EMS (Emergency Medical Services) flying is a very challenging and rewarding career and helicopter pilots who choose this path have the added benefit of knowing that they're helping people in need. EMS pilots perform a number of functions most notably responding to life threatening emergencies but they also provide other services such as non-emergency medical transport.
Helicopter EMS programs are structured in typically one of three ways. The program can be government funded. In this case the EMS program is supported by federal, state, or local funds. These types of programs typically exist in large metropolitan areas and in very rural areas. The program can also stand alone. This is where the hospital owns the helicopters and directly hires the pilots. There’s also the contractor/vendor program where an independent company provides the helicopters and pilots, which are used for the EMS service.
Hiring minimums for an EMS operation can vary but generally operators like to see helicopter pilots with 2000hrs HELO, 1500 hrs PIC as well as an instrument rating. EMS helicopter pilots fly a variety of helicopters but for the most part they’re light single engine birds and most companies fly single pilot VFR.
EMS helicopter pilot salaries vary widely. In general, programs in large cities pay more than programs in smaller areas. Average staring pay is about $45,000 with pay rates topping out at about $85,000 yearly. As a group EMS helicopter pilot probably fly the least of all professional helicopter pilots. It’s not uncommon for some pilots to only fly 200 hours per year.
Work conditions also vary by operator and type of program. Some programs keep the helicopter at the hospital and give the crews a “ready room” with a bunk and other basic amenities. Other operators keep the helicopter at a nearby airport and crews have a furnished trailer for the crew.
Work schedules also vary. Shifts can be from 8 to 12 hrs long with 12 hrs being typical. Operators usually schedule pilots a string of days on followed by a string of days off such as 7 on and 7 off or 5 on and 5 off.
EMS flying offers pilots opportunities to help others. This makes EMS flying very rewarding.
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