Read More: HeliFutures: Industry Partners Gather to Address Helicopter Pilot and Mechanic Shortage
November 14, 2018

Thirty representatives of companies and organizations in the helicopter industry met recently to discuss the workforce shortage of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) within the helicopter industry. The event, HeliFutures: Creating Strategic Workforce Solutions and Driving Industry Business Outcomes, was held at HAI’s Alexandria, Virginia, offices.

This meeting follows the release of a study earlier in 2018 that quantified the depth of the shortages for the first time. Commissioned by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) and conducted by the University of North Dakota, the study confirmed the long-held “word on the street” that our industry was experiencing a shortage of pilots and AMTs.

“Based on the University of North Dakota Study, we knew the demand for helicopter pilots and maintenance technicians has outpaced supply and will continue to get worse over the next 20 years,” says Allison McKay, vice president of HFI. “We created HeliFutures to bring the industry together to address the reasons for the shortages and ensure that we have a high-quality, sustainable workforce.”

“These shortages are now stopping our HAI operator members from meeting obligations or accepting new work,” said Matt Zuccaro, HAI president, during opening remarks before the group. “I am pleased that so many could join us to find solutions to one of the most important issues facing our industry today. 
“For us to succeed, we must overcome significant obstacles,” continued Zuccaro. “Competition for highly skilled personnel is fierce across aviation, and we see that even nonaviation industries want people with the skills that our pilots and AMTs have.”

Working in smaller teams, the group first identified the industry’s top three workforce challenges:

  • The lack of available pilots and aviation maintenance technicians
  • Retaining qualified personnel
  • Affordability and accessibility of education and training.

The group identified strategies to support and drive industry workforce outcomes. “From our day-and-a-half event, we identified three solutions the industry can develop to retain and attract future helicopter professionals,” continues McKay. “Obviously, there are many ways to tackle this problem, but we decided to focus on these three.”

The three strategies identified are:

  • Promote our industry to the next generation. Steps in accomplishing this solution include creating an online portal for both AMTs and pilots that provide a one-stop, comprehensive look at the career, including salary projections, sample career paths, training information, and testimonials from those in the industry.
  • Create apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs could be the key to closing the experience gap by providing low-time pilots and AMTs with a way to gain the skills and hours they need to progress in their chosen careers.
  • Improve overall employee benefits to increase retention. This strategy will need to be implemented at the company level. Meeting attendees noted that the airline industry is much more vertically integrated than ours—there are fewer companies and they tend to be larger. This gives airlines competitive advantages when competing with the helicopter industry for pilots and AMTs, such as higher pay and extensive recruitment campaigns. However, numerous studies have shown that many factors other than salary are important in job satisfaction. It’s time to be creative in thinking how your company could attract and retain your workforce.

Read More: Helicopter Events
November 14, 2018


November 13–14
HAI Firefighting Safety Conference
Helicopter Association International
Boise, Idaho, USA

November 20–21
6th EASA AD Workshop

European Aviation Safety Agency
Köln, Germany​-events/events/​6th​-easa​-ad​-workshop

December 4–7
2018 Ag Aviation Expo

National Agricultural Aviation Association
Reno, Nevada, USA

December 12–13
Second ICAO NGAP Global Summit (NGAP/2)

International Civil Aviation Organization
Shenzhen, China


January 28–February 1
8th Biennial Autonomous VTOL Technical Meeting & 6th Annual Electric VTOL Symposium

Vertical Flight Society Arizona Chapter
Mesa, Arizona, USA​-technical-​meeting​-and​-evtol​-symposium-2019

March 4–7/ Exhibits open March 5–7

Helicopter Association International
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

March 17–20
Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) Annual Conference

Wichita, Kansas, USA

April 16–18

Shanghai, China

April 29–May 2
AUVSI Xponential

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
Chicago, Illinois, USA

May 8–9
Helicopter Air Medical Safety Conference 

Cosponsored by HAI, AAMS, and AMOA
Arlington, Virginia, USA

May 13–16
Forum 75 (75th Annual Forum and Technology Display)

Vertical Flight Society
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

June 6
NBAA Regional Forum

National Business Aviation Association
White Plains, New York, USA​-plains-regional-forum

July 15–20

Airborne Public Safety Association
Omaha, Nebraska, USA

October 22–24

National Business Aviation Association
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

November 4–6
Air Medical Transport Conference (AMTC)

Association of Air Medical Services
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

November 17–21
Dubai Airshow

Tarsus F&E LLC Middle East
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Read More: Pilot Pathway Programs Gain Traction
November 13, 2018

One way to expand your pilot recruiting pool? Partner with a flight school.

