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Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon   |   1st February 2007
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Ten Questions For HAI

Helicopter community continues growth amid diversity.

Next year the Helicopter Association International celebrates 60 years as the voice and lobbying arm of the helicopter community- and the association continues its efforts amid a climate of continuing growth. With more than 2-600 members spread across 73 countries- HAI truly has its fingers on the pulse of an international community. The association’s annual trade show- HELI-EXPO- rightly claims the title of “The World’s Largest Helicopter Gathering-” and the 2007 HELI-EXPO- HAI’s 59th- is scheduled to run March 1-3 in Orlando- Florida. However- in a sign of the depth and diversity of HAI’s event- HELI-EXPO-related workshops- seminars and forums actually begin earlier- on February 24- and continue for three days after the trade show ends.

During each HELI-EXPO- HAI’s 21 technical committees meet on topics that range from Acoustic and Environment to Technical and Utilities operations. HAI packs a lot of rotorcraft issues into the 11 days required to include all the learning opportunities and the trade show itself.

Leading this far-flung organization is Matthew S. Zuccaro- a long-time veteran of the helicopter community and a high-time former Army helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam. Zuccaro assumed his post in November 2005- replacing Roy Resavage- a seven-year veteran of that post.

Mr. Zuccaro holds Airline Transport Pilot and Instrument Flight Instructor certificates for both airplanes and helicopters. During his 35-year career in aviation he’s held several executive level and operations management positions- with commercial- corporate- scheduled airlines- and public service helicopter operations in the northeastern United States. During his tenure with 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. Zuccaro came to his HAI post with a great deal of experience in the association’s purpose and practices thanks to a 20-year affiliation with HAI. Previously he served as HAI Chairman- as well as Vice Chairman- Treasurer- and Assistant Treasurer; he served six years on HAI’s Board of Directors and as a Special Advisor to the HAI Board.

In addition to participating in a number of key HAI initiatives – among them the relocation of HAI to its current headquarters in Alexandria- Virginia – he contributed to the revision of HAI’s by-laws. Zuccaro also has served as either chairman or member of several HAI technical committees and numerous industry research and task force groups.

Zuccaro is a recipient of HAI’s “Salute to Excellence” Agusta Community Service Award and 10-000-hour Helicopter Pilot Safety Award winner- as well as a recipient of numerous other industry awards. Furthermore- Mr. Zuccaro is also a member of the Twirly Birds- the organization for pioneering helicopter pilots. With Heli-Expo just around the corner- we put ten questions to Zuccaro.

WAS: Firstly- thanks for taking the time to participate in a World Aircraft Sales Magazine ‘Ten Questions’ interview. Can you give us a quick overview of the state of the helicopter community?

Zuccaro: Actually- it’s doing great- very strong. It has been sustaining a growth pattern and all segments are- quite frankly- doing well.

WAS: What operational areas are strongest and weakest?

Zuccaro: The ones that come to mind in strength are: the offshore oil community; tour operations are enjoying a very vigorous activity level; and Emergency Medical Services are doing quite well. As for weak areas- we really don’t have any weak segments right now- which is a great situation to be in. As they say- all the cylinders are firing.

WAS: What does the growth outlook show for helicopter sales over the next decade- in the US and internationally?

Zuccaro: We look on the growth potential as very favorable. If all the forecast and predictions hold- things will continue to go well for some time. We had record sales at our last HELI-EXPO- 2006 in Dallas- Texas. Sales are very robust- with some buyers facing waits of 12 to 18 months in some cases. We’re going to have a very good decade coming up.

WAS: What is the greatest barrier to stronger growth for the helicopter community?

Zuccaro: There are a number of elements. Certainly- one that comes to mind is the lack of infrastructure- particularly in the urban environment. Public acceptance is another issue. And having adequate pilots and maintenance technicians is an issue with the industry expanding like it is.

WAS: We’ve heard concerns about a looming shortage of qualified maintenance technicians from a variety of sources in the fixed-wing community; does the helicopter community face a similar shortage?

Zuccaro: We do- and we’re doing everything we can to encourage people to come into helicopters as a career path. We put students in touch with people running the helicopter industry so they can get to know the industry- so that maybe they will consider a career in the helicopter industry. We also have a mentoring system targeting individuals.
We’re also coordinating with the universities and their aviation training programs to try to get them to expand courses for helicopter careers. We’re in a very competitive situation – competing with the fixed-wing community for many of the same individuals. There are also a lot of competing career opportunities for these people outside aviation.

