Matt Zuccaro received his initial helicopter flight training as a U.S. Army aviator and served with the 7/17 Air Cavalry during the Vietnam War. His performance there earned him two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Bronze Stars and 19 Air Medals.
He subsequently held a number of executive level and operations management positions with commercial, corporate, scheduled airline and public service helicopter operations. He also worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in operations management positions at John F. Kennedy International Airport and at the Port Authority’s public and private heliports.
Before assuming his current role as head of the Helicopter Association International, he was president of Zuccaro Industries, providing domestic and international aviation consultation services.
Zuccaro holds air transport pilot certificate and instrument ratings in both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
The following is Zuccaro’s take on the civil helicopter industry, at a time when the aviation industry as a whole is struggling as it never has before.
At last year’s Heli-Expo, it appeared the recession had not quite caught up with the civil helicopter industry. Has that changed and will it affect this year’s event?
The simple answer is that it hasn’t caught up with us at Heli-Expo. Whatever is happening has already, and I see it stabilizing at this point. For the past four years, each Heli-Expo has exceeded the one before, and I don’t expect that to change.
Is there any particular industry segment that has been hit harder than others?
Obviously the corporate segment has been hit fairly hard. Not merely by the recession but by the negative publicity campaign waged against business aircraft. Air tours were also down, primarily the result of a drop in international tourism. Public service operators saw some cuts, mostly the result in cuts to municipal budgets. And with the drops in advertising income, some electronic news agencies have coped by sharing a helicopter.
Even in recent months, with news that an economic recovery has begun, there have been layoffs. Do you expect that to continue?
There have been layoffs as a direct reaction to the loss in market share coming out of 2009, but I see that leveling off as people in the industry have taken the appropriate action over the past year.
What regulatory issues are key in 2010?
I think the continuing activity related to international harmonization of regulations through EASA, ICAO and FAA and other countries is one of the most important.
In recent years, the helicopter industry has taken something of a black eye with regard to safety. How is that changing?
In terms of actual hours flown, the helicopter industry actually compares favorably to other industry segments. The worst year for the helicopter industry was 2008, and even then, for the activity level, it was comparable with other aviation industry segments. But helicopter operations often launch into remote areas and they are very high profile.
We aren’t looking to hide behind statistics though, and the helicopter industry has aggressively moved forward with self-imposed regulations. More than half of many fleets are now equipped with night vision aids, and the industry has adopted virtually all the recommendations of the NTSB. The safety record has improved since 2008, but we fully acknowledge that one accident is one too many and the only acceptable accident rate is zero.
We had a big meeting at HAI in January, and one improvement we agreed on is that helicopters should enjoy the same benefits as fixed-wing aircraft in terms of flight following. A step in that direction is the implementation of ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast), which was turned on in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. Before this, air traffic control could not track or talk to helicopters in the Gulf. That has changed, and we’re saying the system should be expanded through the U.S. at all altitudes at which helicopters fly.
What is HAI doing to improve the helicopter safety record?
We’re increasing our education outreach, working closely with the FAA safety team. Among the positive steps is sponsorship of a nationwide program to present dedicated pilot workshops similar to those presented by FSDOs for the fixed-wing community.