As recently as 2011, Mark Schlaefli received a stack of nearly 400 pilot resumes at the beginning of every tour season at Papillon Helicopters in Las Vegas. He’d heard about a looming pilot shortage, but it didn’t seem to be an issue. He had plenty of talent to choose from and new pilots calling all the time.

At about the same time, flight schools from around the region began reaching out to companies like Papillon to discuss partnerships that would create pathways to professional pilot careers. Flight schools would benefit by promoting a career path for its pilots while operators would enjoy a steady source of pilots trained to standards vetted by the operators.

“We really didn’t see a need to have such a partnership, with so many pilots sending us resumes, so we didn’t pursue the opportunity,” says Schlaefli, who is now director of operations at Las Vegas–based Sundance Helicopters. “I’ve come to regret that decision. We should have been partnering with schools all along, participating in the development of pilots from an early stage to help ensure qualified pilots.”

Today, not only is the stack on Schlaefli’s desk much shorter, the skill and experience of candidates applying for the jobs is lower than previous years.

“Our industry has an arbitrary 1,000-hour minimum turbine time requirement for new hires, but each year the number of pilots with that experience shrinks,” says Schlaefli. “There is no regulation requiring it. It’s operator imposed.

“We need to think outside the box to keep our pipelines open, such as partnerships and programs to ensure skill and safety in lower time pilots,” he says. “Time in a logbook does not necessarily equal experience or the capacity to be a professional helicopter pilot.”

Schlaefli is not alone. Historically, US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) hired the majority of its aviation agents directly from the military, with pilots from regional airlines being a close second. However, competition with airlines for these pilots paired with increased bonuses to remain in military service have significantly reduced the talent pool. At the same time, AMO is expanding, both increasing current pilot ranks and expanding into the unmanned aircraft sector.

Fifteen years ago, CBP required all new-hire helicopter pilots to spend time as a ground agent before transitioning to aircraft in order to gain a strong understanding of the operation. There was plenty of interest and no threat of a shortage of talent.

Today, with all air operations for the CBP now under AMO, the requirement to serve as a ground agent no longer exists. Yet competition is fierce for qualified applicants who meet the agency’s 1,500-hour minimum.

Read More: Testing the Unmanned K-MAX’s (and Our Own) Limits
November 13, 2018

Sometimes trust is all we have. But whom (or what) should we believe in?

Bingo Fuel. It was a caution light none of us had seen previously, at least not while operating the CQ-24A Unmanned K-MAX aircraft. With the vehicle many miles from home base, the light was a real concern: it signified a minimum fuel state for the return flight, the words on the command tent’s big screen for all to see.

The Situation

I was directing a team of contractors testing the K-MAX’s ability to deliver cargo while operating autonomously, part of our workup before we began flying actual missions. We were in southwestern Afghanistan, watching the operator maneuver the aircraft over Forward Operating Base Payne miles to the south of us. Because the K-MAX was over the horizon, the operator was using the Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) datalink.

Maneuvering manually under BLOS was nonstandard, but I had directed it as a contingency in case the Payne equipment, operated by two Marines we had previously trained, became inoperative. We already knew that the K-MAX could autonomously complete a flight, but I thought it useful to know if we could reposition manually if asked to do so by the landing zone controllers. After all, this was a war zone—stuff happens.

We soon discovered that manual control of a hovering, over-the-horizon aircraft was difficult work. The CQ-24A BLOS installation had the same limitation as any other: system lag. Once a control input was made from our command tent, it could take up to six seconds for the signal to bounce off an orbiting satellite, travel down to the aircraft, influence its vector, send the resulting change in attitude, speed, and position back up to the satellite, and then back down to the operator’s graphic user interface (GUI) screen. (This provided team members with the rare opportunity to complain about the speed of light.)

