Tenure marked by financial growth and safety advocacy.
It’s the end of an era at HAI, as the association bids farewell to its sixth president, Matthew S. Zuccaro. Matt officially retired on Jan. 15, 2020, although he will still attend HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 as a consultant for the HAI Board of Directors.
Matt joined the HAI professional staff in November 2005, after a long career as a pilot, operator, and aviation executive, including a stint as chairman of the HAI Board of Directors in 1991. As president and CEO, he was responsible for executing the vision of the HAI Board of Directors and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the association.
Since 2005, under Matt’s leadership, the association has grown HAI HELI-EXPO® into the world’s largest helicopter trade show. When HAI outgrew its headquarters, Matt led the effort to purchase a four-story office building in Alexandria, Virginia, where the association is headquartered today. Both moves were part of a strategy to provide the association with a stable financial foundation that would underwrite its membership services.
During Matt’s tenure, HAI has been a forceful advocate for its members on regulatory and legislative issues. When topics such as veterans’ flight-training benefits, air traffic control privatization, user fees, and the safe integration of drones into the airspace were debated, Matt and his team were there—frequently as the only ones representing the helicopter industry’s concerns.
HAI has also actively worked across the entire aviation spectrum to improve safety in helicopter operations. From brokering the successful launch of ADS-B services in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009, to serving as the industry co-chair of the International Helicopter Safety Foundation, to providing safety tools, education, and resources for pilots, operators, and mechanics and engineers, Matt has left no doubt that safety is a core value for HAI.
Matt spoke out against the privatization of US air traffic control on a 2017 panel with his colleagues who head other GA associations, including from left, Mark Baker of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Jack Pelton of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Ed Bolen of the National Business Aviation Association, Pete Bunce of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and, to Matt’s left, Marty Hiller, then president of the National Air Transportation Association.
In 2013, Matt wrote a column for ROTOR magazine wondering why more helicopter pilots facing deteriorating flight conditions don’t take advantage of their aircrafts’ unique ability to land just about anywhere. The resulting safety initiative, Land & LIVE, has been adopted by groups around the world, reminding pilots that sometimes the safest thing to do is “Land the Damn Helicopter!”
In addition to advocating for safety within the helicopter industry, Matt also championed the international civil helicopter industry and its contributions to our communities. One of his first initiatives at HAI was to recognize the tremendous contributions made by the helicopter industry in helping New Orleans and surrounding areas cope with the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Helicopter operators, pilots, mechanics and engineers, and support personnel pitched in to help those caught in this catastrophic storm, operating under emergency conditions and without incurring a single accident or incident. HAI documented how they helped in Katrina, in part to show what our industry does every day, around the world.
“The HAI board and staff are proud to have worked with Matt over these past 15 years,” says HAI Chair Jan Becker. “The aviation world of 2020 is very different from the one of 2005, and Matt played a big part in keeping the helicopter industry safe and relevant. His contributions to the financial stability of the association have been substantial, and I know that I am joined by his many friends and colleagues in the industry when I wish him all the best in his retirement.”
Matt looks back on his time at HAI in this letter to the membership:
Matt with some of the people he’s met on his ride: from the top, Matt and the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona; with helicopter pilot (and actor) Harrison Ford; with aerobatic pilot Chuck Aaron; with aviation educators John and Martha King.
What a Ride!!!
As many of you know, after 50-plus years in the helicopter industry, including 15 years as HAI president and CEO, I’m retiring. I’ve been given more opportunities and experiences than I could’ve imagined when I started my career in aviation.
My tenure as president and CEO of HAI has been the highlight of my working life. Leading this association offered me the opportunity to pay back the industry that has provided me with a rewarding and fulfilling career.
I appreciated the chance to serve the international helicopter community and enhance safety by serving as the chairman of the International Helicopter Safety Foundation and through such programs as Land & LIVE and, as I like to call it, “Land the Damn Helicopter!” Once I received an email from a young air ambulance pilot informing me that he had landed the damn helicopter, saving the lives of his passengers and himself. It doesn’t get any better than that.
