Read More: Read the Media Coverage of Our Industry Lately? You Should.
November 27, 2019

I think we all realize that our industry's public image is slanted more toward the negative than the positive.

Preliminary research at HAI reveals that roughly 80% of media coverage that mentions helicopters is negative. Yes, I said 80%. It appears that missions such as firefighting, law enforcement, air ambulance, and maintaining the national power grid only appear in about 1 in 5 media stories. What we do best would appear to not be of high interest to the media.

This does not surprise me when I consider a phrase used in the news media to prioritize stories: “If it bleeds, it leads.” I understand this viewpoint. People tend to be more interested in stories that are sensationalized and outside the normal day-to-day routine. Helicopter incidents and accidents are certainly outside the day-to-day norm and can be sensationalized.

Think about that statement, “outside the normal day-to-day routine.” Helicopter incidents and accidents are not part of our normal day-to-day activities. That is why they make great headlines.

So how can we move the media to a more fair and balanced coverage of helicopters?

One element is to provide more stories noting missions that benefit the greater good of society. There is also our initiative establishing safety as the first priority above all else, as well as our implementation of the Land & LIVE program that promotes safety landings to prevent accidents, Rotor Safety Challenge educational sessions, and mission-specific safety symposiums.

To assist us in this effort, we have started working with an international communications team. They will be assisting us in our effort to create more fair and balanced media coverage. Hopefully, this will create a greater awareness within the public, legislative, and regulatory communities regarding the positive effect we have on society that they are not aware of.

As part of this initiative, we will be producing a tool kit for HAI members that will assist them in promoting the positive work they do in their communities—and there are many great stories to tell. Your good work makes our industry better.

In consideration of all I have said so far, I would be remiss if I did not note the obvious. The media would not have the ability to report negative stories if we stopped having accidents.

Organizations such as HAI, the International Helicopter Safety Foundation, and individual operators have clearly stated that one accident is one too many and that the industry goal is Zero Tolerance – Zero Accidents. This information needs to be promoted at the highest level. This cultural philosophy needs to be promoted to others with the realization that no one has more to lose than us—we are in the aircraft and operate them. We the industry are the most motivated to prevent accidents to achieve a zero-accident environment.

All we desire is a media environment that recognizes the millions of flight hours flown that save lives and deliver critical services to society on a daily basis, along with our aggressive efforts to eliminate accidents. What is agreed by all is our joint desire to prevent accidents.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at tailrotor@aol.com.

As always, fly safe, fly neighborly—and keep those rotors turning!

Best Regards,

Matt

Read More: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
August 15, 2019

A safer industry will also be a more sustainable one.

Let’s slow down, take a breath, and reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly about safety in the helicopter industry.

The good is our continuing efforts to improve industry safety. Although we are not where we want to be—zero accidents will always be my goal—the helicopter industry has committed the most resources and funding to date in our quest to achieve that goal.

Overall, accidents and fatalities in the international helicopter community are trending downward. Programs such as Land & LIVE—or, as I like to say it, “Land the damn helicopter!”—have been embraced by the industry and regulatory agencies worldwide as a significant tool in preventing accidents. We are turning away from proscriptive safety (“Thou shalt not …”) to focusing on tools that equip us to manage the risks inherent in aviation.

Next, let’s look at the bad. Although our safety record is heading in the right direction, we continue to experience a number of high-profile accidents. The causal factors for most accidents haven’t changed—it’s most often us, not our machines, who cause the accidents, usually by doing a bad job of assessing the risks involved in a flight and then making poor decisions when faced with hazardous conditions.

The way forward—away from the bad and into the good—is our effort to change the safety culture in our industry. For us to reach zero accidents, we must place safety first, above all other considerations. This attitude must be applied to our risk assessment and decision-making for each flight we conduct, whether it’s commercial or private, a complex mission to an unimproved site or the same simple circuit you’ve already flown five times that day.

