Heli-Expo 2011: Helicopter Association Kicks Off Biggest Show Ever

 - March 6, 2011, 11:50 AM

“It’s going to be a really big show,” HAI chairman David Chevalier (CEO of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters) told attendees yesterday morning at the annual general membership meeting and breakfast that kicked off Heli-Expo 2011.

In fact, with more than 600 exhibitors, a predicted 20,000 attendees over the three-day show and almost one million square feet of display and meeting areas, this is the biggest Heli-Expo ever, featuring several new activities and events. These include an aviation association town hall meeting with CEOs of major alphabet groups, live streaming of forums to a global audience via the Internet, and perhaps most exciting, a heliport adjacent to the convention center that will be in operation throughout the gathering.

The breakfast meeting set the tone for an action-packed gathering. Keynote speaker first-term Senator Mike Lee of Utah, whose father-in-law founded Rocky Mountain Helicopters and brother-in-law founded Mountain West Helicopters, said, “The helicopter industry is at the cutting edge of the United States economy, moving high-end goods and people in a way no other machine can get them there.”

But the senator, co-sponsor of a proposed balanced budget amendment, stated that the growing federal deficit could ultimately reduce funds available for defense, fighting forest fires and other spending that many HAI members rely on. “I fear it could affect your industry first and foremost,” he said, making a case for a balanced budget and reduced federal spending.

In the Q&A session following his remarks, the senator was asked his thoughts on recent sales of American aviation companies, such as Teledyne Continental and Cirrus Aircraft, to Chinese-controlled interests.

“Because we live in a free-market economy, we can’t prohibit other people from buying American companies,” he said, while noting a need to protect intellectual property created with federal funds. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do or should try to do particularly to prevent foreign companies from buying U.S. companies. We should be doing things to restore prosperity so we can buy their interests, as well.”

HAI president Matthew Zuccaro gave attendees an update on the state of the organization and its current initiatives. With close to 2,900 members, 91 international affiliates and solid finances ($37 million in the black), HAI is stronger than ever, Zuccaro said.

During the past year HAI has been working with the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) to develop helicopter-specific safety and training programs for EMS, air tour and firefighting operators. With expanded video and broadcasting capabilities, HAI continues to produce safety and educational videos, such as its recent productions on avoiding wire strikes and the role of women in helicopter operations.

Furthermore, the association’s 21 working committees continue to develop recommendations for policy makers and provide information for use in congressional testimony by HAI leaders. And perhaps most important, the organization continues to be a vital link connecting all members of the helicopter industry.

“Our strength as an industry is in our unity,” Zuccaro told AIN before the convention. “The thing that’s apparent to us, everybody is experiencing the same issues, concerns and problems, and the solution is out there somewhere, and working together is the key to finding it. So that’s the value of networking we offer.”

Zuccaro also noted one reason why Heli-Expo is such an important event. “This is where deals are made, this is where sales occur: aircraft sales, major service contracts and component parts sales. So there’s real business here,” he said.

“Two shows removed we were able to check with manufacturers, and they did close two billion dollars of sales. They are successful at our shows. We hear year after year that they sincerely appreciate this forum, and that it’s a must-attend show, which is the best comment any association can hear.”