Befitting the vertical lift that members of the Helicopter Association International (HAI) provide to the world, on the eve of Heli-Expo 2014, association president Matt Zuccaro pronounced the state of the industry “very up.”
“Air tours are doing well, corporate operations have re-established themselves and offshore oil and gas work is very busy right now, so it’s a pretty positive picture,” Zuccaro said. Nonetheless, the industry faces challenges including a potential shortage of pilots and mechanics.
“The younger generation has so many options,” said Zuccaro. “We’re starting a sales and marketing campaign to show them being a pilot or a mechanic is a good career path.” But the economic barriers to entry can be high.
“The average [student helicopter pilot] gets a rating up to a CFI, which allows him to make money, but that costs about $80,000,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to improve that scenario.”
Of more immediate concern are “unwarranted” regulations being driven by political grandstanding that may actually impinge on safety, Zuccaro said. “It’s at the point right now where regulations mandating [helicopter] routes and altitudes have become the forum of elected officials. They’re not even asking the FAA anymore; they’re telling them, ‘We want you to put in regulations on routes and altitudes’ based on [constituents’] complaints. We respect people’s concerns. We have a Fly Neighborly program, working with the community and FAA and stakeholders. [But] legislators are making regulatory decisions without any study of what the realignment would mean. It’s not being done for safety or for airspace efficiency. It’s being done for a small group of people who have gotten the ears of elected officials.”
The recent FAA rule changes for Part 135 and Part 91 helicopter operations are also a concern. Meanwhile, the industry and HAI retain their focus on safety independent of regulatory mandates, Zuccaro said.
“We’ve been requesting for years the FAA include night vision goggles in the HEMS [helicopter emergency medical services] rules, but they didn’t do that,” said Zuccaro.” What’s better for HEMS than night vision? That puzzles us, but the industry on its own has equipped the fleet [with night vision goggles] to the 90 percent level.”