As many of you know, I am passionate about safety and unreasonable regulatory and political initiatives, but I thought it might be nice to discuss my other passion — the people that make up this great industry of ours. Besides, if I think about regulations, legislation, politics, and life inside the Beltway too much, my head hurts, my stomach aches, and my brain turns to mush.
One of the best parts of my job is that I get to travel and visit with the many people that make up our industry around the world. I am a big believer that no one knows the issues and concerns we have to deal with better than the people who actually do the job on a day-to-day basis. At HAI, we clearly understand that, for us to provide the highest level of service to our members, we have to stop flying our desks in Washington for a while and get out into the field where the real work is done. I am fortunate to have a fantastic staff who hold down the fort so I can accomplish this.
I am often reminded of how diverse our industry is and of the many unique operating environments, cultures, and regulatory climates we operate in. One minute I can be speaking with an operator in an African bush environment or a pilot at a New York City heliport, and the next, I am talking to a technician at a remote European aerial firefighting base or a passenger touring Alaskan glaciers. The amazing part is, no matter where I go, the issues and concerns are almost identical.
These first-hand personal contacts are critical for me. They keep me grounded and updated while letting me know what those on the front lines are thinking. Keeping in touch with the field also assists HAI in properly allocating staff, resources, and funding to meet the true needs of our members.
When I’m on the road, one of my favorite stops is helicopter flight and technical schools, where I get to meet the instructors and students. After these visits, I feel recharged. The instructors’ and students’ enthusiasm, commitment, and passion for helicopter operations are contagious. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. Their excitement reminds me of the first time I ever climbed into a J-3 Cub as a passenger or of my first solo in an Army OH-23 Hiller (and by the way, I was a teenager for both events).
I must admit that I also detect concern on the part of the students about their future in the industry. Will they be able to navigate the regulatory and industry standards and reach a level of economic sustainability that will allow them to pursue their dream of being part of the helicopter community? Answering that question is one of our industry’s challenges.
One of the most exciting things I invariably witness is the true commitment in the international helicopter community to safety as a first priority. It is present from the largest operators down to the individual private owner. One segment of the industry that has embraced this concept at a high rate is the small operators, those with fleets of one to five helicopters. This is critical as small operators make up 85 percent of our industry worldwide.
I also get to have interesting conversations with individuals like me who have been in the industry upwards of 40 years. We sit back, relax, try to impress each other with our war stories, and agree how lucky we are to be part of this great community. I of course then run into one of the industry pioneers, who proceeds to remind me that he was establishing this business before I was even born. To him, I am still the kid on the block.
All in all, my 40-plus years in the helicopter industry have been a great ride. I would not change a thing. Besides, if I were not in the helicopter business, I would have to get a real job and have much less fun.
As you travel throughout our world of helicopters, share a moment with others. Take the time to ask a question, answer a question, and exchange thoughts with individuals at all levels of background and accomplishment. I guarantee that you will enjoy the experience. I know I do (and I get paid for it).
What are your thoughts? Let me know via e-mail: [email protected]
As always, have a safe flight and fly neighborly.
Matt Zuccaro is President of HAI.
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