Now for the ugly: our failure to establish a robust safety culture is well documented, and its consequences—injuries, deaths, and shattered families—are appalling. And the world is watching. Each crash strengthens the perception that our operations pose a danger to the public.
This is not true. Not only do we transport millions of passengers safely and professionally, our industry is often called upon to save lives. When people are in danger from fires and floods, when they are lost or injured in an accident, when they need help, they turn to us. And we are there for them.

The helicopter industry delivers vital services, safely and professionally. Our operations contribute substantially to local economies. However, for others to see us as a safe form of transport, we must stop having accidents.

The cost of not doing so could be the end of our industry. In light of recent high-profile accidents, legislative and regulatory initiatives have been proposed that would prohibit access to critical airspace, restrict or close essential heliports, and further limit helicopter operations.
If we do not actually practice our safety culture every day—if we fail to prioritize safety for every flight—we do so at our own peril. In addition to risking our own lives and those of our co-workers and passengers, we risk the survival of our industry. And to me, a world with no helicopters in it would be very ugly indeed.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at tailrotor@aol.com.

As always, fly safe, fly neighborly—and keep those rotors turning!

Best Regards,

Matt

Read More: Zero Accidents: Still the Goal
June 19, 2019

One accident is one too many.

The only acceptable accident rate is zero. I refuse to accept some of the counterarguments I hear, such as “accidents are a statistical certainty when humans engage in any activity, especially when machinery is involved.” Another favorite axiom recommends staying on the ground as the “only” way to avoid accidents. According to that logic, none of us should get out of bed—ever.
 
Some say that every time you take off, you are at risk of an accident. I prefer to say that every time you take off, you must now mitigate the risks associated with that flight. These statements may look like the same thing, but my version empowers the stakeholders to manage that risk, on our way to achieving a goal of zero accidents.
 
Aviation does come with inherent risk. Yet each time we drill down to the root causes of an accident, it turns out that the aircraft are generally reliable, the infrastructure is adequate, and regulations provide a good foundation of operating protocols. The dominant causal factor for more than 80% of aviation accidents is the humans involved and their poor aeronautical decision-making and risk assessment.
 
Another major issue is the utilization of different decision-making and risk-assessment protocols, depending on the urgency of the mission being performed. The purpose of the flight being requested should not be considered in your risk assessment for that flight. Either you can safely fly the flight, in that aircraft, in those conditions—or you can’t.
 
Am I flying a sick child to a hospital? Does my CEO need to get to a meeting to close a deal? Will more homes burn if I don’t take off? It doesn’t matter. Thinking about these questions may prompt you to take more risks than you normally would. Pilots should be insulated from any facts about the mission that may influence their assessment of the risks posed by the flight.
 
The same logic applies to general aviation (GA) flights, either business or recreation. In many GA accidents, pilots either exceed their limitations or the aircrafts’. The truly sad part is that on these flights, the pilot’s passengers are often his or her family. You would think that with the most precious people in their lives on board, pilots would be very conservative in taking risks.
 
The way to achieve zero accidents is to adopt a culture of putting safety first. Place the safe completion of each flight above everything else, every day, even when it is inconvenient, even when you are rushed for time, even if it means canceling the flight.
 
This safety philosophy starts at the top. Executive management must distribute a statement to all staff clearly expressing support for the adoption of a safety-first culture by all field personnel. Company policies and procedures must then support employees who make the tough decisions that prioritize safety above any other consideration.
 
Another valuable tool in your efforts to reach zero accidents is the Land & LIVE initiative (LandandLive.rotor.org). It’s free to use. To prevent an accident, you just need to do what we do best: when flight conditions are deteriorating, fuel is low, or maintenance issues arise, land the damn helicopter!
 
Zero accidents is still the goal, and we will achieve this goal. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at tailrotor@aol.com.
 
As always, fly safe, fly neighborly—and keep those rotors turning! 
 
