Read More: Victory!
May 13, 2018

At HAI HELI‑EXPO in Vegas, we celebrated the stunning news that the proponents of air traffic control (ATC) privatization were standing down. We won. I send a sincere thank-you to all who heard our call to action and acted.

Before we move on to new legislative issues, however, I want to discuss our lessons learned from the campaign.

First, how did we win? Our success was by no means a given. The proponents of the bill had deeper pockets and more resources than the helicopter industry. They were well respected, politically savvy, and the ultimate professionals. This was a legislative fight for the ages.

To boil it down to the simplest explanation, we won because of you. HAI members flooded Capitol Hill with letters, tweets, Facebook posts, visits, and calls. Your voices combined with the tens of thousands of calls from other general aviation (GA) professionals and backers to demand that we modernize, not privatize ATC.

It is easy to be cynical about Congress. However, elected officials really do care about their constituents’ concerns. When that many people reach out on the same issue, they get their representatives’ attention.

We also had numerous GA organizations working together to oppose this legislation. In fact, we had almost 300 GA organizations sign an industry letter expressing opposition to ATC privatization. So many different groups uniting to oppose an issue attracts a great deal of attention from the media, elected officials, and their leaders.

The individual associations also made hundreds of visits to Congress during this legislative battle. HAI was in the middle of it, reaching out to the committees of jurisdiction, leadership, and rank-and-file members. HAI educated them about the legislation’s negative impacts on the helicopter industry and why passing the bill would not be in the best interest of their constituents. This message was reinforced when HAI members flooded the offices with their individual outreach.

This old-fashioned advocacy work was important in raising awareness among undecided representatives as well as in securing supporters who eventually became advocates for our industry. It was also critical to raise the issue among the congressional committees. These committees would have been directly affected by this legislation, with some losing jurisdiction and oversight authority — an outcome rarely favored by committee members.

An important part of my job is developing relationships and becoming part of the everyday legislative environment, so I’ll be able to read the signals when something is about to happen. Because of everyone’s hard work, time and time again, votes were scheduled on the ATC privatization proposal and then pulled back because proponents did not have the votes necessary to pass.

Finally, the White House looked at the level of opposition in the House and the Senate and determined there was not enough votes to prevail. Once administration support evaporated, proponents of the bill were forced to pull it. Our industry won the day because we stood united, voiced our position, and educated our elected officials about why we opposed the bill.

What does this mean moving forward? First, the GA community must never forget our collective power. Yes, we often have different perspectives on legislative issues. Certainly, we will disagree in the future, but there will be just as many times when we can unite, just as we did around ATC privatization. When we find consensus within our community, we must stand together and push forward those policies.

Second, we must continue to foster our relationships with elected officials. Your representatives heard and understood your position on ATC privatization and as a result acted. You now have a very powerful connection to them — work to keep it going. Reach out to your elected officials and thank them for their actions. Politics is all about relationships. Don’t be that friend who only calls when they need something.

In a stroke of good luck, this is an election year. Politicians are out campaigning, some to keep their job and others to get a job. They are especially attuned to listen to voters. The congressional schedule allows for multiple recesses throughout the year, including a long stretch in August, for officials to get back home and campaign.

Make plans today to set up a visit with your elected representatives. If you have a business, bring them out, show them around, and let them see the value you bring to the local community. If you don’t have a business, reach out to the local office and schedule a visit to talk about the issues important to you. The stronger the relationship you have with your elected officials, the more power you wield in future legislative battles.

Our advocacy campaign against ATC privatization is a political action model for any HAI member, wherever you are in the world. Step up, reach out, get involved. The power of the individual, the clout of the association, the impact of our industry standing united. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Read More: Pilot and Mechanic Shortage Looms
May 13, 2018

During the next 18 years, the US helicopter industry will experience a shortage of more than 7,600 pilots, according to a study conducted by the University of North Dakota (UND), in partnership with Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) and HAI. The study also projects a shortage of 40,600 aviation mechanics in the United States during the same period.

