"What about the Next Generation in the Helicopter Industry?"
Upon my return from flying helicopters in Vietnam, I was assigned as a flight and ground instructor at the U.S. Army flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala. As military separation neared, I focused on securing a civilian job. With 10 pilots for each job, I made it tougher by limiting my search to my home town, New York City. It took a while but I finally got a job and spent the next 40-plus years on a hell of a helicopter ride which I would not trade for anything.
As I meet with young flight instructors and their students, in conjunction with HAI’s safety, mentoring and scholarship programs, I look back at my own experiences. I sincerely believe this new generation is far more challenged in their pursuit of a career in helicopters than my peers and I were.
Most of us left the military with the requisite experience and training to qualify us for available jobs, fortunate to have received that training and experience—even with the combat environment that came with the package—rather than having to go the civilian route with its associated costs.
Consider this new generation making their way via the civilian myriad of challenges to establish themselves as either helicopter pilots or maintenance technicians. The average flight student will incur a $70,000 debt to become a Certified Flight Instructor, since instructing is the only viable job for someone with 200-plus flight hours. Once instructing, their next goal is to reach the magic 1,000-plus flight hours and gain some turbine engine time. Now they can be considered for their so called “real job.” This could take a few years, during which time they try to survive on minimal wages as many of the flight schools struggle to maintain operations in these difficult economic times. Add new FAA experience requirements and the challenge increases.
In my discussions with these new industry entrants I can hear and see their frustration and disappointment. I also hear my two least desired statements, “I am only instructing until I get a ‘real job,’” and “if there was another way to build my time I would take it in a minute, rather than instruct.” Not what I want to hear, especially when I believe that flight instructing is one of the most important missions in our industry—and is absolutely a “real job.”
I have talked to many long timers in our industry who share my concern and frustrations in a search to find a solution, especially when you consider the majority of helicopter accidents occur in the training and personal flying segments.
How do we encourage the next helicopter generation to start or continue their efforts and realize their value to the industry’s future?
We need to create a practical process that allows committed persons a realistic opportunity to achieve their goals in a reasonable time frame for a positive return on their financial investment. This would suggest a review of the flight school business model to make flight instruction a legitimate career path rather than a stepping stone to that “real job.” We should also consider that the current system has the most recently certified instructors, with the least overall experience, instructing the next generation of pilots—the opposite of other professions such as the legal or medical industry. There is definitely a place for new flight instructors within the initial training environment; thus we should consider phased training programs with new instructors teaching the basics and senior instructors handling advanced and mission-specific training, all which creates an instructor career path.
I also remind myself that when I am talking to our future generations, through their frustration and disappointment I also see that sparkle in their eye and hear the passion in their voice as they talk of their dreams of flying varied missions in advanced technology helicopters which many of us old timers now take for granted.
How about we get together and think about helping the new guys and gals along the way and let them know that if they stick with it they will never regret their decision. I know this is not an easy issue, so what are your thoughts, let me know via email: TAILROTOR@AOL.COM.
Remember, someone helped most of us along the way.
Matt Zuccaro is President of HAI.
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