Best Regards,
 
Matt

Read More: After 70 Years, Still Going Strong
February 28, 2019

Helicopter Association International (HAI) has been going strong for 70 years, representing the international helicopter community and its efforts to build a safe, sustainable industry. HAI remains focused on its primary mission: to support our members so they can “keep the rotors turning.” We do this by advocating against overburdensome regulations and legislation, and by supporting a safe, efficient operating environment that is economically sustainable.

Since HAI’s founding, our industry has proven its value to society time and again. The list of helicopter missions has expanded to include firefighting, helicopter air ambulance, search and rescue, electronic news gathering, building and maintaining the international power grid, disaster relief, and law enforcement, to name a few.

As our industry has matured, we have come to recognize that simple compliance with regulations, while essential, is not enough. Most regulations define the minimum expectations of safety and professionalism. HAI continues to advocate for the adoption of higher standards by our industry as an expression of our social and moral responsibility to the public, our customers and passengers, and our co-workers.

It is essential that we “do the right thing” when conducting our operations—always. Yes, safety is our No. 1 priority, but doing the right thing also includes mitigating our impact on the communities we fly over and operate within.

In the past decade, we have been lucky to be part of a major watershed moment for our industry: the advent of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones. HAI is focused on the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into an already-busy airspace.

Both industry and government are working to establish the appropriate technology, operating protocols, and safeguards for this new sector of aviation, and I believe we will be successful. UAS have already proven their utility in a variety of missions, and more innovations are on the horizon, such as eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft for urban air taxis.

I am, however, concerned about our ability to create the required infrastructure for these new ventures, such as takeoff and landing sites and access to airspace. Many ambitious proposals for air taxi operations have been unveiled, but it is unclear how the accompanying infrastructure will be developed.

The biggest obstacle facing the growth of the urban air mobility sector is the current regulatory and legislative climate, promoted by well-organized opponents of helicopter aviation, that pushes to restrict aircraft and heliport operations. If we ignore this reality and challenge, we do so at our own peril.

People who oppose helicopter operations mention noise and safety, but the issues are in fact complex, multifaceted, and beyond noise and safety. HAI is ready to sponsor and join in a robust discussion of these issues and to do our part to ensure a successful implementation of this new, exciting rotorcraft sector.

I would appreciate your thoughts regarding our current efforts. More importantly, if you have any additional issues or concerns that you would like HAI to address, please let me know.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at tailrotor@aol.com.

As always, fly safe, fly neighborly—and keep those rotors turning! 

Best Regards,
Matt Zuccaro

Read More: Hope You Like Our New Look
November 13, 2018

The mission of HAI is to help you keep the rotors turning. My fellow staff members and I come to work each day to make that happen. One way we do this is to produce a robust HAI communications program that informs, entertains, connects, and promotes the international civil helicopter community. This is why we produce ROTOR, ROTOR Daily, and the HAI website—and why we have instituted major changes in each.

As you read this issue of ROTOR, you may have noticed its new design. But the changes are more than skin deep. In addition to choosing new paper, fonts, and logo, we have made a concerted effort to bring you more stories “from the field,” where the skids break ground contact and the rotors are turning.

At the same time, we have updated our website, rotor.org, with advanced technology and a fresh new look. We want to provide you, our member or customer, with the most current, relevant information that will assist you in your day-to-day activities. We also wanted to create a website that you could navigate easily and find what you’re looking for. If you haven’t done so in a while, visit rotor.org. I think you’ll be pleased.

Another of our publications is our daily e-newsletter, ROTOR Daily. This round-up of all of the day’s news for the international helicopter community is valuable reading for those in the vertical-lift business. You’ll also learn what HAI is doing to support our members and the industry. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend that you subscribe, for free, to ROTOR Daily so you stay abreast of news that can affect you. Visit rotor.org/subscribe to sign up.

