"They Object to Us Until They Need Us"
Over the 40-plus years that I have been in the helicopter industry, I—like many of you—have experienced the expression of negative comments from the public, elected officials and press regarding helicopter operations. A good part of my day at HAI involves my response to such comments. These thoughts are not limited to any particular helicopter activity or geographic area. Operations such as air tours, corporate flights, photography, ENG, and training are all targets. Not even EMS, firefighting or law enforcement are spared.
Usually the reason for such attacks is stated as concern about the impact of safety and noise. However, when we push back the curtain, we find that in many instances these are not the true motivations of our detractors. One such example happened to me many years ago when I was assisting in the request for a business heliport. At the public hearing for the heliport, we were greeted by a large crowd in obvious protest to the project. One particular lady was very vocal in her objection to the heliport, stating her concern regarding the safety of the operation and the anticipated noise that would be associated with it. In reality, the operational plan provided for flight paths and procedures that would avoid over-flights of the populated areas and actually mitigate the issues she noted.
In an attempt to isolate the real reason of her objections, I posed the following line of questioning to the lady: I asked if she had children, to which she responded that she did. I then proposed a hypothetical situation—that one of her children had been critically injured on the street in front of her home (noting that of course I hoped no such event would ever occur). Then, I supposed that the on-scene paramedics advised her that the only chance her child had for survival was transport to the trauma center via helicopter. I asked her if, under such a scenario, she would allow the helicopter to land on her property and transport her child. She unhesitatingly indicated that she would, as would any mother in such a scenario.
My final question to her inquired that, since she had no objection to allowing the most precious thing in her life—namely her child—to be transported by helicopter under such circumstances, is it safe to assume that her real objection to the heliport was its related mission of transporting business people, and not concerns over safety and noise? To her credit she responded yes—that she felt the businessmen could travel via other vehicles like everyone else. This same irrational thinking has been displayed in other situations; yet when an emergency occurs, the first asset they turn to is helicopters.
Another similar situation is the effort to eliminate air tours over our national parks. It gets even better when we consider the stated rationale of environmentalist and government agencies, that the natural environment in parks needs to be maintained, and that minimal impact on the park infrastructure, wildlife and vegetation needs to be ensured. Really? What do you think is less intrusive and damaging to a park environment— millions of visitors to the parks—in their cars, buses and campers—causing emissions pollution; wear and tear on the infrastructure; noise pollution associated with normal human activity; artificial noise pollution via public address systems, cell phones or radios; the associated litter; and potential introduction of disease and pollutants to wildlife and vegetation; or a helicopter at an altitude that has zero physical impact on the park? Now that I think of it, there should be an immediate effort to drastically reduce ground visitors to the parks and promote aerial visitation in an effort to preserve the park system for future generations.
As a side note, I was recently involved in a review of New York City airspace and proposed restrictions of helicopter operations in consideration of protecting elements of the National Park system that happen to be located within this airspace. In this process, I was accused of being insensitive to those individuals who come to New York City to have a wilderness experience. Call me crazy, but being a Manhattan-born, lifetime New York guy, my concept of a wilderness experience in New York City is visiting a bank cash machine at about 2:00 a.m. That's my story, and I am sticking to it. What are your thoughts?
Let me know via email: TAILROTOR@AOL.COM
Matt Zuccaro is President of HAI.