It’s been my privilege and honor to have worked with the staff of HAI. These dedicated professionals are passionate about serving the members of HAI every day, mindful of the association’s mission to “keep the rotors turning.” HAI members should take comfort in knowing this team is working on their behalf.
In conjunction with HAI’s international outreach, I had the joy of meeting the wonderful people who make up the international helicopter community. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. It’s apparent that we face the same issues and concerns, and through collaboration we can share solutions to our common challenges.
A source of motivation for me as HAI president and CEO was interacting with the next generation of aviation professionals, such as student pilots, maintenance technicians, and flight instructors. To hear the enthusiasm and passion in their voices, see the sparkle in their eyes, and witness their quest for knowledge is an experience to cherish.
If I learned anything during my time at HAI, it was that those in the helicopter industry are survivors. The diversity of the aircraft and the people bodes well for our ability to sustain a high level of safety, operational efficiency, and economic viability.
I take great pride in the fact that most missions we perform save lives and serve the greater good of society. What other industry can acknowledge such activities that benefit the worldwide community? As I look into the future of vertical flight, I see exciting opportunities, expanded capabilities, and increased value to society.
Some have asked me about my industry activities going forward. I plan to return to something I truly enjoyed prior to my HAI tenure: I’ll be offering consulting services in my continuing effort to pay back the industry that has been so good to me. My contact info won’t change; I can still be reached at or on my cell, 914-645-2039.
In closing, I want to sincerely thank each one of you for your support, assistance, and friendship. It has meant more to me than you can know. Retirement will allow me to return home to New York, spend quality time with my family, and slow down so I can smell the roses.
I’m looking forward to continuing this fantastic ride, just at a slower speed.
Fly safe, fly neighborly.
HAI Accomplishments Under Zuccaro’s Leadership
IHST. HAI, along with the American Helicopter Society, hosts the first International Helicopter Safety Symposium, leading to the establishment of the International Helicopter Safety Team, an international consortium of volunteers who apply modern, data-driven solutions to improving helicopter industry safety.
Katrina Video. HAI documents the helicopter industry’s efforts to help New Orleans and surrounding areas cope with the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.
ADS-B Pilot Program. HAI brokers deal with FAA and Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference operators and platform owners to provide ADS-B operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
ADS-B Gulf Operations. ADS-B operations in the Gulf begin, dramatically increasing the level of safety in the region.
FRAT. HAI Risk Assessment Tool launches with flight module and later including a maintenance module.
Rotor Safety Challenge. HAI launches annual program of free safety education sessions at HAI HELI-EXPO, providing continuing education to thousands of pilots, mechanics/engineers, and others.
Land & LIVE. Matt writes “Land the Damn Helicopter” column in ROTOR, launching the Land & LIVE Program to encourage and support the increased use of precautionary landings.
HAI-APS. First five operators accredited under the HAI Accreditation Program of Safety (HAI-APS), which offers HAI members mission-specific standards.
HAI Online Academy. HAI launches 24/7 online education program, providing helicopter professionals with accessible, affordable professional development.
HFI-UND Study. Helicopter Foundation International, HAI’s charitable arm, releases helicopter industry staffing study conducted by the University of North Dakota, providing first documentation of long-rumored shortages of skilled pilots and mechanics/engineers.
ATC Privatization. HAI joins with other general aviation organizations in successful effort to stop privatization of US air traffic control.
Veterans’ Flight-Training Benefits. HAI blocks efforts by Congress to reduce the use of veterans’ benefits to pay for flight training.
Representing Manned Aviation to Congress. Matt testifies as only representative of manned aviation to US Senate hearing on UAS integration, ensuring congressional support for FAA authority over NAS and for the integration, not segregation, of new aircraft into the NAS.
Utah Rotor Pathway Program. HAI coordinates development of the Utah Rotor Pathway Program, the first statewide partnership between government, industry, and educators to provide rotor-specific education and training opportunities, providing a model for future workforce development programs around the United States.
