Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Grab That Broom!

The helicopter has been described as “a miracle with a starter button,” and for those of us who fly them, the exhilaration is intoxicating and contagious.


October 11, 2011
By Michael Bellamy

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The helicopter has been described as “a miracle with a starter button,” and for those of us who fly them, the exhilaration is intoxicating and contagious. We’ve all been queried by interested candidates at one time or another as to what it takes to occupy the pilot’s seat, but divulging the cost of training usually sends those candidates wandering off, discarding momentary interest.

Yet, others are not easily dissuaded and dig deep for the cost of tuition. But soon the questions come – did you really research how difficult it is to find a job? Did you consider the long tours away from home in isolated locations where weekends are just another work day?

And wait, there’s more! Having an accident in those early years will sometimes end a promising career, and even if the fault isn’t yours, it takes a special person to overcome the stigma. For those in flight school or with newly acquired licence in hand, let’s drop the candy coating. Here’s what’s probably waiting for you with that first job experience.

There are a few helicopter schools that will offer graduates more experience in a controlled environment. However, the notion of a freshly-minted helicopter pilot joining the flight line in a charter operation is almost unheard of. Yes, you have met Transport Canada’s requirements, but large corporate clientele are far more selective – especially when it comes to the safety of their employees. Carriers have to be approved to gain their patronage, and this is usually done through an aviation consultant either in house or contracted. The consultants’ mandate is to ensure the charter company exceeds industry standards before granting approval, and for pilots, this is determined by regular evaluation and extensive flying experience. Consultants appreciate the difficulties this imposes on new pilots, but would you consider striking off on a trip with just the minimum fuel required, or would you recommend adding some extra just to be on the safe side?

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Your first job is all about being able to add additional value in a related capacity. A new licence and 100 hours is not going to get you into the pilot’s seat right away. So, once you’re in the door, here’s what your employer might be watching for. A willingness to contribute in enhancing an operator’s business tops the list. Sweeping floors may be required, and for smaller charter operators this is also expected from pilots with 5,000 hours. Here’s another tip – if you identify something that needs to be done, step in and do it. Companies appreciate someone who can work without constant supervision.

One of my contacts at a successful and respected company related to me that they look at a pilot’s vehicle to determine what a potential candidate is all about. Empty coffee cups and fast-food containers littering the floor indicate to them, that, in all probability, their helicopter will be subjected to the same treatment.

Appearance is another consideration. Do you look the part? Ear buds isolating your attention and an inseam on your jeans equating your hat size is not going to impress management.

Then there’s the evaluation flight. This can be a tense time for the new pilot, and no one expects you to “wow” them after 100 hours of flight training. There are, however, indicators that suggest potential. Nothing is more irritating to the check pilot than wasting flight time listening to a candidate relate how he once handled a similar situation. Instead, listen up, take your time and remember the golden rule, “Aviate, Navigate and Communicate.”

If the check pilot directs you to a confined area and you determine it’s too small, tell him. He may have set you up to see if you can make that determination on your own. Making a negative call before the check pilot has to make it for you is a good thing.

It’s true, advancement in the your chosen company might not happen as quickly as you might like. There might be mitigating factors not foreseen by the operation, such as a slow season, or expected pilot attrition not materializing. Couple that with a downturn in revenue, and your tenure as a ramp rat may be extended.

Occasionally, the company may no longer be in a position to offer you a seat, and you must decide if it’s time to move on to (hopefully) better prospects.

Piloting a helicopter in a charter operation requires a multitude of skills; determination learned early is without a doubt the most enduring. And once you’ve paid your dues and your name is on the pilot roster, then, you can say, “Atta boy!” or “Atta girl! There will be little doubt, you have earned it.


A native of Spruce Grove, Alta., Michael Bellamy has been flying fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in a variety of capacities since 1971, and is an accomplished author of several books, including Crosswinds.


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