“This year’s Heli-Expo is a rousing success before we even open the doors,” said HAI president Matt Zuccaro at a press conference just before the ribbon-cutting here yesterday morning. More than 600 HAI members enrolled in the two days of educational sessions held before the show opened to general attendance.
“We’re furthering the depth of knowledge in the helicopter industry, which is why we put these events on,” said Zuccaro, adding that HAI will complete its suite
of online courses this year to reach more of the industry via the association Web site, www.rotor.com.
Zuccaro spoke anecdotally of his sense that show attendance would shatter the record of 16,200 set in 2005, with “significant” numbers of new international attendees and exhibitors, though HAI will not release an official final tally until its Salute to Excellence banquet on Monday evening.
Heli-Expo’08 occupies 600,000 sq ft of the George R. Brown Convention Center and listed 565 exhibitors as of opening day, which would potentially set new records for exhibit area and number of booths. “We’ve got 65 helicopters on display, 50 of which flew in over the last three days,” said Zuccaro, praising the finesse with which exhibits and static displays were coordinated during Heli-Expo’s first staging in Houston.
Michael Suldo, chairman of HAI, said Heli-Expo’s roster and participation reflects the industry’s health as well as the performance of his own company, Air Logistics, a Bristow company.
“Bristow is having a record year,” said Suldo, “and we’re seeing the signs of strength in the helicopter industry overall. This week’s sale of CHC in Canada reflects the high value placed on helicopters by the markets.”
Suldo acknowledged that the industry is cyclical, but added that this year’s Heli-Expo coincides with “a boom time” for helicopter operations, despite continual hand-wringing about the broader economy. “It’s hard to see the effects of any recession in the U.S. helicopter market,” said Suldo. He will step down as chairman of HAI in June and also retire from Bristow.
Zuccaro mapped out HAI’s ongoing initiatives, which include the installation of ADS-B hardware on oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico within nine to 12 months. “We’ve done all the initial surveillance work, and we hope to get these online, including an enhancement with real-time weather reporting,” said Zuccaro. The ADS-B initiative will later include Alaska and installation for aerial tour operations in Hawaii. Zuccaro said he considers a highlight of Heli-Expo’08 to be this afternoon’s planned forum with FAA Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell, 3:15 to 5:30 p.m. in Room 361 E-F.
Acknowledging the quest for more focused training as an interim solution to the shortage of helicopter pilots, Zuccaro said, “We’re very conscious of the need.” He noted that HAI expects more than 1,000 people to attend this week’s job fair in Ballroom C.
Zuccaro cited the ongoing problems of airspace and runway congestion and the need for more low-level IFR routes and said that HAI will continue its battle for funding of a national heliport system. “We’re paying our money into the [FAA] system and we’d like some of it to go to heliports. There’s no reason for a helicopter entering a metropolitan area to have to fly into an airport,” he said.