2018 Fall Issue

The Magazine of Helicopter Association International

HeliFutures: Industry Partners Gather to Address Helicopter Pilot and Mechanic Shortage
ROTOR Staff 2018 Fall

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.

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FY17 vs. FY18 Accidents (No. of Accidents by Sector)
ROTOR Staff 2018 Fall
Helicopter Events
ROTOR Staff 2018 Fall


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

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

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

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

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Pilot Pathway Programs Gain Traction
Jen Boyer 2018 Fall

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.

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Testing the Unmanned K-MAX’s (and Our Own) Limits
Steven Athanas 2018 Fall

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.

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On the Trail of the Dragon Slayers
Mark Bennett 2018 Fall

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.

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ADS-B: It's Crunch Time
Ric Peri 2018 Fall

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.

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The Pilot's Perspective: Why I Equipped with ADS-B In
Zac Noble 2018 Fall

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.

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