Around the world, the oil and gas industry employs more rotorcraft pilots than any other industry. Offshore, jungle, mountains or remote desert petroleum exploration or production locations rely on helicopter pilots to transport personnel and cargo. Oil rig helicopter pilots often are called upon to fly medical evacuations or remove personnel from drilling platforms threatened by natural disasters. Oil rig helicopter pilot salaries vary dependent on geographical location, risk factors, employer, aircraft type and experience and level of licensure of the pilot.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Opportunity Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, the average annual income for commercial pilots was $65,340 as of 2008. Pilots in the middle 50 percent of wage earners received an annual income between $45,680 and $89,540 per year. Commercial pilots in the lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,020 and the highest 10 percent earned in excess of $129,580.
Oil field helicopter pilots earn an average income of $300 to $500 per shift with a schedule of 14 days on and 14 days off, according to helicoptersalaries.com. Rotorcraft pilots employed by major oil companies typically receive an array of benefits that may include medical, dental, vision and life insurance. Holiday and overtime pay, housing and a daily per diem are additional inducements. Online aviation job boards reflect the high international demand for oil field helicopter pilots. Many oil companies "sweeten the pot" with safety bonuses, retention bonuses, uniform allowances and additional pay for off-shore and night flying. Several oil companies offer reimbursement for educational expenses leading to a masters or doctoral degree.
Oil rig helicopter pilots transport personnel and cargo to and from off-shore oil field drilling and production platforms and survey vessels. Helicopter pilots also fly support for geological surveying. They are called upon to fly in inclement and hazardous weather conditions, both day and night. Oil field helicopter pilots also fly emergency air ambulance missions, transporting injured or ill workers to on-shore medical facilities.
A pilot must be in superior physical condition, have 20/20 vison (with or without glasses or corrective contact lenses) and have excellent hearing, reflexes and coordination. Pilots are required to be free of any physical handicaps that could impair their ability to fly a plane. To obtain a pilot license, candidates must have a strict physical examination by a Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) approved physician. Candidates with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, physiological problems, diminished mental capacity or heart problems may be disqualified. The majority of employers require helicopter pilots to have 2,500 flight hours, with more than 1,000 hours in turbines. An instrument rating is required. Pilots with extensive experience and a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) license earn the highest pay.
Training And Licensing
The majority of helicopter pilots are trained, gain experience and build flight hours while serving in the United States military. Others attend a FAA approved flight school. There are more than 600 approved flight schools in the United States. Although a college education is not a requirement to become a pilot, most candidates for pilot training obtain a degree in aeronautics or engineering. Pilots with post-secondary education receive preference in hiring and higher income.