Helicopter OEMs Find Willing Market at Oshkosh

 - September 1, 2013, 1:20 AM
A static display area outside the HAI pavillion afforded the association the opportunity to introduce young people to aviation, specifically helicopters. The outreach program extends beyond AirVenture, with programs designed for the classroom as well.

Certain helicopter makers such as Enstrom and various kit makers have long been a staple at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) annual AirVenture convention. For Enstrom, the journey represents a little more than an hour’s flight from its factory in Menominee, Mich. However, other mainline helicopter OEMs historically have been reluctant to exhibit at the nation’s largest airshow–until this year.

Both Bell and Eurocopter made the trek to Oshkosh this year, with the former showing a refurbished Model 407 from its Piney Flats, Tenn. Aeronautical Accessories unit, and the latter a Wisconsin customer’s EC120. The 407 was part of the Cessna exhibit. Both Bell and Cessna are Textron companies.

“This is an older aircraft that showcases a lot of the modifications we offer,” said Bell sales representative Patrick Dennison. The 407 Bell brought to the show featured side bubble windows and aftermarket avionics. Dennison said that Textron companies are taking advantage of venues such as AirVenture to market the conglomerate’s entire product line, not just aircraft but also products such as E-Z-Go golf carts, and cross-marketing ties with various promotions, including Nascar.

“We’re here because this is important. The show has been great. We’ve had a lot of traffic through the booth and there has been a lot of enthusiasm,” said Doug Carriger, senior marketing manager for American Eurocopter. “We will be back. It’s good for the brand and great for aviation. Next year we will have two helicopters here, this and probably one of the AStars [AS350].”

HAI Bolsters Presence at AirVenture

For the third year, the Helicopter Association International (HAI) sponsored a two-story pavilion and visitor’s center at AirVenture. “We absolutely lobbied the [helicopter] OEMs to be here,” HAI president Matt Zuccaro said. “We would love for all the helicopter OEMs to join us here. I am excited that the ones who are here are thinking of expanding their presence at the show. This crowd contains a good potential market for them in terms of customers. Our chairman, Tony Burson, is a great example. He’s here because he is a general aviation pilot, but in his day job he is the chief pilot of United Technologies’ flight department. Corporate America is at this show and they are all looking for product. If you have the right technology at this show you will get something out of it. You also get to promote helicopters in general for the greater good that we do.

“We are gaining more members as a function of being here,” Zuccaro said. “More and more people from the fixed-wing community are stopping by and asking about helicopters, and we have a flight school downstairs. They are being kept busy each day. People want to know, ‘How do I become a helicopter pilot?’ We really get a lot of young people coming through [the pavilion] and that is one of the greatest challenges we are facing: the shortage of helicopter pilots and mechanics. It is good to see fresh new faces as they are making career decisions.”

Zuccaro said the HAI pavilion had set up a “kids’ corner” in the pavilion to appeal to elementary school-age children as well as produce educational videos on the helicopter industry for use in schools. “Anything we can think of to plant the seed and make kids think about helicopters,” he said.

For the first time HAI had a static display area in front of the tent where it hosted various helicopters during the week. “We hope to grow into a bigger venue as we expand the presence of the helicopter community,” Zuccaro said. “We also have the opportunity to present educational seminars about helicopters, we are sponsoring one of the forum buildings and I get to network with my peers from all the other general aviation associations.”

“We are banking on the future,” said HAI chairman Burson.