If your goal is to become a police helicopter pilot, you should be aware that it might take years to work yourself into the police department's aviation unit. The basic fact of the matter is that there are many more qualified pilots than there are jobs available. Furthermore, most police departments prefer to take a cop and train him to be a chopper pilot rather than simply hire a chopper pilot. Only 4 percent of law enforcement helicopter pilots are hired on a civilian basis, according to statistics from the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.
In general, a helicopter pilot will earn more money pursuing civilian employment than to focus on law enforcement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median wage for aircraft pilots, copilots and flight engineers for 2008 was $111,680, a number that ranks almost double what is reported from helicopter-specific sources as a realistic police pilot salary. But for those hardy souls who fly to make a difference in peoples' lives rather than strictly for a paycheck, police flying can be the culmination of a dream.
One way to establish exactly what law enforcement helicopter pilots are being paid is to take a look at currently advertised job vacancies on TheHelicopterSource.com. Five jobs listed there by police departments from cities in Florida, California, Maryland, and Tennessee, start at a low of $38,596 and range all the way up to $80,000. The range takes into account that applicants' will have a wide variety of experience, skills and flying hours.
In light of the fact that so few civilian helicopter pilots are hired in that capacity, and that most police departments prefer to take a trained policeman with flight aptitude and put him in the helicopter pilot seat, it seems that the best route to becoming a police helicopter pilot is to become a patrol officer first. Considering the amount of time and expense involved in becoming a pilot, you should perhaps reflect upon the reasons you want to fly for a living in the first place before choosing to pursue the lower-paying option of police work.
In order to maximize your earning potential while flying a law-enforcement gig, you should realize that the more hours you have logged in the pilot's seat and more advanced certifications you hold will likely result in your initial salary landing on the higher side of the range rather than the lowest. Planning way ahead is the key because, as mentioned, working your way up the ranks in this highly competitive job field is expensive and time-consuming.