HAI kicks off its first Heli-Expo in Houston on a packed show floor and with nearly every rotorcraft-related economic indicator pointed straight up. This in spite of jitters in the broader economy that some experts warn could snowball into a full-blown recession this year. But ask most people here about such predictions and they’ll likely reply that times have never been better.
Certainly the present level of activity among helicopter operators is near an all-time high. And long backlogs being reported by manufacturers seem to foretell a continuation of the rotor market’s health. Helicopters have simply become too important to too many segments of society in recent years, especially for emergency transport, oil exploration and the fight against terrorism.
In fact, the biggest problem confronting the industry at the start of Heli-Expo’08 is a lack of capacity, not just among helicopter operators but also at producers and suppliers, which are racing to build factories and add shop space to keep pace with the market’s needs.
Rightly so, HAI president Matt Zuccaro describes the phenomenon as a good problem to face. He spoke with HAI Convention News about the state of the industry and what could be in store for its future.
What are your expectations for the show?
I think we’re going to have an excellent show. We’re optimistic that there’s a good chance that we could break a couple of records in terms of attendance, exhibitors and sales conducted at the show. Two events that are significant this year are the fact that it’s our first show in Houston and it’s also our 60th anniversary this year. We have a DVD that we’ve prepared, a nostalgic look that we’re going to premier at the awards dinner. It takes a look back at the history of the organization since 1948 and how we’ve grown and what we think will happen in the future.
Will Heli-Expo be back in Houston in future years?
Tentatively we plan to be back in Houston sometime in the next five years. We’re also going to take a look at Nashville and San Diego and we’ve already looked at Atlanta, so those three will be in the rotation for consideration. We’re also going to do what we have to do to make arrangements to get back to Las Vegas since we’ve actually outgrown the hall that we have occupied in the past and additional space is already booked for future years. But we’re going to look at the schedule and try to see where we can project getting a larger space in Las Vegas.
What are your thoughts on the current health of the helicopter industry?
We’re seeing a lot of up indicators and have had explosive growth over the last few years. We have every reason to project into the future, barring any significant unseen event, that the industry will continue on this growth trend and the expansion in the use of helicopters will continue. I would agree with forecasts that say the next two to four years will continue to see strong growth with some stabilization after that point. I think that’s a good projection, and it actually will give us a chance to catch up with ourselves.
Is the potential slowdown in the U.S economy a concern or do you think activity in other parts of the world can pick up the slack?
The good news is that we’ve absolutely reached a global economy and an international market where major operators have the ability to transfer and move assets around the world to meet needs and also to get maximum utilization out of their equipment and personnel. I think that ability is going to remain one of the strong tools the industry has to keep itself stable on an economic basis. We’ve got the ability to move around and address needs as they may differ in different parts of the world.
I don’t really foresee any major disruptions in the industry. If there is some type of small slowdown or something that happens with the U.S. economy for a short period of time, we take heart in the fact and assume that the subsequent administration in the U.S. is going to aggressively address it and keep its impact to a minimum.
Do you think the helicopter industry is insulated from a downturn because of the increased roles helicopters are playing?
We have a level of demand that is so high right now that some of it cannot be met. That’s a problem, but you have to say it is a positive problem. It provides slack that would allow us to absorb any potential slowdown in the economy and not truly feel it out in the field because all the assets right now are operating at full capacity. It’s not a situation where you have aircraft and staff sitting around looking for business. Quite the opposite is true. Operators are trying to keep up with demand. So even if we had a downturn there’s enough flexibility that it wouldn’t really affect day-to-day operations.