With this lag, it was quite easy to “chase” the aircraft. Our eventual technique was to make a one-second input on the hand controller, release, then wait until we saw the K-MAX’s icon stop on the GUI screen. Repeated as necessary, the process was as tedious as it was inefficient.

Further, the BLOS installation was so basic that there was no guarantee a one-second displacement on the hand controller would produce the same amount of aircraft movement each time. And without external cameras, the operator had to surmise his entire closed-loop feedback from the GUI screen.

More Than a Fancy Science Project

The Unmanned K-MAX had begun as a mere science project years before. The brainchild of Greg Lynch, a Lockheed Martin program manager and former Air Force helicopter pilot, he first fought his own superiors and then Department of Defense officials over the feasibility of an unmanned helicopter delivering supplies to remote locations in a combat theater.

Lynch believed the K-MAX was the perfect platform for this, an aircraft already proven by hundreds of thousands of manned flight hours. The K-MAX design was simple for a helicopter, which meant it was reliable to the extreme. It was also quiet. Its dual intermesher configuration didn’t require a tail rotor, making its aural signature among the lowest in the world.

The Unmanned K-MAX prototype, using off-the-shelf components, began winning the hearts and minds of executives and officials alike through a series of successful demonstrations, culminating in a final test in 2011. By this time, the United States had absorbed significant ground convoy casualties in its two war zones. The military saw the ground convoy as the primary method of satisfying the logistical needs of the warfighter—and our adversaries saw them as targets with high rewards and low risks.

With the military eager to “get supplies off the roads,” nearly overnight the fancy science project gathered sufficient momentum for the Marines to send it to Afghanistan, as is, with civilians as its maintainers and half of its operators.

Read More: On the Trail of the Dragon Slayers
November 13, 2018

My plan was to visit commercial helicopter operators fighting wildland fires in the western United States. It seemed there were fires everywhere, some springing up overnight, and every operator I spoke to said, “Sure—come on out!”

I’d ask, “Where should I meet your folks?” and they’d reply, “Not really sure where they’ll be.”

“When should I be there?” They’d respond, “Can’t really say.”

So with a car full of cameras, beef jerky, and energy drinks, I set out on a journey of discovery and happenstance. And you know what? It worked out just fine.

Read More: ADS-B: It's Crunch Time
November 13, 2018

Here’s what you need to know to create your ADS-B Out compliance plan

With barely 14 months left before the January 1, 2020, mandate for ADS-B installation, it is now crunch time. Most aircraft have one more maintenance cycle before that due date to facilitate the installation of your chosen system. Assuming you haven’t equipped yet, this article will give you the information you need to make your ADS-B equipage decision.

The ADS-B Out Mandate

Both transponders and ADS-B Out are simply surveillance equipment. The transponder and corresponding radar system date back to the 1930s, relying on a radar “ping” to measure your distance and establish your location.

At a little more than a decade old, ADS-B Out is the modern version of this surveillance. It uses own-ship determination of location and then broadcasts your location to the FAA’s NextGen Traffic Management System. ADS-B will allow air traffic controllers to put more aircraft in the same space with closer margins and accuracy.

14 CFR 91.225, which sets forth the regulations for ADS-B Out equipment and use, requires that aircraft be equipped with ADS-B Out for access to rule airspace. It further defines the scope and limitation of rule airspace. You are encouraged to review 14 CFR 91.225 paragraphs (a) and (d) to become familiar with the airspace that will require ADS-B Out equipment, or see figure 1 below, which graphically shows the rule airspace.

Read More: The Pilot's Perspective: Why I Equipped with ADS-B In
November 13, 2018

Equip with ADS-B Out because the FAA says so. Equip with ADS-B In to gain game-changing situational awareness.

The last time the general aviation community had to deal with a regulatory mandate as big as the January 1, 2020, requirement to have ADS-B Out (automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast out) installed in your aircraft was when the FAA required aircraft owners and operators to equip their machines with a transponder if they were to operate in rule airspace under Part 91.215.

