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Aviation Careers: Derek Pasiewicz, 18 Year Old Commercial Helicopter Tour Pilot

On a regular basis, the Boldmethod team brings you a new career and pilot through our "Aviation Careers" series. If you're an aspiring aviator, this is a great way for you to explore different career options.

At 16 years old, Derek Pasiewicz was flying solo before he could drive solo. Originally from Alaska, he's been around aviation for his entire life, seeing and experience a whole lot of Alaska-style flying. Today, Derek is an 18 year old professional helicopter tour pilot living in St. Augustine, Florida. He flies Robinson R44 helicopters for Old City Helicopters, an aerial tour operator. Derek has 450 hours of total flight experience, split 50/50 between airplanes and helicopters. He has his commercial/instrument helicopter and commercial/instrument airplane (SEL, SES, and MEL) - all at only 18 years old. Welcome to the Boldmethod community, Derek!

Jeff Nordby

Why You Should Be Interested

You get to meet a whole new group of people. It's more laid-back than instructing. I have the opportunity to fly a larger helicopter than if I was to instruct; instead of the R22 for instance, I get to fly in the R44. There's definitely an aspect of real-world experience when moving straight into the commercial sector. The skills and experiences you gain from a job like this are practical skills that you'll use down the road in any future flying job. Flying in Florida is great. I especially enjoy flying down the beaches and looking for wildlife like dolphins, sharks, and manatees is a whole lot of fun!

The Typical Flight

The tours that I fly range anywhere from 5 minutes to a half-hour. I usually begin by bringing them out to the helicopter in the golf cart and then getting everyone familiar with the aircraft. I ask them if they've been flying before, and explain that the flying part of being in a helicopter is really no different than that in an airplane; the only difference is takeoff and landing. I've had a lot of people who were nervous to do it, but I've never had someone get back on the ground and say they had regret doing it. They always end up wanting to go flying again! After takeoff, I'm normally doing tours with people who want to go fly over the beach. At a certain point, we'll break off from the beach and take them over downtown St. Augustine to see all of the historic parts of the city. From lighthouses to forts, there's a whole lot of cool history to see during a normal flight.

The Passengers

People who come on tours are from all over. There are a lot of local Florida people, but we do see quite a few international customers as well. I've had passengers from: Switzerland, Germany, and Russia, just to name a few. We fly with a minimum of 2 passengers, with a maximum of 3 per flight.

The St. Augustine Record

A Day At Work

I get to work at about 8:30 in the morning. After pulling out the helicopter and pre-flighting it, I'm pretty much ready to go. The company itself opens at 9am, with tours starting at about 9am as well. We usually close at about 6pm, but have been known to close later when we're giving night tours of the city. We'll go as late as somebody wants to go. If the weather is bad or there's a maintenance issue, I won't be flying. The busiest day I've had so far was 18 flights in one day. An average weekday has 3-5 flights, or 7-10 flights on the weekend days.

The Pros

I really enjoy getting to meet all of the different passengers. That interaction you have with someone who's never been in a helicopter before is always fun. It doesn't feel like work when I'm flying. For the most part, it's a very laid-back lifestyle and job - I love that part. We work a lot at the desk and computer, so I handle a lot of reservations. I enjoy learning about the booking process and some of the technical aspects of the job. With 7 different types of tours, I get to experience a range of different flights throughout the day.

The Cons

On bad weather days or slow days, there's a lot of downtime and sitting around. It can definitely get boring when you're just tapping your finger, waiting for the sky to clear up. We have 7 different types of tours though, so when I do fly, it's not too monotonous.

Pilot Retention And Qualifications

I'd say this is more of an hour building or "stepping-stone" type of job. I'll be here for probably a year and a half or two years, maybe longer if the company grows a little more. I really want to get into aerial filming or agricultural work. I also think it'd be a ton of fun to go do some flying down in New Zealand, I've always wanted to fly around there. Those are my long term goals for the future.

When I was hired, Old City Helicopters wanted a commercial helicopter pilot with 200 hours in helicopters, 20 of those hours being Robinson R44 time. That was it. The big plus of this job is that it's great for guys looking for their first professional pilot experience. Once you're hired, building flight time (and getting paid for it) is a ton of fun.

Salary Ranges And Benefits

I'm paid roughly $1,200 per month. I don't have any formal benefits through the company such as healthcare or retirement aid. But for me, this isn't all that bad considering I'm only 18 and don't have any real responsibilities or attachments to support a family. Because I'm relatively new to the company, I haven't yet experienced any of the odd flights that will pop up, like aerial photography flights or aerial filming. Once I build some experience, I'll be able to do some of that, which I look forward to.

The Company

Old City Helicopters flies throughout the whole year, it isn't seasonal. It opened up in 2004, in St. Augustine, Florida, its original base. Today, there are two more bases: one in Tampa Bay, Florida, and the other in Marathon, the Florida Keys. It's a relatively small company with 2 pilots at each location. The two pilots split the week in half, each working 4 days consecutively, both working together on Saturday (because it's a busy day), then switching off. I'm by far the youngest pilot in the company. Most of the other pilots are in their 20s or 30s.

The Helicopter

The Robinson R44 has a lot more power than the R22. It's a large helicopter, which is nice. The R44 has a reciprocating engine, so it's not a turbine or anything, but it is a very commonly used helicopter. It's very reliable and I definitely enjoy flying it. You definitely cannot do anything low-G in the R44 though, so you can't do push-overs or anything like that. And of course, because it's not an airplane, it's not nearly as effected by wind. Overall, I enjoy flying helicopters a lot more than airplanes. They're a lot more maneuverable and hands-on. I didn't like that in an airplane you can often easily fly hands-off.

Derek Pasiewicz

Specific Qualifications

You need to be a safe, responsible pilot. This was my first job carrying paying passengers, who rely on me to keep them safe. You have to really think about every choice you make, because other peoples' lives are in your hands. You need to be patient with people, because not everyone can get around as easily as you. And because you're flying customers, you'll need a service-oriented attitude, making sure that they're enjoying themselves. As PIC, what you say goes, and everyone on the aircraft is looking up to you. You need to feel comfortable changing the plan or canceling a flight to stay safe.


Keep your doors open and be willing to move at a moments notice to get a job. Be very mobile and willing to move anywhere. This job brought me down from Alaska to Florida. I had my interview on the phone and was waiting for a call back to see if they wanted to do an in-person interview. A couple weeks later, I got a call asking to come down for the in-person interview. I got on a plane that day, flew down here, and did my interview the next day. I was offered the job that same day, went home that night, packed up, and started my drive from Alaska to Florida the following day. It all happened pretty quickly and was a huge transition for me. But because I was willing to move so quickly, I got the job.

Derek, it's completely impressive that at 18 years old, you're already a professional helicopter pilot. For you to have moved from Alaska to Florida must've been a huge change, but it seem like it was well worth it! For all of the younger pilots out there, Derek is a great example of how you can get paid to fly early on.

Is this a job you'd like to have? Tell us in the comments below.

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Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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