The first thing you should do is get a medical. Without one you can’t fly. Contact us and we will be able to find out who is the closest aviation medical doctor to where you live and give you their contact details. Most people pass their medicals with no problems so don’t worry, it’s just not worth going further until you know if you can medically.
For a commercial pilot things get a bit more complicated. It can be cheaper to do a fixed wing CPL and then a helicopter CPL. To get the first CPL (Helicopter or fixed wing) 200 hours (100 pilot in command) are needed. To get the second CPL 100 hours (50 hours pilot in command) are needed. Because helicopters often cost more than double fixed wings to fly, it does look like it is cheaper. Just. But if your aim is to be a commercial helicopter pilot there are two things that often happen when going the fixed wing then helicopter route:
- Start with fixed wing and then give up. When someone really wants to be flying helicopters they often get frustrated flying fixed wings because it is not what they really want to be doing. Therefore they give up either during their PPL or once they have completed it (but not CPL). This does not help them financially at all and the money they spend on their fixed wing PPL is wasted.
- Some people do finish the fixed wing CPL and then move on to helicopters. Once they have finished their helicopter PPL they should have 35 hours dual and 15 hours solo. They need 50 hours dual and 50 hours pilot in command. This leaves 15 hours dual and 35 hours pilot in command. They will probably find it very hard to find a job without a Robinson 44 rating and either an instructor rating or a night rating and a Jetranger rating. This all takes more than 15 hours dual to complete and if you do all of these ratings you might find you finish you CPL(H) with 130 hours not 100. It would then have been far cheaper to do only the helicopter CPL. It would also have been a lot quicker.
But having said all that you do end up with an ability to fly both and not just helicopters which can be useful. You will however find that almost everyone who has both ends up flying almost only one and they just upkeep the other one. You might also find that only having 100 – 130 hours on helicopters might count against you when looking for your first job. It’s your choice.
There are a large variety of schools around. If you respond well to a very rigid military environment, it might be better to go to a very big school where you are given slots and times and your schedule is pretty much determined for you. If you are looking for a more personal attention then a smaller school is probably better.
It is not a good idea to pay for your entire training in advance. Some schools do encourage it buy giving you a discount for doing so but sometimes you end up being treated as a lower priority student once they have your money. You also might find it tough to get your money back if you want to change to another school. Almost all schools will require you to have money in their account and then fly it off though. This is quite normal.
Take the weather into account as well. If you are planning on doing you licence as fast as possible do it in a place where the weather is good. If you don’t want to spend the entire time flying over mine dumps, but would rather enjoy your training do it in a scenic place (George).
What to expect during the PPL
At the beginning there is a lot of new information and you might feel a bit out of your comfort zone. Most new students end up spending a lot of time in the hanger at the beginning to get orientated with the environment. You have to do seven online exams, a radio licence and 50 hours flying. The flying and the exams are kept fairly separate. You go to class, study and then write the exams and radio licence when you feel ready. You have an unlimited amount of attempts to take the exams. The flying is usually done in two hour slots. This involves roughly an hour of pre and post flight lecturing and an hour of pre-flight and flying.
It is a good idea to decide what type of flying you are going to start off your career with, but you only need to do this once you have your PPL. Just to give you an idea of what to expect:
To get the top paying jobs you need experience which is measured in how many hours you have. Straight after you qualify there will probably only be four options open to you unless you are well connected:
- Your best option is an instructor. They do lots of hours and the pay is not bad. You will start off a grade III. Grade III’s instruct under the supervision of more experienced instructors and get around R350 an hour and usually do around 50 – 60 hours a month at a decent school. If you do less than 30 hours a month you can usually negotiate a higher hourly rate. Once you have 200 hours instruction time and 8 months experience you can upgrade to a grade II. They usually get around R450 – R500 an hour. There are instructors who do around 90 hours some months at a busy school in good times but that is unusual.
- Another option is a Netstar pilot (tracking stolen cars). They get around R15000 – R20000 a month depending on experience if they are based in Johannesburg. In Cape Town / Durban about R12000 a month. In Johannesburg they build hours fast and move on to better jobs, so their pilot turnover is fairly rapid which provides opportunities for low time pilots.
- You can also find a charter operation (like at the waterfront in Cape Town) that has R44’s to start off on. With around 500 hours you can probably find a job doing charters on Jetrangers as well. Your other option is Game capture.
- You need to know about game and wildlife and love it to do that for a living though. First year of game capture you should get around R15000 a month and then R25000 from then on. You also need 250 hours to get a game capture rating so it isn’t really an option for a first job. It is also extremely dangerous and requires a lot of skill / experience to do effectively. Pilots who aim to do game capture usually get their PPL’s and then find a game capture company to work for as ground support. You then ferry their aircraft to and from the catches and get to 200 hours and a CPL like that. You also get to know the game capture industry and flying procedures. To be a game capture pilot you have to have a passion for wildlife first and a passion for flying second.
From 1000 hours your options increase. The police take people with a minimum of 800 hours and Air Mercy Services 1000 hours minimum. They should each pay about R25000 – R30000 a month. You could also find a job doing contract work in Africa or offshore flying to oil rigs. They get anything up to R60000 as a co pilot and R100000 as captain (to be captain you will have to have to be co pilot for a few years though).
There are also survey flying contracts available but usually only in up in Africa (Angola…) There is also work doing available doing fire fighting if you are a bit more adventurous and have more than a 1000 hours. Your biggest problem is always getting your first job. And you will find it’s a lot less of a problem with an instructors rating.