Updated: Jun 19
The early morning, late nights, wild temperature fluctuations, and intense work environment makes the lineman profession one of the most demanding in the world. In case dealing with 110 kilovolts on a daily basis was not enough to keep things interesting… one select group goes above and beyond to what deliver in an environment many people probably didn’t even know existed: lineman on helicopters.
In this post we discuss:
Yes lineman on helicopters.
Usually lineman are climbing the poles, but there are a rare breed that choose another path: flying them. Sometimes the need for overhead distribution over long rural passes or rugged mountain landscape makes it impossible for traditional trucks and rigging to effectively. The aerial lineman is responsible for installing, repairing, and maintaining overhead electrical power lines and auxiliary equipment.
With no path to ground, the linemen can safely work on live conductors without taking a costly outage. The productivity of helicopters crews is noticeable. Rather than having to find road or ground access in hill or uneven terrain, an aerial lineman can be dropped in strategic locations. Linemen inspect, construct, and repair transmission lines from a helicopter platform, helicopter skid, transferring to the structure, short haul method, and wire-walking on energized as well as de-energized lines.
How to become a helicopter lineman
While most of the lineman that apply and are accepted for helicopter lineman crews are experienced journeyman, there are occasional apprenticeships and ground hand opportunities to work on these crews. There are plenty of tasks needed to be completed on the ground such as maintaining a driver’s logbook and vehicle inspection log while on duty. In order to be a journeyman working out of a helicopter you must be comfortable and experienced constructing, inspecting and repairing EHV (extra high voltage) lines. Taking a bird out to the wires is quite a bit different from working from a bucket truck or even on spikes.
Like most advanced career positions in the line industry a strong foundation from a quality apprenticeship is the correct starting point. Learning the tried-and-true fundamentals on the ground is the surest path to get up in the air. “Patience, young grasshopper” as the saying goes. Everyone starts as an apprentice, even the most experienced aerial lineman who have advanced from a foreman to a superintendent to a director of operations to a even wire pilot (additional licensure and training needed of course). 4 years and 8,000 OJT hours working as an apprentice lineman in maintenance and construction of electrical systems is the best path forward. One of the most common starting points for a powerline career is the National Public Power Pre-Apprenticeship.
Helicopter lineman companies
Common employers of helicopter linemen include: AIR2 PLH, Summit Powerline Services, Haverfield, and Quanta Services. Helicopter lineman companies often manage a fleet of MD500’s and provide transmission line services to a variety major utilities across the U.S. because the work is so unique. The MD Helicopter 500 series is an American family of light utility civilian and military helicopters. The helicopters combination of strength and agility makes it a strong fit for overhead distribution crews. It also not uncommon for the helicopter to be owned by one company and then contracted to a particular electric or utility company for a job.
Many lineman first notice the change of size and speed when working on a helicopter crew. Helicopters can be incredibly efficient for stringing long distances of wire. Crews used helicopters to transport from the landing zone to the structure, saving both time and money on the job. Crews often work in three-man teams moving a static line affixed above newly constructed power lines in a series of structures.
Helicopter lineman jobs
With the help of a helicopter lineman can be placed in very nimble and precision positions. Upon the starting of a job, a lineman will strap in and go for a ride that would be the envy of many theme-park goers. Many people dream of taking a helicopter to work, these linemen get to live it. Helicopter lineman are the ultimate balance of extreme technical expertise with a touch of adrenaline junkie. There are a limited number of opening at aerial lineman employers. It is joining the talent network and getting listing alerts for lineman specific job boards.
A lot of people would pay for the views that aerial lineman get paid to work in. Aerial lineman must be able to use a variety of "hot line" tools and makes use of rubber gloves, line hoses, mechanical jumpers, fiber guards, and blankets. While those job descriptions may sound similar to most lineman positions, aerial lineman must be able to transfer from helicopter to structure via helicopter platform perform cross arm replacement, insulator replacement, conductor cut in, un-clip/clip-in conductors all from hundreds of feet in the air.
While the working environment might look a little different (and quite a bit further up in the air) the basics of safety and an emphasis on wellbeing remains true. One task that is common for helicopter lineman is removing an older porcelain insulator, lifted by a helicopter long line, from the dead-end structure. In recent years there have been several instances of accidents while working on 230-kilovolt power lines between existing substations in various townships.
The ideal candidate for many journeyman helicopter positions will be able to work a continuous travel-based rotation schedule and has a valid CDL license with tanker and HAZMAT endorsements, or will be able to receive one within 90 days of hire. Graduating a from line school makes your career trajectory strong in the trade. The basics that will get you hired in most ground positions such as problem solving, energetic, punctual and ability to receive and follow direction and takes responsibility for yourself will carry over well in this environment.
Salary for helicopter linemen
The typical pay range for high-voltage helicopter lineman is one of the highest in the industry. While pay scales are broken down on an hourly basis, it is not uncommon for an experienced journeyman lineman doing aerial work to gross over $120,000 in one year. Some of the variables that affect the pay scales include location, local union, hazard compensation, and overtime. As with any payments statistics there are many outliers on both ends of the bell curve. The average Air2, a major provider and innovator of helicopter-assisted utility construction and maintenance service, lineman hourly pay in the United States is approximately $32.00 or about $66,000 salary.
If you feel you are qualified, up for the challenge, and looking for quite the change of scenery consider a job as a helicopter lineman.