Since taking the helm of HAI in 2020, HAI President and CEO Jim Viola has focused on increasing HAI’s international presence and support.

This work has begun to pay off, with a partnership agreement between HAI and the European Helicopter Association (EHA) and, more recently, with HAI being chosen as the provider of EUROPEAN ROTORS 2022, Europe’s premier helicopter convention.

To build on this work and promote the event, Viola and HAI Board of Directors Chairman-elect Jeff Smith flew to France in May. The pair met with EHA Chairman Christian Müller; EHA Vice Chairman Thierry Couderc; David Solar, head of the general aviation and ­VTOL department at the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA); and Thierry Basset, president of the French Helicopter Group (GFH).

While in France attending L’Hélico 2022 last month, Jeff Smith (with hat) and Jim Viola (in black shirt) met with (from left) EASA’s David Solar, EHA’s Christian Müller and Thierry Couderc, and Thierry Basset, president of the French Helicopter Group (GFH).

Together, this international team attended L’Hélico 2022, France’s renowned helicopter fly-in event in Cholet, where more than 125 helicopters were on exhibit. While there, Viola and Smith spoke to HAI members and nonmembers alike to learn firsthand about specific issues the European industry experiences. This information will increase HAI’s understanding of how to help its international members collaborate with regulators, improve safety, and supercharge their educational programs. The pair also promoted EUROPEAN ROTORS 2022, gathering valuable insight on what potential attendees would like to gain from the event while building awareness.

“HAI HELI-EXPO isn’t enough to properly serve our international members,” Smith says. “We have to really understand them and meet them where they are. That means international work and support.”

From Cholet, the team went on to Marignane, France, where they toured the Airbus Helicopters factory and met with company CEO Bruno Even. Then, it was on to Pau, France, to visit Safran Helicopter Engines, tour its facility, and meet with its CEO, Franck Saudo.

“Airbus and Safran are an incredible support to HAI, and talking with them about how we can better support their work and the international industry was invaluable,” Viola says.

The final stop of the tour was Mollis, Switzerland, where the international team met with Heli-Linth, a local logging helicopter operator, to learn more about its operation and the overall experience of operating in the region.

“We met a lot of different helicopter operators and learned about their needs and frustrations on this trip,” Smith says. “There are some very unique regulatory issues in Europe that don’t exist here in the US. At the top is ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization]; then, EASA oversees the entire European Union; then, each country has its own regulatory agency. This can create a lot of work between countries and for operators operating across borders.

“There is so much HAI can do to help, especially through VAST [the Vertical Aviation Safety Team]. There’s no better captain of the ship at HAI than Jim [Viola] to help navigate this issue. I watched him use his background in the FAA and working with regulatory bodies to envision paths through these issues with real, usable solutions,” adds Smith. “I’m very enthusiastic HAI can really help in these areas, and we absolutely have the best people at HAI for that job.”

“It was good to visit different countries and operators from all over the region,” Viola says. “We also created a better understanding of the relationship between EHA and HAI. EHA represents Europe while HAI represents the world. When EHA can’t help its members, HAI can step in and lend assistance.

“There is such a cultural difference across parts of the world. What works in the US may not work in Asia. What works in China may not work in Australia. And now, with Brexit, the UK is separate from EASA,” Viola continues. “The international support HAI can provide to help connect all these regions and help them navigate issues to create successful solutions is vital for the sustainment and growth of our industry.”


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