If you enjoy excitement, math, physical activity and fixing things, a career as an aerial lineman could be right up your alley. Helicopter electrical linemen repair power and other utility lines by working from helicopters in areas that cannot be accessed using work trucks or ladders. They earn a middle-class income, usually with benefits, that is ideal for supporting a family and planning for the future.
Helicopter electrical linemen are responsible for placing or repairing electrical lines, poles and towers in areas that cannot be easily accessed by foot or work truck. Hours vary depending on demand and natural disasters, such as storms. Linemen must be willing to work on a moment's notice when customers lose service, so on-call shifts are common. Maintaining meticulous paperwork is essential, as is the ability to work in small spaces and from high elevations. Linemen must follow safety protocols, as working aerially can pose safety risks, as do working with high-voltage lines and equipment.
Electrical linemen typically enter the field with a high school diploma or the equivalent and strong math skills. Some community colleges offer one- or two-year programs that emphasize hands-on training or familiarity with the field. Employers often partner with unions to offer three- to four-year apprenticeships, where new linemen receive classroom education and hands-on experience working under more experienced aerial linemen. To qualify for the apprenticeship program, a candidate must be 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or the equivalent, pass an aptitude test, have studied algebra for one year and pass a drug screening test. After working as an aerial lineman for a few years, it is possible to be classified as a journey lineman who can work without supervision. Professional certifications are available but not required, and may make advancing in the field easier.
Line installers and repairers earn a median annual salary of $68,010, which means that half of the linemen earn more than this while the other half earn less. Those in the top 10 percent earn more than $98,190, while the bottom 10 percent earns less than $36,610.
Electrical linemen work for utility companies, local government, contractors or are self-employed. Helicopters are cramped, and lots of equipment must be stored or carried by the aircraft, which leaves little maneuvering room for the air crew. Planning for personal needs, food and other necessities must be done in advance, especially when working to restore service or prevent electrical fires in areas of natural disasters. While hours are typically predictable, special circumstances sometimes require linemen to work long hours for many days in a row. Work is physically demanding, so staying in shape and caring for your health is especially important.
Linemen earn a stable salary over the course of their career. Though earnings may increase slightly after the first year or two, they tend to remain stable after that. This stability could aid you in knowing what to expect as you plan your future. One earning projection looks like this:
- 1 to 2 years: $71,400-$74,266
- 3 to 4 years: $72,944-$74,883
- 5 to 6 years: $74,046-$75,325
- 7 or more years: $74,413-$75,463
Job opportunities for electrical linemen are expected to increase by an impressive 14 percent over the next decade, which is faster than in other industries. This increased demand is due to population growth and expanding cities, which need power and utility services.