HELOS – Helicopter Association International president CEO James Viola gave this exclusive interview to World Airnews editor Heidi Gibson about the civilian helicopter market and some of the current challenges.
WAN. What a year it was last year! Predictions are that 2021 will also be a struggle. What are the HAI comments about the challenges of last year faced with the global pandemic and those going forward?
JV: Yes, 2020 was a year that was essentially unprecedented in the current era, especially in aviation. We had more than our share of turmoil, as operators, manufacturers, suppliers, and industry professionals had to routinely reassess the latest news in government regulations and support programs. On top of that, they had to protect themselves, co-workers, and families. Mission segments like offshore petroleum support suffered a double hit when the price of oil dropped to historic levels. On the positive side, many helicopter operations such are Air Ambulance and Airborne Law Enforcement continued to fly. While some sectors suffered more than others, our versatility and flexibility helped to keep most rotorcraft flying through the worst of the pandemic. Now, as vaccines are starting to roll out, it appears that we remain ready to fly our mission segments.
We conducted a global survey of members and non-members early this year, and while we are still compiling the data, we can share a bit of the information with you. Of the helicopter operators who responded, 52 percent indicated they planned to expand their business within the next five years. We also asked a follow-up question about how they planned to expand, and sixty percent planned to add more equipment, 43 percent expected to add personnel, and 40 percent planned to add new mission segments.
WAN: What are your predictions for the second half of the year as the vaccine rolls out? Are you of the opinion that things will turn upwards for the second half? Will the market recover and why?
JV: While we all would have liked to have seen vaccines arrive sooner, there’s no reason to think that our rotorcraft industry won’t continue to operate as it did last year. Again, it was a lean year, but many segments kept flying. With temperatures rising around thew world, operators who fight wildland fires are probably going to see an increase, especially if they are able to move back and forth across the equator and fight fire year around.
WAN. There are some suggestions with the laying off of commercial pilots, many will turn their attention and reskill themselves into the helicopter market. Do you agree with this and if so why? If not what are your prediction about the job market for helicopter pilots?
JV:I find it interesting that helicopter pilots were hired by the airlines when they were suffering personnel shortages, and now those same rotorcraft pilots are now recognizing that the helicopter industry suffered less than the airlines. That said, the projected shortages for pilots and maintenance professionals didn’t go away. The original cause of the shortage – retirements of an aging population segment – remains. It might have slowed a bit, but the shortage will resume again soon, and we will need more helicopter pilots. Now is a great time for a person to enter the rotorcraft community, either as a pilot or maintenance technician. Neither one requires a college degree, and there is significant potential for good pay and advancement opportunities. To read more go to www.airnews.co.za and click on the emag link.