you afford? Do you have the money up front? Can you afford to plunk down an extra $30,000 for turbine training? Can you afford to be unemployed for long periods of time while supporting a massive student loan? Do you have a career to fall back on? Once in the industry, can you accept working a seasonal job at low wages for a few years?
Next, what sort of flying do you envision yourself doing? Mountains? Fire fighting? Offshore/IFR? Med-Evac? Where in the country (or world) do you plan on working? Out west? Ontario? Tropical island paradise? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Always keep this in mind: When you finish flight school, no matter what endorsements you have or what machines you trained in, you are still a pilot with 100 hours. You will most likely be hired for your first job based on your attitude, work ethic, non-flying skills (an advanced first aid ticket, a trade or a second language may go a long way), or maybe just 'cause your timing was lucky. Having a turbine endorsement *may* help, or it might not make a lick of difference.
To wit: My school hires a few students each year to fly sightseeing tours over the summer. I was one of the lucky few who was hired last summer, and I owe that to the fact that I treated flight school like a job - I washed machines, swept the floor, and busted my butt being the best hangar rat I could (and I was genuinely happy to do it!). But, I probably would not have been considered had I not done my R44 rating. Two of my classmates are currently working in the industry flying R44s. One's in the bush up north, the other just flew his 1000th hour in a newscopter over a big city. Both probably would *not* have been considered for their current jobs had they not had an R44 rating. Both got their 206 endorsement at school, and as of yet neither have earned a buck flying a 206.
That makes it sound like a 206 endorsement's folly, right? Maybe not...
A friend of mine followed a similar career path as me, but a few years prior. He went to the same school and worked the same summer job, but his next job was in a 206. According to him, he would not have gotten his second job in the industry without the 206 endorsement he did in school. He's currently working his dream job flying in the mountains abroad.
Good companies will generally provide specialised training for their pilots in the hopes of retaining them in the long run - usually a mutually beneficial arrangement. The hard part is finding a good company that will hire you when you're a low-timer. This is where a certain endorsement *may* help, and why I encourage you to consider those questions I wrote above before you spend your money.
The old catch-22... you can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job. There are two schools of thought on getting experience in the heli-world:
-Take whatever you can get, work anywhere and then move on to whatever job gets you the most hours and experience. The upside is that if you're keen, have the right attitude and fly safely, you will probably fill up your logbook fast. Once you have, say 1000 or 2000 hours, then you can start "specializing". The downside to this is that you're always on the move, and some chief pilots might be reluctant to hire you when they see you've worked for seven companies in the past four years. A few folks feel they need to take anything 'cause they have families to support and student loans to pay.
- Figure out what your goals are, then research a handful of companies that do that sort of work. THIS is where having a certain endorsement might help, but do not assume that you'll be handed a job just 'cause you have it. BE REALISTIC - make sure that the companies you are interested in are diverse enough to actually provide flying opportunities for a low-timer. For example, if you want to be a heli-logger, don't spend all your time trying to get hired with your 103-hour resume at a company that has only one Skycrane and three 12,000 hour pilots that have worked there for years. The upside to this approach is that once the company sees you're worth their time and money, then they'll invest in training you. You end up with a nice secure job with lots of endorsements and training, they get a skilled pilot that they know and trust. The downside is that it may take longer for you to get flying; you may find yourself looking for that ideal company for a long time! This is where it's nice to have that second career to fall back on...
As for me; I kinda wish I had went for my 206 endorsement in school. I'm saving up for it now, and here's why: My goal is to work towards a career in the mountains; in particular, my dream is to be a heli-ski pilot. That said, I'm well aware that flying in the mountains requires more skill and experience than my 200-odd hours! I would rather follow the latter path to gaining experience, even if it means I spend a couple summers working as ground crew. To that end, I recently contacted a few companies that fit the profile of "People I Would Like to Spend A Whole Career Working For" . All are diverse, all fly in the mountains, and all do other flying that might be within the realm of the low-timer. All have some form of Jet or Long Ranger, but almost none fly any Robinson machines. I contacted a bunch of them and asked a question not unlike yours: If you were considering low-time applicants for an entry-level position, would having a 206 endorsement be of benefit?
Of the five that have responded so far, four said that yes, they would give greater consideration to candidates with the turbine endorsement. Interestingly, the one that did not require a turbine rating was a large company that does almost all mountain flying - most of it heli-skiing.
Anecdote: this spring, I was being considered for hire by my ultimate dream company. Unfortunately, they didn't get the contracts they were hoping for, but if they did and and had I been successfully hired, I would have been flying a 206L3 up in the Arctic, and they would have trained me on it.
Confusing, eh? Everyone's situation is different, and there's no real clear answer. I got divorced a few years ago (amicably, thankfully!). I had no kids, and when I sold out my half of the house, it wound up covering most of my tuition. I still have a job as an avalanche tech at a ski hill. All that means I have no mortgage, no car payment, and only a small student loan payment each month. I work winters when the helicopter season is quiet, and I have the spring, summer and fall to devote to the heli industry. It might take me time to get that job (and I sure as hell ain't getting rich fast ), but at least I have a backup plan of sorts.
