Private Pilot Theory

The Private Theory Requirements

To be awarded a Private Helicopter Pilot’s Licence, all students must first achieve a pass in the aeronautical knowledge (theory) component of the helicopter syllabus. This is either a pass in the one written private (PPL) exam, as set by CASA, or pass all seven commercial (CPL) exams.


Many Australian schools suggest that the student sit all seven commercial exams to complete the theory component, either through self-study, or by completing a full-time CPL ground course.

There is some wisdom to this, in that each subject can be learnt and the exam can be sat at the end of a specific study session before moving on to the next subject. There are, however, major drawbacks to this approach. It is a much longer option, taking a minimum of two months dedicated study to have all seven subjects passed, and in reality this process can drag on for a very long time, especially when people work and lives get in the way!

The other drawback for the CPL theory is that some of the information is not pertinent to private operations, and the exams are much harder.

We are often asked which route to go- all seven CPL exams, or the PPL exam? The answer is: it depends. If you are expecting to want to move on the commercial licence eventually, then completing the CPL theory is not a bad way to go, but you should be aware that the level of the theory is much higher, the questions are harder, and will take much longer to complete the theory component.

The PPL exam is tough – there are seven subjects in one (long) exam. That being said, a private ground course can take as little as two or three weeks to complete and pass the exam. In fact, neither option is easy, but if you only need a PPL, then sitting on a private ground course is by far the quickest way to achieve your pilot licence and get flying.

The Private Exam

For information on the commercial subjects click here

The private exam is one exam, covering seven subjects. It is three and a half hours long, with roughly sixty questions of various weighting. The exam is mostly multiple choice with some numbers-only short answer questions, done on a computer, and marked immediately. The pass mark is 70 %.

The questions in the exam relate to the seven subjects below.

Meteorology – The weather is an important consideration when flying any aircraft. This subject covers the basic science of weather, including how hazards such as thunderstorms form, why clouds form, and so on. It also covers the operational side of the weather, specifically reading and understanding messages coded for pilots, especially aviation specific weather forecasts.

Navigation – On the ground or the sea, navigating is a two dimensional operation, navigating an aircraft is a three dimensional consideration. This subject covers the theory of navigation, taking into account wind and so on, map reading, and principles of dead reckoning navigation. It is fairly mathematical, but also quite practical in that it involves a lot of hands-on map reading and flight planning.

Aerodynamics – The helicopter is a wonderful and aerodynamically amazing machine. This subject covers the basic science of how and why a helicopter flies, as well as possible aerodynamic hazards and how to correct for and avoid them.

Aircraft General Knowledge – This subject covers knowledge on the components of a helicopter, the basics of the mechanical aspects such as engines, drivelines, rotor systems and flight instruments.

Air Law – Covering the legal aspects of flying for the private pilot, the rules of the air, operating in different types of airspace and so on.

Human Factors / Threat & Error Management – These days, the biggest causes of aviation accidents is human error. This subject covers the physiological considerations for a pilot- the workings of the body, effects of drugs or alcohol, health factors, decision making and personality types, stress, fatigue, and the effects of altitude and G-loads. This subject also covers aviation risk management and the causes, and reduction, of human error.

Operations, Performance & Planning - This subject concerns planning for a flight, whether the aircraft will be able to complete such operations as hovering in different conditions, planning for maximum altitudes and operating weights, and so on. It also covers how to load an aircraft and plan for an aircraft’s weight, balance and fuel requirements.

The Manual of Standards for the private helicopter licence is published by CASA. The theory components of the licence are contained in Schedule 3, which can be downloaded here

Why Helitheory

Helitheory is currently the only company in Australia to run a dedicated, full-delivery private licence helicopter theory course. Not only that but we are the best at it!

We work with some of the premier helicopter flight schools in Australia and have trained hundreds of successful private helicopter pilots.

The most common comment that we hear from our students is “I couldn’t have done it without you!” – The PPL (H) syllabus can be challenging and is at times daunting, with the sheer amount of material in the manual of standards and only one exam at the end. Helitheory’s ground courses are by far the fastest way to clear the theory hurdle.

Our instructors have trained people from all walks of life, from cowboys to QCs, with successful results.

Our pass rates are high and the instruction is thorough. We keep our classes small and this means you get more personalised instruction.

Helitheory can also provide self-study kits and instructors for one-on-one tuition, in PPL or CPL subjects.

For more information on our upcoming courses, click here, or contact us for information on self-study kits, to organise tuition, or ask any questions you might have.

Coming very soon – Australia’s first dedicated PPLH textbook written by our very own chief instructor Alex!