Ministry of Business and Innovation - Occupation Outlook

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Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

Entry for graduates into this occupation is difficult and initial income is low in relation to the high cost of training. Although experienced commercial pilots command high incomes and have good job opportunities, the work is demanding. There is usually a reasonable turnover.

How to become a pilot

What they do

There are two main groups in this occupation: fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter pilots who fly and navigate aircraft; and flying instructors who instruct students in flying aircraft. Both require extensive training.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires these occupations to hold particular aviation licences.

Their tasks may include:

  • preparing and submitting flight plans giving consideration to factors such as weather conditions and aircraft performance
  • flying aircraft in accordance with established air traffic control and aircraft operating procedures
  • providing pre-flight briefings and aeronautical information services
  • completing cockpit preparations and external inspections to determine that aircraft are acceptable for flight
  • monitoring aircraft performance and reporting on mechanical condition
  • giving in-flight instruction, supervising solo flights, accompanying students on training flights and demonstrating techniques for controlling aircraft.

Qualifications needed

To become a fixed-wing commercial aeroplane or helicopter pilot you need a Commercial Pilot Licence. To get this you must:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • pass a Class 1 Medical Examination
  • hold a current NZ Private Pilot Licence (which you can get when you are 17)
  • pass written exams
  • complete 150 to 200 hours’ flying time
  • satisfy the CAA’s ‘fit and proper person’ requirements
  • pass an English Language Proficiency test.

Helicopter pilots require additional study on topics such as the principles of helicopter flight.

Cost of study

Graduate Diploma in Aviation
$46,800 over one year

Average costs in 2018 for a domestic student. Costs vary between institutions. First time students may be eligible for  fees-free tertiary education for their first year of study, which will reduce the total cost. For more information about fees-free eligibility, go to Some polytechnics may have a zero-fees scheme. Further costs include materials, textbooks, and accommodation.

Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy Services website.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Tenancy Services: 

Where to study

A variety of flight training organisations offer training as a pilot or instructor. These are outlined on the Careers New Zealand website. Massey University also offers flight training as part of a university undergraduate degree under a special Equivalence Approval from CAA.

Careers New Zealand: 
Massey University: 
Airways NZ:

Completed qualifications

There was an decrease in the number of students who completed aircraft operation qualifications in 2016.

Qualification completions chart

Source: Ministry of Education

Income and employment prospects


In 2019, the average income for pilots was estimated to be $133,500.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index

A pilot’s income varies greatly depending on their experience; from about $40,000 a year for entry-level domestic first officers to over $300,000 for captains on international flights.

For helicopter pilots, income ranges from $40,000 to $100,000.

A flying instructor’s income varies depending on their qualifications and experience; from a C-Category flying instructor who can expect to earn about $28,000 to $30,000 a year, to A-Category instructors who can earn about $60,000 to $80,000, and possibly up to $100,000 after many years of work.

Many flight instructors are employed on casual and part-time contracts or are paid only for ‘flight hours’. This can lead to them being paid much less than $28,000 a year.

Employment and skill shortages

Pilots’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2023 2028
1,896 2,046 2,060 2,190
  1.1% 0.1% 1.0%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
*Growth projections are for the broader category “Air and Marine Transport Professionals”.

Employment of pilots increased by 1.6% from 2006 to 2013. Employment growth for the air and marine transport professionals is projected to continue at 0.1% each year until 2023, and by 1.0% out to 2028.

The employment outlook for experienced airline and helicopter pilots is good, but entry is difficult and initial income is low in relation to the cost of training. Many pilots leave to work overseas, creating domestic opportunities for pilots. In addition, the workforce is ageing and retirement rates are likely to increase.

Employment chart

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

Outcomes after qualification completion*

OverseasIn further studyReceiving a benefitIn employmentMedian Salary
25% 19% 2% 64% $48,000

Source: Tertiary Education Commission
*Three years after completion of L5 or 6 Diploma - Aerospace Engineering & Technology.

Three years after completing a diploma in aerospace engineering and technology, most graduates were in employment or overseas, with a few in further study. The median salary was around $48,000 three years after graduating.

Pilots are not on Immigration New Zealand’s skill shortage lists.

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

Pilot vacancies are advertised through public media such as the Trade Me Jobs and Seek websites.

Trade Me Jobs: 

Career path

Pilot roles require a substantial investment in education and training.

Entry-level pilot jobs earn modest incomes but there are high rewards and opportunities for experienced pilots. You need to greatly enjoy flying to progress and succeed in this work. Normally, airline pilots begin their career as flight instructors.

People with commercial pilot licences take at least three years to progress to operational flying roles in major companies. In the interim they build up hours flying for smaller operations or instructing other pilots.

Qualified pilots can work as scenic pilots, or as flying instructors (on the same type of planes learned on). Additional hours and/or qualifications are needed to fly a helicopter, or as an agricultural pilot, or to fly bigger types of aircraft such as turboprops or jet-engine planes.

Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level pilots.

  • Aeronautical Engineer
  • Aeroplane Pilot
  • Aircraft Maintenance Engineer
  • Flying Instructor
  • Helicopter Pilot

Other information


More information on pilots is available on the Careers New Zealand website.

Careers New Zealand:


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of pilots has been coded to the following ANZSCO codes for the purpose of this report:

2311 – Air Transport Professionals