For the fifth year running, Heli-Expo “appears to be setting records” for attendance and exhibitors, Matthew Zuccaro, president of show organizer Helicopter Association International (HAI) told AIN on the eve of Heli-Expo ‘13 here in Las Vegas. “We anticipate more than 23,000 attendees, we have approximately 750 exhibitors and 60 helicopters on display,” Zuccaro said.
While most visitors are focused on activity on the convention floor, much of Heli-Expo’s business goes on in seminars, professional education courses and meetings. But the gathering’s number-one focus is always safety, Zuccaro said. In addition to the annual safety symposium and Town Hall safety meeting, new at Heli-Expo this year is the HAI Rotor Safety Challenge, a series of safety events, forums and one-hour presentations on a variety of safety topics, free to all attendees. This year’s show also features 27 professional education courses covering piloting and maintenance skills, management and professional development topics and safety.
Zuccaro said a growing number of attendees are attending the courses, many of which are uniquely geared to the rotorcraft operators. “The flight instructor safety course is the only one [of its kind] that’s oriented toward rotor wing [aircraft],” Zuccaro said. Inspection authorization certificates can also be renewed here at Heli-Expo.
As part of the industry’s focus on safety, the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) has been working since 2005 toward the ambitious goal of reducing helicopter accidents by 80 percent in 10 years. That goal now appears unattainable, but Zuccaro said the effort will continue. “The industry has reduced accidents internationally by 30 percent,” he said. “We will not reach the 80 percent goal in ten years. There has been a readjusted focus and goal: it needs to be zero tolerance [for safety infractions] and zero accidents. There’s been a decision made that this will continue forever, moving toward zero accidents.”
Helping the ongoing safety initiative, industry representatives from North America have increased their involvement with this international effort in the past year, Zuccaro said, pointing to the appointment of Bristow CEO Bill Chiles and Kurt Robinson, president of Robinson Helicopters, to the IHST’s Executive Committee. “We want to focus on general aviation and flight training,” Zuccaro continued. “Most of the accidents are there.”
Most, but not all. HAI is also continuing to press for requiring night-vision goggles for helicopter medical emergency operations. “We’re still lobbying the FAA,” said Zuccaro. “That’s unusual–a trade organization asking for more regulation. [But] when it’s the right thing to do, we will support regulation initiatives.”
As for the much talked about sequestration, “It’s not affecting us right now, but the effect is going to start coming over the next several months,” Zuccaro said, further impinging on an already ailing support infrastructure. “The FAA is going to furlough people in the certification branch, operations and ATC. Things that relate to maintenance, STCs, 337 [forms], those kind of field approvals, the level of service is only going to get worse. However, we do agree with government agencies that all of us will ensure the system remains safe, though there may be delays and inconveniences.”
The helicopter industry has largely sloughed off the effects of the economic downturn, which Zuccaro attributes to both the variety of missions that helicopters can perform and the lack of any alternative. An analysis by Brian Foley released a week before Heli-Expo found that the value of civilian and military helicopter purchases puts the rotorcraft industry on an equal economic footing with the corporate fixed-wing aircraft industry.
Meanwhile, ties between the rotor and fixed-wing communities have strengthened in recent years. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association began reporting helicopter sales last year for the first time, and Zuccaro told AIN he is enthusiastic about the growing relations between HAI and the other aviation trade groups. “It shows that the more we work together and the closer we become, the [more] benefits we can provide to the aviation industry and our collective membership.”
While much of this activity goes on behind the scenes here at Heli-Expo, there’s plenty of action on the convention floor. At last year’s show, about $2 billion in deals were announced at Heli-Expo. Said Zuccaro, “Our commitment to exhibitors is to provide a forum” that promotes sales and purchases. “It’s the old phrase: the exhibitors are happy, and I’m very happy.”