Different Place, Same Problems
The above statement is just as accurate today as it was 60 years ago, as it relates to the helicopter industry. Throughout my many travels within the United States and internationally, one of my priorities is to meet with local operators, so that I can listen to their concerns and issues while getting myself familiar with the local helicopter activities and environment.
Since I was in the operating community during my previous life, I am very sensitive to what it takes to turn a rotor blade each day — just considering the basic elements, such as business model, operational issues, the competitive marketplace, and staffing etc. When we add outside influences such as community opposition, political agenda, legislative initiatives, regulatory oversight, and global economic uncertainties, then things really get interesting.
What brought this to mind was my recent attendance at the Paris Air Show, which in itself is an extremely impressive event. Even more enjoyable this year was the fact that the daily air show commenced with a helicopter flight demonstration — as it should be from my point of view. However, I acknowledge my obvious bias. HAI was exhibiting at the air show, as we do at numerous other trade events around the world. It provides us with the opportunity to interface with our members within that country or region, as well as those organizations that exhibit at our show, HELI-EXPO®, which by the way will be in Houston, Texas on February 20 to 23, 2010. We also get to meet potential new members and exhibitors, as well as others seeking information about the helicopter industry.
Of prime importance to me is the fact that I get to interface with the local operating community, and other related parties. This year in Paris it was my pleasure to meet up with local operators, regulators, legislators, and HAI Affiliate organizations, such as the Union Française de L'helicóptero (UFL), which is located at the downtown Paris heliport. My gracious industry host on that visit was Gerard David, the President of the UFL, and a very enthusiastic local helicopter advocate.
The Paris heliport itself is an impressive facility. It is home to almost 15 companies, with approximately 30 based helicopters, two fixed based operators, and numerous hangars. All of this sits on a nine-acre parcel, which accommodates almost 15,000 operations per year. I would give anything to have such a facility in my old stomping grounds of New York City.
Although the facility has one of the best safety records in the industry, and the operators have established a vigorous fly neighborly program, the heliport, like many of the other heliports around the world, is under attack from the community and elected officials on matters relating to safety and noise — to the point of being faced with potential closure. To add to the problems of the operating community, they are also witnessing a prohibition of single-engine aircraft utilization for specific mission profiles and operating environments, which statistical analysis of historical data does not support.
Over the last 40 years, I have been involved in this scenario more times than I care to remember. And it is one I hear each and every time I visit various locations throughout the world. The good news is that not all I hear is bad news. There have been stories of successful industry/community collaborations, legislative lobbying efforts, as well as heliport protection and development initiatives.
The bottom line is that we have to stay motivated on a daily basis, and do anything and everything we can to mitigate or eliminate the concerns of the communities we operate in, as well as the concerns of those that have regulatory and legislative oversight of our activities. HAI aggressively continues these efforts on behalf of our members at an international level. That is why we are committed to providing support and resources to protect and preserve the Paris public heliport, and other similar facilities around the world.
Someone once asked me what the ultimate solution to such problems might be. I replied that when the helicopter industry has no accidents, and the aircraft emit no external noise, we will no longer be having these conversations, and I can then enjoy participation in numerous heliport opening ceremonies. Call me crazy, but I have been sharpening my pair of large scissors to cut all those ribbons.
That is my story and I am sticking to it. What are your thoughts? I sincerely want to know. Whether you agree or disagree, email me at TAILROTOR@AOL.COM, and let me know what is going on in your world. As always have a Safe Flight and Fly Neighborly.
Matt Zuccaro is President of HAI.