Now with the deadline barely a year away, we are faced with another mandate by the FAA to upgrade our aircraft.

In the United States, there are about 170,000 general aviation aircraft, of which more than 10,000 are helicopters. Many of these aircraft owners will elect to equip their machines with the newest technology but some will choose not to, based on a host of reasons.

Should I Equip?

I hope you have read Ric Peri’s excellent article on ADS-B Out (p. 40), which goes into detail about the rule airspace where the ADS-B Out mandate will apply, as well as guiding you through some of the equipage process. I would only add that it is possible to fly from coast to coast without ever hitting that airspace. If you don’t fly in rule airspace—and you don’t anticipate flying in rule airspace—then you are not compelled to equip under the January 1, 2020, mandate.

If your aircraft does not have an engine-driven electrical system, then it is not required to have ADS-B Out. Under this scenario, however, it would most likely not have a panel-mounted radio either, so chances are you are not in the airspaces affected by the ADS-B Out mandate anyway.

Another factor to consider when deciding to equip is where your aircraft’s future owners will want to fly. When you move to sell, will your aircraft—not equipped and therefore limited in the airspace in which it can fly—have the same curb appeal of an aircraft that is equipped?

Added value is difficult to gauge and rarely do we get back what we put in regarding avionics. However, having ADS-B Out will certainly make your aircraft more attractive than a similarly equipped machine if the prospective buyer doesn’t have to figure adding ADS-B into the cost equation.

Read More: After the Violation of an FAR
November 13, 2018

A kinder, gentler FAA? The US aviation regulator is changing its enforcement tactics.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as or relied upon as legal advice. If you have questions about a specific FAA investigation of you or your company, or about an administrative, compliance, or enforcement action, you should contact an attorney.

What happens after you violate a Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR)? There have been some changes recently in how the FAA handles the process.

Prior to 2015, the enforcement action was the FAA’s primary method for dealing with violators. The agency could initiate an enforcement action, which could include a fine and either suspension or revocation of a certificate, against any FAA-certificated entity, including operators, pilots, maintenance technicians, repair stations, and equipment manufacturers.

In 2015, the FAA adopted a program known as the Compliance Philosophy. An attempt to embrace a just culture, the Compliance Philosophy is built around the idea that very few people get up in the morning thinking about how unsafe they plan on being that day. Most FAR violations are the result of honest mistakes, lack of knowledge, or lack of skill. In a just culture, people are encouraged to admit to their mistakes, and the goal is to improve safety—not to punish.

The FAA announced that it would focus on returning violators to compliance with the FARs and improving safety in the National Airspace System. Thus, the compliance action was born. If you haven’t heard of it, then read on, because the FAA has changed how it deals with some FAR violations.

Letter of Investigation

You usually first learn that the FAA believes you have violated an FAR when you receive a letter of investigation (LOI). The LOI usually ends with the following invitation to discuss the incident with the FAA: “We wish to offer you an opportunity to discuss the incident in person or submit a written statement.… Your statement should contain all pertinent facts and any mitigating circumstances.… If we do not hear from you within the specified time, we will process this matter without the benefit of your statement.”

Your first inclination may be to immediately respond to the LOI, but first, take a moment. Consider whether a response is appropriate and what that response should be. There is no obligation to respond to an LOI—the FAA will neither penalize nor reward you for responding. Furthermore, any statements you make in your response can be used against you. In fact, there are cases where the response to an LOI helped the FAA prove its charges. Because the decision of whether to respond to an LOI and what to say depends on the particular facts of your case, talk with your attorney before responding to an LOI.

An FAA investigation commenced by an LOI can end in one of four ways:

  • No violation found
  • Administrative action
  • Enforcement action
  • Compliance action.

Of course, the best outcome of an investigation is the FAA finding no violation. Another option is the route of an administrative action. This does not result in a violation against you, but typically the FAA will issue a warning notice (that stays on your record for two years) or a letter of corrective action for you to take.

