As more of the world's oil supplies pour from offshore refineries, more opportunities for skilled helicopter pilots abound. Oil rigs need helicopter pilots to bring supplies and personnel to and from the mainland or drilling ships. For capable pilots, this spells a bright future and a career path offering great pay and steady work.
Offshore pilots who visit oil rigs or drilling ships need to be among the best. They often need to land and maneuver in severe winds or storm conditions. Still, most new offshore pilots start around $40,000 per year, though that salary may be as high as $50,000 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics set the median annual salary of commercial pilots, which includes oil rig pilots, at $67,500 in 2010.
Pay Compared to Other Helicopter Careers
While oil rig pilots certainly make a comfortable living and typically fly highly tuned machines, the pay for newer oil rig pilots is considered moderate in the commercial helicopter industry. Helicopter pilots who fly pharmaceutical company executives to and from New Jersey's biotech belt, for example, often make as much as $130,000 a year. And chopper pilots who fly spotting and transport missions for large logging companies may make upwards of $200,000 a year.
Getting to higher-paying jobs like pharma or logging for helicopter pilots may or may not require cutting your professional teeth in a field such as oil rig flying, but the learning process in the oil industry can be lucrative. Experienced oil rig pilots can make upwards of $150,000 per year. But this high pay comes from having to work long days that may begin at 5 a.m., in industrial towns that do not offer many amenities.
A Pilot's Life
Though oil rigs need helicopter pilots, the reality is that many managers on rigs view helicopter pilots as something akin to bus drivers who merely pick up people and drop them off. On the other hand, rig pilots typically have an enviable one-for-one schedule, meaning that for every day worked, you get one day off. Many rig pilots work seven straight days and then take the next seven off. Many companies provide housing, but the housing is modest -- as in, trailers -- at best.
2016 Salary Information for Airline and Commercial Pilots
Airline and commercial pilots earned a median annual salary of $111,270 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, airline and commercial pilots earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,450, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $166,140, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 124,800 people were employed in the U.S. as airline and commercial pilots.