Underpinning these recent changes is HAI’s new association management system. This complex software allows us to run many different processes, but it works best when the end user or customer (that’s you) never gives it a thought. While the upgrades to our database and related systems are important to us, it is mission critical that they provide you with the tools to easily manage your HAI membership, update your subscriptions, obtain safety information, register for HAI HELI-EXPO, or conduct any other business with HAI. This system also provides members with the opportunity to update their membership record to include every employee, so they too can access HAI publications, resources, and other benefits. 

Now that we’ve upgraded the technology that connects us to you, we want to stay in touch. We want to hear from you, our members and customers. This interaction should be a two-way street, and I’d like HAI to do more listening. You don’t exist for us; we exist for you, to enhance your ability to operate safely, efficiently, and as part of an economically sustainable industry.

Our effectiveness when we advocate on your behalf is enhanced when you share what’s happening in your operating environment. When you call about an issue with crash-resistant fuel tanks or want to recognize an extraordinary colleague with a Salute to Excellence nomination, we learn about conditions in the field. And if it’s important to you, then it’s important to us.

I hope you find the changes we have made beneficial and relevant to your operations. I would sincerely appreciate it if you would let me know what you think of them—either way, positive or negative. Are we moving in the right direction to better serve your needs? Do you have any suggestions that would add further value for you?

Send me your thoughts about our new look or anything else that’s on your mind. Let me know at tailrotor@aol.com. As always, fly safe, fly neighborly—and keep those rotors turning!

Best Regards,

Matt

Read More: Get a Cardboard Box
August 02, 2018

We will get to why aviation professionals need a cardboard box in a minute.

But first, did you ever think you would see our industry move away from the word helicopter? It appears we are morphing into the vertical-lift industry, unmanned vertical industry, or the vertical urban air-taxi industry, take your pick.

I don’t disagree with this transformation. We are in an exciting time in our industry as different types of aircraft, such as drones, tiltrotors, and autonomous vehicles, come onto the civil market.

HAI supports those who make, operate, fix, maintain, overhaul, or supply all vehicles, manned or unmanned, that can operate in the vertical-lift mode and perform that wonderful maneuver, the hover. As one of the old guys in this industry, I started out flying helicopters and I intend to go out flying an aircraft called a helicopter — but I know that word is no longer big enough to hold all the facets of our industry.

In an effort to be more inclusive, HAI will look at changing our name to better reflect our membership, which includes those active in both manned and unmanned vertical-lift aviation. If you have any ideas on the potential rebranding of HAI, please let me know your thoughts.

Now about that cardboard box.

Many, many, many years ago, one of my mentors and I were discussing safety and corporate ethics. He noted that, regardless of the position you hold — owner, manager, pilot, maintenance technician, or customer — we are all part of the cultural team that controls safety and ethics. And yes, the two are closely related.

My mentor’s ethical philosophy — and mine — can be summarized as “do the right thing.” To achieve the desired result of zero accidents, we must employ this attitude in our everyday risk assessment and decision-making, on every flight, on every job.

To achieve zero accidents in our industry, we must acknowledge that we will not be able to transport every patient, meet the desires of every customer, ferry every corporate executive, or fly every tour flight or training session. When you believe that safety is being compromised, “I cannot safely do that and so I will not do that” is the only acceptable response.

So how does the cardboard box come in?

As the discussion with my mentor progressed, he told me, “Matt, at some time in your career, either as a line pilot, manager, or executive, there will come a time when you will be confronted with a situation that you know to be unsafe, not compliant with regulations, or unethical. This could be in connection with flight operations or even just everyday business operations.”

When that happens, he said, “You need to hold your ground and do what you know to be the right thing. To do this successfully, you need to be able to remove from your decision-making the potential negative impacts of the decision on yourself, such as the possible loss of your job.”

In our industry, we must go to work each day willing to accept negative consequences as a result of doing the right thing. If we cannot do this, then “doing the right thing” isn’t meaningful. “Doing the right thing … when it’s convenient” doesn’t have the same power.

This sounds tough, but when you consider the potential of a flawed decision — the loss of lives in the aircraft or on the ground — it makes sense. Your objective is to do your job each day in a safe, professional manner. When you cannot do that, then speak up.