WAS: Similarly- the fixed wing community has identified increasing the pilot population as a target for 2007 and beyond due to concerns about fielding enough pilots to meet growth projections; does the helicopter community see a similar pilot shortage now or in the future?

Zuccaro: We’re doing many of the same things we’re doing to attract maintenance technicians – there’s actually very little difference. You have to get people involved and interested at the point where they’re thinking about making career decisions. It’s a generational thing- actually.
We also have an interface and interact with the military community to get some of the people coming out of the service- and offer those with military training the assistance they need in transitioning to civilian jobs. And we have a program of career days for students in high schools and colleges. We’re very conscious of our needs and are trying to take every step we can to help the industry meet those needs.

WAS: Advances like the Bell/Agusta BA609 Tilt-Rotor bring new potential for city-center-to-city-center service. Does the potential exist to create more city-center heliports that are needed to fully realize the potential of the 609?

Zuccaro: Yes- in essence- that’s a top priority for us: the retention of existing heliports and the creation of new facilities. We need to concentrate on getting facilities in areas that truly have the market and the need to support their use. Facilities have to have the need and the customer-base within the geographic area- whether it’s a helicopter or a tilt-rotor.
To take advantage of the greater range of the tilt-rotor means more city-center-to-city-center service- which could reduce demand on air traffic and airport services as they are now- a benefit to the air transportation system overall.
The tilt-rotor technology has a lot of potential in other areas – offshore oil and utility communities where distances get greater. Other areas are rescue work and EMS work- where tilt-rotors have the potential to cover more territory faster.
Corporate flight operations with tilt-rotors give a company the opportunity to take advantage of turboprop speeds and get closer to their facilities. So
tilt-rotor has the potential for a broad benefit across the whole aviation spectrum.

WAS: In light of the attacks of 9/11 and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina we thought our readers might appreciate hearing about HAI’s First Responder Program; can you give us an overview- and what the program can mean in a time of such tragedy?

Zuccaro: In essence- the program grew out of the experience of Katrina- where assets were available but not utilized. Since that and 9/11- with continuing communications with emergency officials- we’re asked to help locate assets – so we started developing a database of helicopter capabilities.
Our IT people did an outstanding job of developing a database on operations- equipment- capabilities- and location. After six months- we have more than 200 helicopters listed.
It gives us the ability to locate an incident anywhere in the world and go to the database and identify what assets are available- within 50 miles- 100 miles- whatever. Capabilities are also listed (whether the helicopter can carry a stretcher- has external load lifting capability- night vision equipment- and any other special capabilities). The database continues to grow. We’re also working with the security agencies to pre-qualify the assets so that all we have to do is tell them when the aircraft can be there- and not get bogged down in paperwork.

WAS: What issues do you expect will dominate delegates’ attention during HELI-EXPO next month?

Zuccaro: The primary one is always going to be safety. The International Helicopter Safety Team is an effort that grew out of the 2005 Montreal safety conference. It has being jointly sponsored by HAI and the American Helicopter Society. Our mission is to decrease the helicopter accident rate internationally by 80 percent over the next 10 years. The effort is split into two teams. The first is the Analysis Team. It’s been operating a little over a year- gathering and analyzing all the accident data from all over the world and putting that data in a form- which can be used to identify trends. That data will be turned over to the Implementation Team to make recommendations to the IHST for changes and improvements designed to reduce accidents. We’re very excited about it. My responsibility as co-chairman of the team is to sell the concept of safety as a mindset for helicopter operators.
Another major issue at HELI-EXPO is going to be community relations. We’ve been working on new guidelines for quiet flying to help the industry enhance its relationship with the communities where it operates. The potential for restricted airspace due to security concerns is also going to be an active topic.

WAS: Finally- given your long-term experience as a helicopter pilot- can you tell us your favorite ship or most-fulfilling type of flight ops? Or- to put it another way- if you were to go back to flying helicopters for a living tomorrow- what kind of flying would you most want to do?

Zuccaro: The type of flying to me personally that’s the best- is flying that has a direct benefit to people - like EMS and rescue flying. Don’t get me wrong- I have enjoyed all the other things you can do with a helicopter- and I’ve done pretty much all of them- but the flying that directly helps people in need always felt the best.

WAS: Thanks again for your time. We hope HELI-EXPO 2007 is a world beater.

Find out more information on the HAI from www.rotor.com

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