Understanding Helicopter Ratings: the Commercial Pilot Certificate

We're up to the third installment of our May series on the individual ratings in our professional pilot courses, and we're ready to talk about the big dog: the Commercial Pilot Certificate. Helicopter pilot students who complete their CPL can feel a profound sense of accomplishment -- not just because they're now ready and rated to fly helicopters for a living, but also because Commercial is the most demanding rating that produces the biggest leap forward. On average, students will put in about 88 hours of flight time at this stage, with a whopping 22 hours of it solo. Compare that with the 5 hours of solo in the Private rating, and you get a sense of how far you've come.
Keep in mind that when we talk about students being commercial-ready upon completion of the CPL, we're talking about FAA requirements, not insurance requirements or hiring standards. Most employers will require a minimum of 1,000 hours of flight time, and as this blog covers elsewhere, most helicopter pilots cover that gap by going on to get their Certified Flight Instructor ratings, and building hours as an instructor.
Your commercial training is focused on the interrelated areas of a) thoroughly understanding the more advanced aerodynamics of helicopter flight, b) learning take-off and landing maneuvers in more challenging scenarios, and c) preparing you for the types of flights that are common in commercial helicopter work.
For example, one of training topics will be Confined Area, Pinnacle, and Ridgeline Operations. An example of a confined area might be a small forest clearing or canyon, and the presence of obstacles changes the aerodynamics at play. Landing may require a steeper angle of descent, and the surrounding forest can create turbulence near the ground, depending on the wind direction and intensity. This all requires a more finessed level of flying proficiency and a keen knowledge of all the forces at work.
In this same scenario, you can readily imagine the commercial applications. Confined Area takeoffs and landings are common in HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Management Services) operations, where getting in and out of tight spaces quickly but carefully can save lives. Just yesterday, a fisherman here in Oregon who had been lost in the wilderness for 17 nights was airlifted by a Brim Aviation helicopter landing in a confined space and then transporting him to Lifeflight helicopter for the trip to the hospital.
We've talked endlessly in this blog about both the personal thrill and training value of learning these kinds of maneuvers in a place like the Pacific Northwest and our backyard, the Columbia River Gorge. So I'll spare you more of that and simply refer you to an excellent article by one of our alumni in Plane & Pilot magazine, in which he provides a first-hand account of the special experience of earning his Commercial in our spectacular home.
As always, we recognize that you have choices among professional pilot courses for your commercial training. But when you stack up the aforementioned flight environment, our history and reputation in the industry, and the track record of our alumni working in the field, is there really another choice?