Never Forget Where You Came From
Amid all the excitement associated with the approaching HAI HELI-EXPO® to be held in Las Vegas, I think it is appropriate to pause and acknowledge the 70th anniversary of Helicopter Association International (HAI), which was founded on December 13, 1948. Beginning with that initial meeting of 14 helicopter pioneers, HAI has reflected the industry it represents.
In acknowledgment of the founders’ location, the original group took the name California Helicopter Association. Back then, flight training cost $55 per hour, and you could purchase a tour ride for $5.
In 1951, the association had grown to 17 operator members flying 50 helicopters in multiple states. Thus, it decided to change its name to Helicopter Association of America (HAA). Over the years, operational and technological advancements, coupled with public acceptance, fostered international growth and an industry expansion of missions.
As HAA grew and international membership increased, another name change was implemented. In 1981, HAI was born. Today, we continue our advocacy on behalf of our 3,500 members who safely fly more than 5,300 helicopters 2.3 million flight hours a year.
During my 50 years in this industry, I have many fond memories of taking part in conversations with my peers. During these sessions, we sit back, relax, and try to impress each other with our war stories and exploits, and what a great time we have had being part of the helicopter community.
Just when I think I have seen and done it all, I experience a reality check that brings me back to ground. It comes when I meet or talk with the true pioneers of this industry, those ladies and gentlemen who started it all — before my generation had even entered the world. I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to interact with so many industry founders over these many years and have truly cherished each encounter.
Until you hear the stories from those who experienced it, you cannot appreciate what it took to establish the helicopter industry. The problems we experience in today’s operating environment pale in comparison to the challenges our predecessors had to deal with. In many instances, they had to make it up as they went along as there was no experience base or precedent. Many now-vibrant sectors of our industry began by someone saying, “Why don’t we try …” In the early days, financial reward was not the driver as much as a passion for the machines and their potential.
I sincerely appreciate the tenacity, focus, and optimism of our founders. Without their efforts, none of us would have been able to do what we do.
While I hold tight to our history and beginnings, I also look to our future. In an effort to recharge my batteries, whenever I can, I visit and speak with instructors and the young men and women who are studying to be pilots and maintenance technicians.
Their enthusiasm, commitment, and passion for all things helicopter is infectious. Their faces and voices reflect the future of the helicopter community, and their joy and pride in their work connects them to a proud tradition. Try to remember the first time you soloed, if you’re a pilot or, if you are a maintenance technician, the first time you signed the logbook to return an aircraft to service, and you will know what I mean.
The other benchmark that gives me optimism about our future is the true commitment in all sectors of the international helicopter community to safety as a first priority, above all else. This emphasis on safety in operations is the highest it has ever been in our history. Our goal of zero accidents is within sight.
On your travels throughout our world of helicopters, if you happen to have the opportunity to meet one of this industry’s founders or long-time participants, I suggest you stop what you’re doing. Relax, listen, enjoy, and say thank you. I guarantee you will learn something and be better for it.
HAI has a long-standing commitment to the preservation of our heritage via our charitable arm, Helicopter Foundation International (HFI). Take a minute and visit helicopterfoundation.org for ways you can assist in this effort. Visit this link to see a list of HFI activities to be held at HAI HELI-EXPO 2018. Supporting the foundation offers us a way to connect with both our industry’s past and its future.
Bottom line: if not for our founders, we would have to get real jobs and have much less fun. Do not forget where you came from. I am a helicopter pilot and proud of it.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, fly safe — fly neighborly.
Matt Zuccaro is president and CEO of HAI