HAI Convention News

Heli-Expo Takes On Industry Challenges

 - February 11, 2012, 9:30 PM

It’s another landmark for Heli-Expo. “For the fourth year running, we’ve broken the record of every preceding year [in attendance and exhibitor count]”, HAI President Matthew Zuccaro told AIN.

More than 650 exhibitors (up from last year’s 625) have registered, and attendance is expected to top last year’s 20,000-plus attendees, with more than 18,000 pre-registered. Yet the industry faces significant challenges, and HAI and Heli-Expo will tackle them head on, Zuccaro said.

“The primary one is never going to change. It’s always going to be safety,” and Heli-Expo agenda features a “great lineup of safety events,” Zuccaro said. Activities include the HAI Safety Symposium held yesterday morning on fatigue issues. It was led by Dr. Mark Rosekind, NTSB board member and member of HAI’s Safety Committee. The “safety tools” presentation at the International Helicopter Safety Team’s (IHST) symposium is today.

As part of the focus on safety, Zuccaro expressed disappointment that the FAA’s recent NPRM for Air Ambulance and Commercial Helicopter Operations failed to mandate night-vision goggles or enhanced-visions systems.

“We want to see that back in the bill.” Zuccaro said, acknowledging there is a cost for compliance. “We do not want to be known as a trade association that spits out the party line,” he said. “We are truly committed to safety initiatives. If they include an economic impact on operators, but in the end prevent accidents, that’s an unbelievably good return on investment.”

From a legislative and regulatory standpoint, HAI’s biggest concern is Senator Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) ongoing efforts “to control helicopters and authorize and mandate the FAA to respond to noise complaints and compel operators to use dedicated helicopter-only routes” in New York City.

“This has nothing to do with safety or efficient use of airspace, which is the FAA’s prime mandate,” Zuccaro said. “This a major issue for us. It’s extremely dangerous to mandate the FAA to react to noise complaints, and this is propagating itself in other parts of the country. [Public officials] think if this goes through, they can just pick up the phone and control helicopter flights.”

The industry is also facing a growing deficit of new pilots and maintenance technicians, exacerbated by the retirement of large numbers of Vietnam-era personnel. “We’re taking initiatives to work with all the schools at the university level, and the flight training schools, to promote [helicopter industry] careers for young people,” Zuccaro said.

At Heli-Expo, efforts in this area include a career fair, a career day, and seminars on mentoring, where industry leaders will address pilots and maintenance professionals. As part of this effort, for the first time, HAI is co-sponsoring the Heli-Success Career Development Seminar.

Air tour operators’ access to airspace over National Parks also remains an issue. “[The National Parks Service] seems determined and focused on eliminating air tours over National Parks, no matter what they say,” Zuccaro said. “That battle continues to go on.”

HAI’s efforts on behalf of the industry are made possible in great part by Heli-Expo’s staunch supporters, Zuccaro said. “As always, we extend our sincere appreciation to the show’s exhibitors.”