As this is my first column as chairman of HAI, let me introduce myself. My name is James Wisecup. Most people call me Jim.
I began flying helicopters in 1969 in the US Army. After a fairly brief active-duty army career, I spent a few years in the National Guard and Army Reserve in my home state of Texas. After my army service, I flew for offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, the North Atlantic, the South China Sea, and offshore California before shifting to the helicopter air ambulance (HAA) sector.
I was a line pilot, check airman, and then chief pilot for Rocky Mountain Helicopters, which was the largest HAA operator at the time. I am currently an assistant chief pilot for Air Methods Corporation, one of the largest air medical companies in the world.
Safety and training are my passions. Safety, because both our operating costs and public acceptance of our industry depend on our ability to improve our safety record. Training, because that is how I think we will reduce accidents, most of which are caused by human factors.
The most important thing we can do to improve our industry is to pass along to the next generation of pilots and maintenance technicians what we have learned over the years. You may call this storytelling. Some people call it training.
After all, none of us will live long enough to make all of the mistakes ourselves. If we don’t learn from the mistakes of others, we will die trying. Be your brother’s keeper, as his actions can affect your profession.
I am proud to have spent my career in aviation. There are so many jobs that are done by helicopters — more than the average person realizes. However, things are changing.
Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), seem to be the latest technology threatening our industry. But are they really a threat?
Yes, they will increasingly take over surveillance, inspection, and reconnaissance missions. But that makes sense. These often mundane missions can, in many cases, be done more safely, economically, and efficiently with UAS.
We tend to get rigid about how we have “always” done things. Instead of telling those drone-flying kids to get off of our lawns, however, let’s remember two things: First, there are still missions that can only be done by helicopters — our industry may change but it’s not going away. Second, we know that drones are here to stay — newer, cheaper technology tends to stick around — so let’s figure out how to integrate their operations into the airspace that we all share.
Another external threat to our industry is the noise issue. Many well-meaning, well-organized groups throughout the United States have banded together to voice dissatisfaction with the noise being generated by helicopters overflying their homes and recreational areas. Although the noise from helicopters may not in fact be the loudest noise in these neighborhoods, it does seem to generate the most concern.
It is imperative that we listen to these groups to understand what the true issues are and, if possible, find a way to mitigate them. We can still do our job — but we may have to do it while flying higher or taking a route that doesn’t impact our neighbors as much.
Yes, there will be times when we won’t have a perfect solution to a noise complaint. But if we do all that we can to minimize the noise impact of our operations, it will go a long way to improve our relations with our neighbors. We need to both model and teach these behaviors to new pilots as well as the more experienced ones.
Another issue is the pilot and maintenance technician shortage. There are many factors affecting the personnel scarcity. Training is expensive, the military is not producing as many qualified people as in the past, and the competition for talent from the fixed-wing world is greater than ever.
We need to actively get into our local communities and reach out to younger individuals to educate them about the opportunities available in the helicopter world. Without pilots and maintenance technicians to fly and operate our machines, the rotors won’t keep turning. Please consider working with Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) for outreach opportunities and assistance.
Obviously, the safe operation of helicopters is a main focus at HAI, but I firmly believe that we can operate safely and still be responsible stewards of the helicopter world as well.
I am excited to be working with professionals such as you in the vertical-lift community, and I hope I can contribute to advancing our industry into the future. Let’s take advantage of our opportunities to ensure that the helicopter remains a vital part of the global aviation scene.