Presented at a news conference at HAI HELI-EXPO 2018 in Las Vegas, the UND-HFI Rotorcraft Pilot and Mechanic Supply Forecast confirmed industry suspicions regarding labor force trends and highlighted the need for drastic changes to ensure industry growth and viability into the future.

Compiled from a survey of 250 helicopter companies and operators and tying responses together with historical data and forecasts, including FAA records of current pilot and airframe and powerplant (A&P) licenses, the study is the most comprehensive to date focusing on the helicopter industry’s labor trends. (Visit to view or download the study results and the executive summary; more study results are on pp. 54–55.)

“We commissioned this study because we wanted to provide documented proof of the shortage, not just ‘heard on the street,’” says Matt Zuccaro, who is president and CEO of both HAI and HFI. “The numbers indicate we have the potential for a serious shortage. We as an industry must start addressing this issue and finding creative ways to attract and keep our workforce in the helicopter industry.”

Read More: An Accidental Calling
May 13, 2018

Kirstie McLean stumbled into the helicopter industry by accident. She had been working in the gift shop of a helicopter tour company in her hometown of Las Vegas, but the more she learned about the industry, the more she wanted to be a part of it. She moved to the maintenance department in 2015 and decided to get her airframe and powerplant (A&P) certification and further her career in aviation maintenance.

McLean is a recipient of Helicopter Foundation International’s 2018 Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship. “I first applied for the scholarship to receive some assistance with my student loan,” McLean says. “But my main goal was to get my name out in the helicopter industry, an industry that I have grown to absolutely love.”

McLean is currently enrolled at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) in Las Vegas. She will receive her A&P certification by the end of 2018 and plans to get her inspection authorization once she has met the requirements.

Currently a maintenance program specialist at Sundance Helicopters, McLean has been with the company for six years. She started in the records department and quickly transitioned to the role of maintenance planner before earning her current position. She audits Sundance’s Maintenance Information System to ensure tasks such as service life limit, time between overhaul, operating time limits, airworthiness directives, and service bulletins are tracking correctly.

In addition, she has had the opportunity to write an Approved Aircraft Inspection Program for the AS350 B2. She has worked on all the company’s aircraft, including the AS350 B2, EC130 B4, and EC130 T2 helicopters; and the Cessna 208 Caravan fixed-wing aircraft.

Once she completes her training at AIM, McLean plans to add even more helicopter models to her repertoire. “There are so many helicopter models I have never worked on. Our parent company, Air Methods, has a wide variety of aircraft such as the Bell 206 and the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin.”

When asked what her advice would be to those just entering the industry, McLean says, “Learn ALL aspects of this industry. Don’t just settle with gaining floor experience. Get involved in the compliance/quality-control side of things, and you will be an asset to any company who hires you. This industry has brought me further than I ever imagined. I’m very excited about where the future will take me.” 

Read More: Your AME: A Second Chance for Substance-Addicted Pilots
May 13, 2018

Since my last column, I now work for the FAA in the Aerospace Medical Certification Division. I hope to continue sharing insights with you about how to maintain your medical certification and fly safely.

I imagine you read the title of this article and asked, “What does HIMS stand for?” HIMS stands for Human Intervention Motivation Study. It originated as a collaboration between the FAA, the Air Line Pilots Association, and the major airlines as a program intended to return to the cockpit pilots who have a history of substance-use disorders such as alcohol or drug dependence.

As you can imagine, the founders of this program thought the public might have a strong reaction to an organization called the Alcoholic Pilot’s Program or similar, so they came up with an acronym that sought to be discreet. However, despite the public’s understandable concerns, HIMS is a highly successful program that allows experienced pilots to return to the cockpit safely after treatment, under close monitoring through their treatment providers, their employers, and the FAA.