Enforcement Action

The penalties of an enforcement action come in two types. The FAA can issue a notice of proposed certificate action, which either proposes to suspend or revoke your certificate. It can also issue a notice of proposed civil penalty, which proposes a fine.

If you receive either of these notices during an enforcement action, you can submit any evidence favorable to you and request what is known as an informal conference with the FAA. Bring your legal counsel. At the informal conference, the FAA will hear the information you want to present and consider whether this information should affect the proposed action.

As stated by the FAA in its Enforcement Manual: “The FAA does not use the informal conference to gather additional evidence or admissions to prove the charges in the enforcement action. The FAA, however, may use any information revealed by the apparent violator for impeachment purposes if the apparent violator makes a contrary statement about a material fact later in the proceeding.” Thus, when speaking with the FAA, speak carefully, as misstatements can be used against you.

If you are unsuccessful at having all charges withdrawn at the informal conference, then the FAA will issue an order that suspends or revokes your certificate and/or results in a fine. An FAA order suspending or revoking a certificate can be appealed first to the National Transportation Safety Board and then to the federal courts. An FAA order that fines an operator is generally appealed to the Department of Transportation and then also to the federal courts.

Compliance Action

The FAA’s fourth method for dealing with violations of the FARs is the compliance action, which is relatively new. The FAA refers to a compliance action as a nonenforcement method because, if you are offered a compliance action and meet its requirements, then you avoid a violation, which is clearly to your benefit.

Whether to offer a compliance action to a suspected violator, as opposed to pursuing an enforcement action, remains within the discretion of the FAA. However, there are some things that you can do to tilt the odds in your favor. First and most important, compliance actions are only available if the FAA determines that you have not willfully violated the FARs. The FAA says it will have “zero tolerance for intentional or reckless behavior,” and these cases will still be subject to enforcement actions.

The next test you must meet is to be “able and willing” to cooperate with the compliance action. The compliance action is designed to set up an honest and transparent dialogue between you and the FAA about what you did, what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how you will avoid similar situations.

The FAA uses that information to develop corrective measures to return you to compliance. If you complete these measures, you should avoid a violation. The goal, after all, is not to punish you but to return you to compliance with the FARs.

Generally, a compliance action ends with the completion of retraining or counseling, as opposed to a fine or suspension. You must be willing and able to comply with all the terms of the compliance action, including paying all training costs.

Another factor that could increase your chances of receiving a compliance action is having an effective safety management system (SMS) program. Why? This means you have a vibrant safety culture, where you and your colleagues actively work to identify safety hazards, engage in risk analysis and mitigation, and fine-tune your efforts based on results. Notice, I said an effective SMS program; the dusty manual on your shelf doesn’t count.

According to the FAA, under its Compliance Philosophy, it “will encourage a more proactive approach by airports, airmen, and organizations to disclose and develop measures that identify safety risk, prevent deviations, and ensure corrective actions are taken when deviations exist.” If you operate under an SMS, then the Compliance Philosophy’s focus on open communication, hazard identification and mitigation, and training should sound familiar.

The FAA has made clear that your retention of an attorney does not prevent you from obtaining a compliance action. Further, an initial refusal to respond to an LOI does not prevent you from obtaining a compliance action. However, once a compliance action has commenced, then you must voluntarily share information with the FAA.

Further, once you agree to enter into a compliance action, you must make a strong effort to remain in the program. If you are removed from a compliance action—maybe you never got around to completing your remedial training—the required disclosures you made as part of the compliance action can be used against you in an enforcement action.

Another balancing act that you and your counsel must undertake is this: if the FAA has not yet offered a compliance action, should you request one? While that answer will depend on your specific circumstances, I can tell you this: if you decide to request a compliance action, you must do so in such a way as to ensure that you are not admitting to certain things before you know you have the protection of a compliance action. If you are being investigated by the FAA and you wish to receive a compliance action, and one has not yet been offered, discuss with your attorney the best way to present the request to the FAA.

Embracing a Just Culture

The Compliance Philosophy should be viewed as a benefit for all of us who are certificated by the FAA. The FAA is clear that it will launch enforcement actions against those who are reckless or who do not want to comply with the FARs. And that’s as it should be—we need our regulator to keep us safe from those guys.