“Also,” my mentor continued, “You need to get a cardboard box.”

I told him, “I understand everything you’ve told me, and I agree. But what’s with the box?”

He laughed and then explained. “The box is there so you can pack up your personal items before you walk out the door for the last time. Take it home, and then have dinner with your family and fly another day.”

Since that conversation, I have had a cardboard box close to me, in view, to remind me of his advice and my obligation to those who put their trust and lives in our care. I suggest you get your own box. It may help you get through some tough days.

Have I ever packed the box? That is another tale for another day.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at tailrotor@aol.com.

As always, fly safe, fly neighborly — and keep those rotors turning!

Best Regards,

Matt

Read More: Vietnam Pilots and Crew Members Come Home
May 13, 2018

Every once in a while, you have a perfect day. Not often, but when you do, it is something to behold.

I was lucky enough to have such a day recently. It was at the dedication of a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The monument was placed to recognize the Americans who lost their lives while serving as helicopter pilots and crew members in Vietnam.

Trying to place a memorial in a government facility such as Arlington National Cemetery can be a frustrating, time-consuming, and constantly changing process. This effort was all of these things and then some.

The good news is that the proponents of the monument, the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, sustained the effort with their passion and commitment to ensure that their brothers-in-arms had a place to come home to. Their leadership and members provided the effort, sweat, and tears — and funds — that was needed to make it happen.

And happen it did, on a sunny afternoon in April 2018, within the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. It is hard for many to truly appreciate such an event unless they were involved in the events commemorated by the memorial. This is true for the Vietnam experience as well as other past, present, and even future life-changing experiences involving armed conflict.

As I looked around on that afternoon, it was apparent that those in attendance had made the journey from near and far, some needing the assistance of a cane, wheelchair, or loved one. All were filled with emotion, expectations, and personal thoughts.

Some were hoping to meet up with long-lost friends, some were seeking a sense of closure. Others looked forward to finally coming home. Many just wanted their service to be acknowledged. No matter what their individual reason was for coming there, the lifelong bond between the veterans could only be understood among themselves.

As I reflect on my own experience in Vietnam and the conversations over the years that I have had with other veterans, I choose not to focus on the horrors we witnessed, the politics of the situation, nor the lifelong baggage we carry. Instead I want to reflect on the subsequent good that comes from such events.

We cannot help but remember the identification of Vietnam as the “helicopter” war. Many consider that war to be the period when the helicopter came into its own as a military tool. I like to think that the thousands of highly experienced pilots and crew members who returned from Vietnam helped the civilian helicopter industry reach its next level of advancement and maturity by applying the abilities of the helicopter realized in war to serve the greater good of society.

We should never forget the many lives saved by our industry or the multitude of goods and services we deliver that enhance the lives of our neighbors every day. Of equal importance are the many skills and experiences gained by those of us who were trained in the military to fly and maintain these aircraft. Those skills helped us transition back to civilian life, giving us the ability to provide for ourselves and our families while serving the needs of our fellow men and women.

Although the dedication of this memorial was focused on those who flew and crewed helicopters in Vietnam, we never want to forget all veterans and active-duty military, men and women alike, of allied nations who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe and able to enjoy the freedoms we have come to expect.

In closing, I would note that one of the most personally gratifying things I have witnessed over these many years is a cultural change that has occurred in our society. It seems that we can now separate the politics of war from the patriotism and sacrifice of those who fight them on our behalf. Rather than the discomfort or outright hostility that many experienced upon their return from Vietnam, veterans now hear a simple acknowledgement of “Thank you for your service.”

To the families, loved ones, and friends of all veterans, thank you for being there for us.

To those veterans who joined me at Arlington National Cemetery, I say to you all: Thank you for your service. Welcome home. Be at peace.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at tailrotor@aol.com.

As always, fly safe — fly neighborly!

Best Regards,

Matt