A fundamental tenet of the HIMS program is that alcoholism is a disease. This applies to other substance-use disorders as well. These disorders are chronic, meaning they are lifelong; primary, meaning they exist independent of other medical or psychiatric disorders; and progressive, meaning they generally worsen over time.

Some people still believe alcoholism and drug abuse represent a character flaw. Modern medical science disagrees with this sentiment, and there is robust evidence that chemical dependency is treatable.

Read More: PiNC Awareness: Don't Rationalize Skipping Steps
May 13, 2018

As a helicopter professional, you’re probably familiar with the concepts of rationalization and procedural intentional noncompliance (PiNC).
For example, let’s say you get to the base in the morning. It’s early, cold, and time to start doing your job. One of your medical crewmembers is whipping up some breakfast, and the off-going crew is hanging around, talking about one of the transports that took place during the night.

That mission was the perfect storm of everyone having to bring their A game, a multi-helicopter scene request with a lot of moving pieces. A great example of teamwork and crew coordination within your aircraft and with the other aircraft on scene. High‑fives all around!

In talking about all the excitement, you allow yourself to get out of your routine. Your preflight inspection is subpar, mainly just checking the fluid levels. But hey, you have inspected this aircraft and flown it in the past two days and everything was fine. You don’t pull a fuel sample — it’s a little windy and you don’t want to risk getting fuel on your flight suit. Besides, you have never had a problem with your airport’s fuel.

These small adjustments from standard operating procedures are examples of PiNC — when a person knowingly disregards an established or required procedure. PiNC does not always lead to an accident or incident, but in many cases when a mishap occurs, PiNC turns up as a causal factor.

PiNC is one of the reasons why human error is a factor in 80 percent of aviation accidents. After all, aircraft are machines. They have no feelings or concerns, and they don’t come in tired on Mondays or stressed from dealing with Mom’s hospitalization. Unlike people, aircraft don’t have bad days or good ones, and they don’t mind performing the same task over and over and over. They either perform properly or they don’t.

People, on the other hand, are prone to all of the above. We get tired, grumpy, stressed, and bored. Here is where our brain will let us down or deceive us. It has the ability to rationalize our behavior, to lure us into PiNC.

For example, you may think, “The weather doesn’t meet my personal minimums or the company minimums, but I am not flying very far, so it will be fine.” Or, “I do not need to sump the fuel tanks today because I am in a hurry, and besides, I’ve never found any water in my fuel tanks.” Or even, “I don’t need a work stand to inspect the top side of the rotor blades because our rotor blades are low time and we have never had any cracked blades.”

There are as many rationalizations as there are pilots, mechanics, and days of the year. Accident reports are filled with rationalizations masked by good intentions.

If any of these rationalizations sound familiar, it is because I have been in these positions and know it happens. It takes honest discipline to be in an industry where you are the daily decision-maker, the one who is counted on to do the right thing. Even when no one is watching. Even when it is inconvenient to do so.
I am talking to both pilots and mechanics now. In many professional settings, you have co-workers or a boss to verify your work, to review your decisions. But when your mechanic says he or she performed the rotor blade inspection in accordance with the maintenance manual or the approved aircraft inspection program and signed off on the work in the aircraft logbook, normally no one else validates that statement. The integrity of a certificated aviation professional is the only link between the ink on a document and the safety of an aircraft.

When the pilot says he or she did a preflight inspection of the helicopter, everyone onboard that aircraft presumes the inspection was performed to the established standard and the aircraft is in an airworthy condition. After all, the pilot said so.

We are justifiably proud of being aviation professionals. The other side of that coin is that we must act like professionals — always.

Whether you call it rationalizing or PiNC, let’s do the right thing and do what is required. It will make us better aviators and mechanics. It will strengthen our position with our co‑workers and passengers, and it will encourage our critics to change their opinions.

Politely challenge your comrades to keep the standard high. If they are doing the right thing, they won’t mind.

Fugere tutum! 

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

As always, fly safe — fly neighborly!

Best Regards,