HAI Aviation Reporting Program. HAI launches HARP, its online aviation report tool, providing helicopter pilots and operators with a one-stop portal to reach a variety of reporting tools, including those of the NTSB, NASA-AARS, FAA, and USDA.
The Aviation Industry on Matt’s Legacy
“Two of the things I always respected about Matt were his passion and his consistency. I never had to wonder where Matt stood on an issue. He always put the helicopter industry, its safety, the welfare of its members (pilots, aircrew, maintenance, operations, etc.), and its overall success first.”
– Rick Sherlock, former president and CEO, Association of Air Medical Services and MedEvac Foundation International
“Matt was a strong and effective leader within the general aviation community, with unmatched operational experience and a total commitment to the helicopter industry.”
– Ed Bolen, president and CEO, National Business Aviation Association
“We hired Matt when I was chairman of HAI, and I think it was one of the best decisions we ever made. With Matt at the helm, HAI has now become a voice to be reckoned with in shaping Washington, D.C., policies.”
– Tim Wahlberg, president, Wahlberg Aviation Services, and former HAI chairman
“From serving our country to supporting safety improvements that will make this industry safer than ever, it has been a pleasure to work alongside Matt.”
– Mark Baker, president and CEO, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
“Matt has been a tireless advocate for the interests of the helicopter industry who used his experience and expertise to be an effective safety champion.”
– Sally Veith, executive director, Air Medical Operators Association
Helicopter Pilot, Veteran, Safety Advocate
Matt Zuccaro was born in New York City into a large, close-knit family. He would often accompany his father to his work in operations at Idlewild Airport, which later became JFK International. It was there Matt first dreamed of flying.
At age 14, Matt became a Civil Air Patrol cadet. One day in 1965, he met another young cadet, Doreen Keefe, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As the war in Vietnam was escalating, Matt decided to quit college and join the US army in 1968—in part because he knew the army was desperate for helicopter pilots. It was the quickest way into the cockpit. After training at Fort Rucker in Alabama—a long way from the streets of New York City—in July 1969, Matt was deployed to Vietnam—a place even farther away from home.
During his year in Vietnam, Matt served with the 7/17th Air Cavalry, flying Hueys in and out of combat. For his service, Matt received 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 4 Bronze Stars, 1 Air Medal for Valor, and 19 Air Medals. Matt returned to the US in 1970, and he and Doreen were married three weeks later.
Over the next 50 years, Matt and Doreen raised two children, Steven and Wendy, and saw their family grow, as spouses and grandchildren joined the clan. Matt never misses an opportunity to thank Doreen, whom he describes as his copilot, for her love and support throughout his career.
Matt lands on top of one of the World Trade Center towers while conducting initial proving runs
for establishing the rooftop heliport.
After leaving the army in 1971, Matt’s first civilian job was as a charter pilot and flight instructor for a New York City company. In those days, operators often took on any mission that came up. From helicopter air ambulance and air tours to aerial photography and power-line patrol, Matt saw it all.
When he returned to civilian life, Matt also rejoined the Civil Air Patrol, where he was for many years a fixed-wing instructor and check pilot. He is still a member.
Over the next 35 years, Matt held pilot and executive management positions with companies such as Union Carbide and charter, aircraft management, and maintenance organizations. At Resorts International Airlines, working closely with the FAA, he established the first and only dedicated IFR helicopter airline, flying from New York City to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Hartford, Connecticut.
Matt also worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he was one of two pilots to land on top of the World Trade Center heliport. He also was airport operations supervisor at JFK International Airport—the same job his father held when he introduced Matt to aviation all those years ago.
During this time, Matt was active in various industry groups. He was a founding member of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council and, since the early 1980s, a member of Helicopter Association International, where he served on the Affiliate, Safety, and Fly Neighborly Committees. Matt was first elected to the HAI Board of Directors in 1987 and served as chairman in 1991.
Most of all, in his career, Matt put safety first. A recipient of HAI’s Pilot Safety Award for 10,000 accident- and violation-free flight hours, he has been a vocal advocate for a helicopter industry with zero accidents.