Service Sector

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Courtesy - London Air Ambulance

The aviation industry Service Sector covers a wide range of flying including the oil industry, police helicopters and the one most of us are probably more familiar with, HEMS/Air Ambulance services.

Entry requirements between the different specialists may very slightly, such as in the distinction between HEMS and Air Ambulance. By way of example the HEMS requirements are covered below.


Before considering a career in the HEMS/Air Ambulance environment it might be worth considering how you would feel about being exposed to ‘blood and guts’ and the psychological burden of such work. Aviation is the primary role of a HEMS pilot but one cannot avoid being in close contact with patients and all that comes with that.

Initially, it might be worth making the distinction between Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) and Air Ambulance as the requirements for employment are different.

Air Ambulance is, in regulatory terms, considered to be a normal transport task where the risk is no higher than for operations to the full OPS.CAT and PART.ORO compliance.

Courtesy - Wiltshire Air Ambulance

HEMS operations[1], as per GM1 SPA.HEMS.100, ( from P95) assumes a higher but acceptable level of risk and therefore attracts certain alleviations but requires a higher level of selection and training.

Of course, if flying in the Air Ambulance environment it is possible that you would be required to fly a HEMS flight and therefore for the purpose of this article only HEMS pilot selection is considered.

Courtesy - Hants and IOW Air Ambulance

The requirement for commanders [2] conducting HEMS flights is either:

  • 1000 hours as pilot in command (PIC) of aircraft of which 500 hours are of PIC on helicopters or
  • 1000 hours as co-pilot in HEMS operations of which 500 hours are as pilot in command under supervision and 100 hours PIC of helicopters.

And 500 hours operating experience in helicopters, gained in an operational environment similar to the intended operation.

And for night operations, 20 hours of night VMC as PIC.

There are 4 main routes to this end.

  • Military
  • Integrated course
  • Modular route
  • Co-pilot


Although military pilots are not getting the amount of flying hours that they had gained previously the experience gained is useful and can translate to HEMS flying easily.

HEMS flying is very much a handling heavy occupation. Although there exist IFR elements at the end of the day the job requires getting the aircraft as safely and a close to the patient as possible. Pilots intending to become HEMS pilots would benefit from a background where handling is predominant, for example Police flying or instructing.

It seems that a number of HEMS services in the UK are moving toward a Multi-Pilot (MP) model. Candidates applying for these roles would benefit from previous MP experience to avoid having to do an MCC Course

Courtesy- Ken Fielding
Lifting a camera into position for a film shoot Courtesy - Joe Steel

The Wider Service Sector

There are several service sector occupations that embrace carrying of passengers, including oil platform transport. Some of these services require pilot qualification to ATPL others as far as CPL.

Rotary wing (helicopters) can cover a lot of the work already described, but also have specific roles – such as oil rig transfers, tours and public service (rescue, police, coastguard etc). Military pilots often dominate this sector, as helicopter training is relatively expensive, but it is still possible to work up from no experience to CPL(H), or convert from a fixed-wing licence.

Flying other than the direct carrying of passengers or cargo comes under the term ‘Aerial work’. This covers things such as air survey or photography, flight calibration and ‘special mission’ or jump pilot. Survey can vary between light aircraft (e.g. Cessna 172), with a photographer and camera, right up to dedicated specialist survey aircraft, with a variety of sensors. Though some of this work can be fairly boring, it is a great way to build hours and experience. UAVs (drones) have taken over a lot of the traditional aerial photography roles (e.g. surveying, film & TV), but there will still remain situations where UAVs aren’t practical, and manned aircraft will be required for some time to come.

In the film & TV industry helicopters are used not just to take footage, but often to get equipment, people and facilities in to position in often remote or inhospitable locations.

Flight calibration and special mission are specific operations, designed to test air navigation systems (such as radio beacons or approach systems), and ‘special mission’ can cover operations in support of the Ministry of Defence or other government departments (e.g. fisheries patrol, environmental monitoring, Met Office).

Not very common in the UK, but another type of aerial work is Banner towing or ‘aerial application’ (crop spraying). Both of these take a fair level of skill and ‘hands-on’ flying experience. If you undertake flight training in the USA, and are looking to build hours and experience, this could be a viable option. Sometimes it is possible to obtain aerial work such as this with a PPL, though you should not be paid for the work, which would require a CPL.

Courtesy - Hkeyser

Filming in Norway where eight helicopters were used to transport 150 crew members and equipment to the top of a mountain in difficult conditions.

Courtesy of Joe Steel

In the film industry there are 2 main uses for helicopters. The first and most obvious is aerial photography, this usually entails an externally mounted camera on a giro stabilised remote head that is operated by a camera operator inside the helicopter. The pilots are in constant communication with the camera operator and works with them to achieve the perfect shot using the helicopters altitude, position, pitch, speed etc.

Sometimes the shots will require the helicopter to fly close to actors or structures – for this reason the movements of the helicopter are always discussed on the ground first with the pilot, camera operator, director, safety team etc.

Pilots come from a range of military and commercial backgrounds but are very experienced and once they make the move into aerial filming they often stay with that as their discipline, once pilots gain a good reputation they will work anywhere in the world. Very occasionally airplanes or hot air balloons are used for filming but this is rare.

The other main use for helicopters is logistics. Films always want to find interesting and different locations to shoot, but this often means that they are also extremely difficult to access with the hundreds of tons of equipment it takes to shoot a film. So helicopters are used in ‘long line’ mode to airlift equipment to locations that the trucks can’t reach. They are also used to transport the crew which can be anywhere between 5 to 200 people. The more people there are the more helicopters need to be used in order to get everyone in and out in a timely fashion.

Logistics pilots normally already work for local tour helicopter companies in the country that the film is shooting in.

[1] GM, [2] SPA.HEMS.130(b)(1)

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