FAA Requirements for Rotorcraft Pilots

Your helicopter flight experience is credited toward the aeronautical experience requirements to become an airline pilot. It is paramount that you understand the different gates and types of aeronautical experience required for either unrestricted Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate or Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (R-ATP) certificate.

14 C.F.R. §61.159 Unrestricted ATP Requirements

Total Time: 1,500 flight hours
Cross-Country Time: 500 flight hours
Night Time: 100 flight hours
Instrument Flight Time: 75 flight hours
Age: 23 years

Take note that these flight hours pertain to general flight experience, not airplane or helicopter specific flight hours. Total, cross-country, night, and instrument flight time could be any combination of experience between category and class of aircraft. You could even fly the bulk of bulk of your total time hours in an airship or glider and still meet the requirements.

An unrestricted ATP allows a First Officer to upgrade to a Captain when they meet the appropriate FAA and company minimums.

14 C.F.R. §61.160(a) Restricted ATP Requirements​

Total Time: 750 flight hours
Cross-Country Time: 200 flight hours
Night Time: 100 flight hours
Instrument Flight Time: 75 flight hours
Age: 21 years

The FAA’s latest change to the ATP certification requirements permits military pilots (fixed- or rotary-wing) to obtain an ATP certificate at even lower aeronautical experience requirements, however, with restricted privileges (i.e. you cannot act as pilot-in-command [e.g. captain] in Part 121 airline operations). Once the pilot meets the full unrestricted requirements, the pilot can apply to have the restriction removed.

As a subtotal of the total time requirements, there are additional airplane-specific aeronautical experience requirements in order to be eligible for an ATP certificate listed in §61.159.

Airplane Pilot-in-Command Hours Requirement

Total Pilot-in-Command Time: 250 airplane flight hours
Cross-Country PIC Time: 100 airplane flight hours
Night PIC Time: 25 airplane flight hours

In order to begin logging pilot-in-command time per §61.51(e), a helicopter pilot will need to be rated in the appropriate category and class of aircraft (i.e. pass a private or commercial airplane single- or multi-engine land checkride) or while flying solo after instructor authorization.

Other Airplane & ATP Requirements

Airplane Multi-Engine Land Time: 50* flight hours
ATP-CTP Course: Required as of August 2014
Medical Certificate: 1st Class (Captain), 2nd Class (First Officer)

*§61.159(a)(3) allows up to 25 hours of the 50 hours airplane multi-engine land to be conducted in an appropriately certified simulator. Many airlines will accept 25 hours of multi-engine land airplane flight training since you will get 25+ hours of AMEL simulator time when going through airline training.

The ATP Certification Training Program (CTP) is a new FAA requirement as a prerequisite to taking your ATP ‘ATM’ written exam and ATP checkride. Most entry-level airlines are covering the full cost of the training and are treating it as part of their training footprint.

Airlines will also want you to hold an FAA first class medical regardless of your job position within the company (you’re hired with the expectation of becoming a future captain, not a career first officer), so despite what the FARs state, make sure you are getting an FAA First Class medical when applying for your airline job.

Certificate & Ratings Requirements

Gaining the required airplane flight experience to obtain your Airline Transport Pilot certificate involves also becoming airplane certified through the FAA.

Per §61.153, you will need your FAA commercial airplane multi-engine land and airplane instrument ratings as a prerequisite to getting your ATP.

Military helicopter pilots, through their training, are entitled to an FAA commercial certificate with rotorcraft-helicopter and helicopter instrument ratings. Military pilots must take an FAA written exam known as the Miltary Competency Commercial written (FAA exam code: MCH) through an authorized test center, make a copy of their official flight school graduation certificate (i.e. Army pilots need to bring their DA Form 1059), make an application on the FAA’s IACRA website, and set an appointment with their local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) to process their certificate.

A commercially rated helicopter pilot has reduced requirements to become commercially rated as an airplane pilot. They are not applying for an initial commercial pilot certificate, rather, they are applying for an additional category (i.e. airplane) and class (i.e. single engine land, multi-engine land, single engine sea, etc.). The full requirements covered by the FARs are provided in §61.63. For example, you are not required to take any FAA written exams at the commercial level. Additionally, under Part 61, once you hold a category and class rating (i.e. say you obtained your airplane single engine land add-on rating), additional class ratings (i.e. multi-engine land) have zero aeronautical experience requirements, only proficiency requirements to be endorsed by your instructor to take a checkride.

There are two avenues of approach to obtaining training: Part 61 and Part 141 training. Part 61 training is the most flexible in that there is no official, FAA approved curriculum, only the aeronautical experience and ground training mandated by regulation. Part 141 is different in that the program is more regimented, follows an FAA approved curriculum, and mandates certain hour requirements and tasks either through the appropriate Part 141 appendix or school approved syllabus. For veterans wanting to use VA benefits to fund their training, they can only apply VA benefits through a Part 141 vocational school or through a Part 141 collegiate aviation program.

There are many strategies and options in how to go about obtaining one’s airplane certificates. However, I recommend the following depending on whether you intend to pursue training through Part 61 or Part 141 schools.

For Part 61 –
Obtain your airplane single engine land private pilot certificate first before pursuing your airplane instrument and commercial ratings. This way, you can start earning pilot-in-command time as sole manipulator of the controls whenever you’re with an instructor in the same category and class. After obtaining your private, focus on your airplane on your instrument rating next while simultaneously knocking out some of your commercial aeronautical experience requirements along the way. After finishing your instrument rating, knock out your commercial single engine rating first because it will make getting your multi-engine rating cheaper by completing it as a class add-on.

For Part 141 –
For the most efficient path, directly add-on your commercial single engine land and airplane instrument ratings (Part 141, Appendix I [Additional Category and/or Class] and Appendix C [Instrument]). If you want to build airplane pilot-in-command time while attending a Part 141 school, make sure you obtain your airplane single engine land private pilot certificate first – ideally via Part 61 (less hour requirements). Take note that the VA will not cover private pilot training if you go this route; you will have to come out of pocket.

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