However, for those of us who make an honest mistake, have a temporary lapse of judgment, or let our skills get rusty, the alternative of a compliance action is a welcome change from an FAA that has embraced a just culture. 

Read More: Roy Simmons: A Life in Helicopters
November 13, 2018

With his humble beginnings in the small farming area of Parkrose, Oregon, Roy Simmons never dreamed that he would have a distinguished career in aviation.

A past chairman of Helicopter Association International (HAI) and past president of Columbia Helicopters, Simmons has received many accolades over the years, including HAI’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 1999. With more than 5,000 hours of total flight time between his military and civilian service, Simmons has held FAA commercial pilot, rotorcraft, single-engine land, instrument, and instructor ratings, in addition to type ratings in Boeing Vertol 107-II, Sikorsky S-61, and Sikorsky S-58 helicopters. 

Early Life

Simmons was born May 22, 1936, in Portland, Oregon. The country was still recovering from the Great Depression and times were tough. “My parents owned an acre of land, and I recall we always had a big garden,” says Simmons. “During World War II, my parents loaned out some of the land to local families to grow victory gardens. They saved a little money during the recovery and built a house.” 

Sadly, Simmons’s father passed away when he was only 11. His mother worked hard to support her son, working as a bookkeeper for several companies before becoming a registered nurse.

During his senior year of high school, his mother lost her job. Because Simmons had enough credits to graduate, he took a job in a lead fishing-sinker factory, attending school in the mornings and working in the afternoon and on Saturdays.

Simmons attended Portland State College from 1954 to 1956, majoring in business and technology with a minor in accounting. “While attending college, I worked part-time during the summer months for Warren Northwest Paving Company, driving pickup trucks and trailers,” he says.

Military Service

After college, Simmons’s attention turned to aviation. From 1957 to 1958, he attended naval flight school as a cadet in Pensacola, Florida, where he received fixed-wing and helicopter training. Simmons then served in the US Marine Corps from 1958 to 1963, leaving active duty with the rank of captain.

Simmons flew both helicopters and airplanes in various squadrons in the United States, overseas in Japan, and aboard carriers in the South Pacific. “My overseas tour of duty was spent in Okinawa,” Simmons says. “It was an interesting assignment, as I was assigned to a marine observation squadron, flying both helicopters (the HOK-1 [later designated as the OH-43D]) and fixed-wing (the Cessna OE-1 [later designated the O-1B]). We were the only marine aviation unit on the island supporting a marine division. Our mission was flying search and rescue with the helicopters and using the airplanes for flying aerial observers and forward air controllers.

“I also spent several months during my 15-month overseas tour of duty on an aircraft carrier. I attended Embarkation Officers School, where I learned how to load vehicles, supplies, and aircraft onto navy ships. I was in charge of several shipboard movements during my overseas assignment. In early 1960, I was reassigned to another marine observation squadron at Camp Pendleton, California, helping to train pilots for their upcoming tours of duty overseas.”

Simmons spent the last two years of his active duty at the Marine Corps Air Facility in Santa Ana, California, flying the Sikorsky HR2S-1 (later designated as the CH-347). “At the time, the HR2S was the largest helicopter in the free world,” says Simmons. “It had two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines and could carry about 32 troops or several jeeps internally. It had clamshell doors in the nose with a hydraulic ramp for loading vehicles. It was a great instrument helicopter and very stable to fly under instrument conditions.

“However, I was always up on my emergency procedures, as most every flight was an emergency in the making. I spent several nights in the Okefenokee swamps of Florida; made an emergency landing in the desert near Tucson, Arizona; and made a single-engine night GCA [ground-controlled approach] into Fort Ord, California, with 28 troops in the belly. After those incidents, I decided I had all the fun I could handle and asked for release from active duty in 1963.” 

After leaving active duty, Simmons was a member of the US Marine Corps Reserve from 1963 to 1969, drilling in Seattle, Washington. After having attained the rank of major, he left the reserves when the demands of his civilian job became too pressing and included extensive travel time.