We share a goal: to provide safe, efficient aviation services.
In an industry that was once seeking a cure for the mass exodus of helicopter pilots to the airlines, times have changed. Instead of wasting time in a futile attempt to turn back the clock, the vertical flight industry is engaged in a flurry of innovation, developing a multitude of aircraft solutions and technologies that will change how we operate, as well as attract and retain the best talent in aviation.
Today, as the airline industry tightens its purse strings due to a pandemic, the remotely piloted and optionally piloted aviation sectors have joined manned helicopters to form the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) industry. We’re moving forward together with no looking back.
Aircraft that don’t require the pilot to be on board are here to stay, especially in those missions considered dull and dangerous. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and optionally piloted aircraft are being developed and tested at a rapid rate across the globe. Manufacturers, regulators, researchers, operators—all are working diligently to develop the aircraft, infrastructure, and regulations for these new, exciting aviation missions.
Helicopter operators may have been initially suspicious of these innovations. However, as they learn about the capabilities and limitations of these aircraft, I’m confident they’ll introduce these solutions within their fleets. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, just as our industry has accepted turbine engines, GPS, fly-by-wire, and many other innovations. Why? Because keeping up with the latest technology is one way our industry keeps the rotors turning!
Surviving as an operator in the helicopter industry has never been easy. That’s why representatives from six companies met on Dec. 13, 1948, to organize the Helicopter Council in Burbank, California. The idea was simple: form an organization to represent the collective interests of the helicopter industry. Today, we know this long-standing group as HAI, which has embraced the technological revolution within the vertical lift industry.
Our industry has consistently demonstrated its ability to accept new types of aircraft and successfully integrate them into the shared airspace. This integration hasn’t been without tragedy, however. In 1931, popular University of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne was killed in an airplane crash, eliciting public calls for greater federal oversight of aviation manufacturing, operations, and safety that led to the regulatory structure in US aviation today.
Modern aviation still reflects a delicate balance between operational ingenuity and regulatory governance. Vertical lift aircraft manufacturers and developers of the supporting infrastructure in the UAS and eVTOL markets are outpacing the regulators. Although the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 put in place directives to the FAA for UAS integration, the ability to safely accomplish that integration remains the FAA’s primary concern.
Questions remain about exactly what the future will look like. But ours is an industry in which problem-solving is just another day on the job, and we’ve demonstrated tremendous resilience to survive for generations. It’s time for the helicopter industry to embrace new-technology vertical flight aircraft as we share a common interest: a safe, effective, and robust industry.
As the economy recovers from COVID-19, vertical flight operators will begin working their way back to prosperity as they have for decades, identifying new ways to use their aircraft to improve the lives of the general public. Without recognition or fanfare, the job gets done, safely.
Whether you operate helicopters or drones or plan to engage in VTOL technology, you’re part of the vertical lift family. Our industry may look a little different from the past, but the people are the same—simply remarkable!