How Much Does A Helicopter Pilot Make
To answer the question “how much does a helicopter pilot make” we gathered information from a variety of sources, including my own commercial pilot salary just before I retired. We will also do some salary comparison between professional helicopter pilots and commercial airline pilots.
Average Commercial Pilot Salary
Insidejobs.com currently list the average helicopter pilot salary at $111,680 annually with most helicopter pilot jobs paying between $81,580 and $150,480. Insidejobs.com cites the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for these salary figures.
Note- $111,680 seems to a bit high for the average helicopter pilot salary, but there are certainly some pilots earning that amount of money.
Commercial helicopter pilots tend to make less than commercial airline pilots particularly when you study pilot salaries over a span of an entire career, such as 25 – 30 years.
I have previously written about commercial pilot salary comparison in the article How To Become A Pilot.
At that time I reported that according to salary.com the median helicopter pilot salary in the U.S. was $85,837. That is an excellent “average” salary for most parts of the U.S.
In comparison, the median or average salary for a captain of a large jet is $121,408.
Keep in mind this is not the top salary for either the commercial helicopter pilot or the commercial airline pilot. When you add in 10 years of flying experience, the pay scale is significantly more.
Commercial helicopter pilot with 10 years – Salary can be as high as $132,778.
Commercial airline pilot with 10 years – Salary can be as high as $180,000.
Police Helicopter Pilot Salary
To give you a good idea of what a police helicopter pilot salary is, we can take a look at a real life case – my own salary just before I retired.
When it comes to law enforcement agencies, most commercial pilots are paid on the same scale as other officers on the department, but with added incentives for being a pilot. Every single department is slightly different so the pilot salary from one agency to the next is going to be different.
In my case, I was also a sergeant before I retired so I was receiving sergeant pay along with a 12.5% bonus pay for being a helicopter pilot in the air support unit. My annual salary before I retired was $109,770.
While that seems like a lot of money, and it is, remember I live in a state which has one of the highest costs of living in the U.S. And also remember, that is not net, that is gross earnings. Big difference right?
You can see however that my salary was still below the top salary that has been reported for some commercial helicopter pilots, ($132,000.)
LAPD Helicopter Pilot Salary – It has been widely reported for many years that LAPD pilots receive a whopping 30% bonus pay for being a helicopter pilot in the air support unit. That equates essentially to the salary of an LAPD lieutenant. On many agencies there is a 15% difference in pay between an officer and a sergeant, and another 15% difference between sergeant and lieutenant.
"Commercial Pilot Salary for LAPD Pilot – Approximately $143,000 per year."
Unionwatch.org reported in an online article in August 2014 that in 2012 the average pay and benefits for full time sworn LAPD Officers was $110,285. So to get an idea of the average salary of a LAPD Helicopter Pilot add 30% of $110,000.00 to the average LAPD officer’s salary and you get a pilot salary of approximately $143,000.00 ($110,000 + $33,000 = $143,000.)
The only problem with these numbers are the “benefits” that are calculated into the $110,000. These are things like vacation & sick time, medical insurance, etc.
The actual salary of a LAPD Pilot is probably closer to $120,000 - $130,000 annually (gross earnings).
Other sources of information for –
How much does a helicopter pilot make?
Helicoptersalaries.com list salaries for approximately 18 different commercial helicopter companies to include; Assoc Aircraft Group, Air Evac Life Team, Air logistics/Bristow, Air Methods Corp., Careflite, CHC Helicopters, Era Helicopters LLC, Helicopters Inc., HeliFlite, URSRucker, Maverick Helicopters, Metro Aviation, Papillion Helicopters, PHI, Rotorcraft Leasing, Saudi Aramco, Sundance Helicopters, and Reach Air Medical.
A good example of the salary ranges found on helicoptersalaries.com is the PHI (Petroleum Helicopters Inc.) tab. The salary for a helicopter pilot at PHI – as listed on the site – runs from $61,792 all the way up to $154,000 which includes retention pay and an annual bonus.
Air Methods is one of the largest air medical providers in the U.S. operating approximately 450 helicopters across 300 bases and 48 states. Their 2015 – 2016 salary charts on helicoptersalaries.com shows a range of $63,106 to $95,589. This is probably an excellent gauge for the salary of a medical or “life flight” helicopter pilot.