To sum up: Figure out what you can afford, then consider where you'd like to work. Talk to schools, student pilots, working pilots, helicopter companies. Then, be prepared to be poor and unemployed
FWIW, I have absolutely no regrets, but I did tons of research before I started down this path, so I knew what to expect.
Sorry 'bout the long post - hopefully you can find something insightful up there somewhere!
I think #2 *was* longer after all. I guess I shouldn'tve put that statement at the top...
At least all the typing gave me something to do until happy hour. I think I'll have me a drink!
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Good reply, and thank you. I always thought I was one of the more long-winded Avcanadians....
Just a couple quick comments to Darren's post.
The industry is changing. I have never paid for an endorsement of any kind, nor will I. Nor have most people my age and older who've been at it a while. Why? There is no need to. Why are we seeing this idea take off where students must show up with R44 or 206 endorsements? Simple, because a) people are willing to spend the money on them (out of ignorance), and b) the flight schools more than ever have become big business with this concept being a large money maker for them.
It propagates itself because those new to the industry do not know any better. You CANNOT work with an endorsement, you need a PPC. An endorsement is useless. Look in the company Ops Manual and see what it says about new hire Indoctrination training and PPC training - you will see there is NO reason to spend your either hard-earned or soon to be be hard-paid-back money on it. There is plenty of time to be endorsed in the legally mandated time.
Also, your comment about working for "7 companies in 4 years."
Don't worry about it.
There is a saying in this industry and it goes like this: There are only two good companies; the one you just left, and the one you'll go to next." There is an illusion of working in places "for life," it happens more and more rarely anymore. If you acquire the requisite skills; long lining, mountain flying, multiple types, and a good bit of experience of each, you can work anywhere. As long as you conduct yourself in a professional manner, treat your co-workers, customers, and bosses with respect, you will be fine even if things don't necessarily go well in every one of them. A very high time retied guy and I were sitting at a fire base this morning discussing this very thing. This industry has a tendency to attract some real scoundrels and crooks, you can only conduct yourself ethically and respectfully - this may mean striking many outfits off the list, regardless of their reputations. Call a spade a spade, and NEVER do something you feel is wrong, regardless of who is asking - it's your job. NOTHING is worth killing yourself or other people for, nothing. In this new age of SMS it's even more critical to look after yourself because the companies will not be there for you like the old days, you are on your own.
There will be many places you may go for work at different times of year, a substantial number of us work this way, it's called Contract Flying. Do a good job, and you will always be welcomed back, even if it's years down the road.
Do you know where 99% of the best "old" pilots in Canada started? The venerable Bell 47. Don't worry about blowing 100hrs on a 206, it's a waste of time regardless of what the school would have you believe. Helicopters are helicopters, from lights to heavies, they all operate in the same way, and the skills required to be an excellent pilot go far, far, beyond simple type endorsements or engine types - it takes many years of dedication to learning your craft to be able to function at a high level in a broad range of applications. Once you can, you'll always find work, even in the really bad years when there's "no work."
Save your money, get through your ab initio flying asap, learn what you can there, choose a good school with a high time instructor, worry about all the "other" things included in the job that aren't wiggling the sticks, then go put as much effort into finding a job as you did getting the license.
Do that, and you will be fine. This is a tough industry, even once you've "made it," so be prepared. Where do you want to be in 10yrs? Well, you really don't have a lot of control over it, but what you can do is be ready for whatever that is.
Thank you everyone for these quick, precise, and long answers.
I will probably pay the whole 50 000$ for a training on a R22, or 300cbi. But I will have no more money to pay for the extra trainings, for now.First, what can you afford? Do you have the money up front? Can you afford to plunk down an extra $30,000 for turbine training? Can you afford to be unemployed for long periods of time while supporting a massive student loan? Do you have a career to fall back on? Once in the industry, can you accept working a seasonal job at low wages for a few years?
Do I really need another career to fall back on? are jobs that rare in the industry? I am actually giving up my career to reorient into flying helicopters!!!
I guess it will be essential to work part time ( or maybe full time ) at some other place after the training?
I haven't thought of that....they all seem a dream job to me! But I'll start doing my homeworks!Next, what sort of flying do you envision yourself doing? Mountains? Fire fighting? Offshore/IFR? Med-Evac? Where in the country (or world) do you plan on working? Out west? Ontario? Tropical island paradise? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Am I wrong to think that the best way to build hours would be as an instructor ? Some schools offer a training focused on instructing . Would this be worth it? But I am confused...all the schools claim that their instructors are highly trained, and have lots of flying time...Where did they start?
lol. this industry is fascinating...
Thanks again for your answers guys!
STL, just wanted to say thank you for clearing the air!