Aviation industry and government leaders reacted to Matt Zuccaro’s death with heartfelt gratitude for an exemplary life of service. Zuccaro, 70, the immediate past president of the Helicopter Association International (HAI), died February 25. He had retired from HAI in January after a tenure that began in 2005 and was marked by successful industry-wide efforts to dramatically improve helicopter safety and reduce the overall helicopter accident rate.
“Matt's retirement from the industry left a huge void in our lives, and his passing brings an even greater loss to us all,” said Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “Matt was an invaluable and respected leader throughout this industry, and his service to our country and passion for aviation will remain in our hearts always." NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen called Zuccaro “a patriot, a leader, a consummate professional, and a friend.”
“Matt was a good friend and advisor to me and an incredible asset to the entire general aviation community,” said U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Graves called Zuccaro a “straight-shooting, passionate leader.” Zuccaro’s successor at HAI, Jim Viola, said, “We are a better, stronger, and safer industry today because of his efforts on behalf of rotorcraft.” General Aviation Manufacturers Association president Pete Bunce said Zuccaro was “a devoted leader in the general aviation industry” and “a forceful champion for the rotorcraft community.” National Air Transportation Association CEO Timothy Obitts called Zuccaro a “staunch protector of the industry. His keen sense of humor and willingness to share his wealth of knowledge will be greatly missed.”
During his career, Zuccaro held several executive and operations management positions with commercial, corporate, air-tour, scheduled airline, and public-service helicopter operations in the northeastern U.S. At the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he served in operations management positions at John F. Kennedy International Airport and the Port Authority’s public and private heliports. Before assuming the helm at HAI, Zuccaro served as the organization’s chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, and assistant treasurer as well as a director for six years. He also served as a special advisor to HAI’s board. Zuccaro also was a past president of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC).
He received his initial helicopter flight training as a U.S. Army aviator and served with the 7/17 Air Cavalry unit in Vietnam, for which he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Bronze Stars, and 19 Air Medals. He was subsequently assigned as a flight instructor at the Army Flight School at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He held airline transport pilot and certified flight instructor-instrument certificates for both airplanes and helicopters. Zuccaro was a recipient of the HAI Pilot Safety Award for 10,000 hours of accident- and violation-free flight hours, the NBAA Pilot Safety award, and numerous other industry awards for his efforts and commitment to the helicopter industry.
Zuccaro’s signature effort in this regard was HAI’s “Land & Live” campaign in which he urged pilots to “land the damn helicopter” as opposed to continuing to fly in problematic and potentially unsafe conditions. In 2013, he wrote, “In many accidents, there is prior knowledge that all is not well. With fuel exhaustion, most pilots are aware of low fuel and the uncertainty of reaching fuel. In weather-related incidents, pilots know they are in less-than-desirable weather conditions, with difficulty maintaining visual flight rules. Accidents caused by mechanical failures involve alerts by warning systems and abnormal noises or vibrations. In a medical incapacitation or under-the-influence case, the pilot is usually aware of his substandard performance and diminished abilities. With the above in mind and assuming an acceptable landing site is available, why don’t pilots exercise one of the most unique and valuable capabilities of vertical flight—namely, land the damn helicopter! In a high percentage of crashes, this simple act would break the chain of events and prevent the accident.”
In January, Zuccaro told AIN, “I've loved every minute of the last 15 years that I was president and CEO [of HAI]. Leading this association offered me the opportunity to pay back the industry that has provided me with a rewarding and fulfilling career.”
Zuccaro is survived by his wife of 50 years, Doreen, two children, and two grandchildren.