Meet Hayley Cumming, a professional helicopter pilot who dreamed of flying helicopters when she used to watch her neighbour land his helicopter every weekend and one day, after a heli ride, she decided to chase her dream and make it a reality.
What are your working hours?
Flexible, anything from four to 12 hours. But by law a pilot may only fly up to seven hours a day.
What does this job entail?
Long hours of concentration, excitement, challenges, meeting lots of people, flying to new/different destinations, focus, constant learning, staying proficient and having fun!
Are there any ‘glamorous’ aspects to being a helicopter pilot?
It’s not as glamorous as being an airline pilot; it’s very much hands-on, crawling underneath the helicopter and getting covered in grease and fuel.
What are the mundane aspects?
Plenty of paperwork! Which we pilots hate! Before every flight a pre-flight check is required.
Hurry up and wait for passengers is always on the cards.
What are some of the personality attributes required to make a great pilot?
Professionalism, outgoing, people-person. I’ve had described to me before that heli pilots are like little professors – always inquisitive with a thirst for knowledge. Adventurous. Disciplined. Enjoys a challenge.
Are there different aspects a person could get involved with in this career field?
There are too many to mention all, it’s so vast, but here are a few:
- Vehicle tracking
- Offshore to oil rigs and ships
- Game counting
- Emergency rescue
- Asset transport
- VIP transport
What is the weirdest object you have ever had to transport?
Could being a pilot ever be dangerous?
Yes, there are a lot of factors which can make flying dangerous. It is a machine after all and we are human so we make mistakes. But we are trained to handle most emergencies and as long as we do proper checks, planning and preparation, we can handle most situations.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Personal instructor to the Queen of Abu Dhabi.
What did you study to become a helicopter pilot?
I completed my Private Pilot Licence and Commercial Pilot Licence which involved bits of maths, biology, physics, geography, meteorology, aerodynamics, English and basic mechanics. All of these form part of the subjects needed for the licence, however, it is not compulsory – most of this you will learn throughout your training.
How do you achieve your flying hours required to gain your licence?
For a PPL (Private Pilot Licence), 50 hours is required and all of that is completed during a course at your training school. In order to make a career as a heli pilot, you must do a CPL (Commercial Pilot Licence) and then you need to complete a total of 200 hours, of which 100 hours is done as PIC (Pilot in Command) on the school’s helicopter or your own, which is not included in the course.
Who ensures that the helicopters are always flight ready?
The pilot is responsible for pre-flight checks. We check fuel, oil levels, that the lights are working, no screws are loose and for any unusual damage to the aircraft. All helicopters have to be regularly serviced by an aircraft engineer.
Is this a very stressful career?
It can be, but it’s also a lot of fun. Any career is stressful in its own way.
At first, with limited experience, the pay is minimal. You could look to earn around R12,000. As you build hours and experience this will increase. Big money is made flying contract work in other countries. The police take low time pilots (pilots who are newly qualified and don’t have many flying hours to their name) on at about R14,000.
What are the benefits in this career?
You get to do what you love to do every day, plus you should see the view from my office.
Have you flown any famous people around?
Yes I have. This is one job where you do actually get to meet quite a few famous people, such as radio presenters, actors, singers and sport stars, for example.
What is the market like in terms of jobs and competition?
There is a lot of competition out there, but perseverance is key. Until one has built up enough experience it can be tough to find jobs, as with any industry.
Any tips for teens who may want to pursue a career as a helicopter pilot?
Finish school. Any prospective employer wants to see matric on a CV. Concentrate on English, maths and physics, as focusing on these will assist in the long run. Research different flight schools, and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you want. Never give up on your dream. Work hard, persevere and achieve.