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Vertical Magazine interviews helicopter industry experts discussing the labour shortage

Helicopter flight crew washing Bell 206
Valemount BC base crew washing a Bell 206 helicopter after finishing a charter flight

Link: Quote excerpts from Vertical Magazine article dated March 17, 2022

Job opportunities for low-time pilots used to be sparse.  Typically, their first job would be pushing a broom around the hangar, fuel jockey, working in dispatch learning the ropes with the occasional flying project to build their skills.  Now with a growing labour shortage in the industry, helicopter companies and their clients are having to rethink how to operate with fewer higher skilled pilots.

Corey Taylor is manager of business development at Yellowhead, as well as currently the chair of the safety & quality committee at the HAC (Helicopter Association of Canada).  He was recently interviewed by Lisa Gordon at Vertical Magazine on the subject of the labour shortage that has been hitting the helicopter industry hard in Canada and the US.

“We had Forestry calling, and we had multiple aircraft parked with no one to fly them.  Over and over again, we had to say ‘no’. It’s been situation critical for years, but we have finally reached a crisis point.”

Across the industry, from the helicopter tour pilots to industrial construction to air ambulance, there’s a pilot shortage.

What happened to all the pilots?  There are several contributing factors.

Corey has seen a lot of changes during his 30 years of working in the industry. In his first year as a pilot, he fought wildfires, with no minimum requirements for experience. 

Yellowhead in past years typically hired four or five low-time pilots per year, starting them in positions on the ramp, in the hangar or working dispatch so they can learn the business from the ground up.  He’s convinced that it now takes five to seven years to produce an employable, multi-faceted pilot.  

“Most of the work we do involves hand and foot skills.  It’s not like in an airplane where you can learn to take off and land and be paired with a senior captain.  That option is not open to us for the vast majority of our work.  It takes practice, practice, practice.  We give our pilots easier [flying] tasks to build their time.  We hand-pick the tasks to help pilots build their skill sets.  To take them to a point where they are employable from a client perspective, it takes about five years here.”

A large part of Yellowhead Helicopter’s client work requires more technical flying; from long-lining exploration drills onto challenging heli-pads perched on the sides of temperamental coastal mountains, to wildfire suppression in a variety of terrains, to heli-skiing in the rugged mountains of BC.   Low-time pilots usually start flying heli-tours, ferrying aircraft between bases, and crew move charters around the province.

About 20 years ago, private advisors became involved in the helicopter industry.  Starting in the oil & gas industry, these advisors offered to evaluate the safety & quality of the air operators.  Almost overnight, the easiest types of flying were now requiring pilots with 1,500 to 2,000 hours flight experience, hindering low-time pilots that were previously allowed to fly while gaining flight hours.

Currently, there is a general consensus among resource and utility clients that pilots with less than 1,000 hours total time are inexperienced and too risky to hire.  The situation is creating a bottleneck, preventing newer pilots from progressing in their careers.  And with the number of seasoned pilots reaching retirement age, the problem is further exasperated.

A group of operators, including YHL, is advocating for competency-based requirements rather than hourly thresholds.  YHL is contemplating offering a sliding fee schedule to its clients where employing a 800-hour pilot will cost the client less than a 2,000-hour pilot.

Compounding the labour issue is regulatory changes in 2023 further limiting the hourly limits a pilot can work in set day ranges.  There’s also a shortage of helicopter maintenance engineers (AMEs).

To read the complete article with all the interviews, and more stats for the industry, it can be viewed at

YHL has job openings for pilots and AMEs. Check out our job board for requirements and how to submit your resume.

We also have a page with information on resources for women interested in a flying career.  Some of the training links are gender-neutral.

For further information on our aircraft fleet capabilities, check out our fleet page.  Details on our helicopter maintenance service can be found here.

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