VAI is broadening its annual Salute to Excellence Awards program, which celebrates the highest standards of professionalism in vertical aviation. The program’s newest honor pays tribute to the late Harold Summers, whose legacy and spirit continue to inspire the vertical flight industry.

The newest Salute to Excellence Award, the Harold Summers Legacy Award, honors the association’s longtime director of maintenance, who passed away in October 2021.

During a career spanning more than 60 years, Summers was widely recognized for his tireless efforts to improve and support all aspects of the rotorcraft industry. In recognition of her unwavering support for her late husband, Zhilin Summers was the inaugural recipient of the Harold Summers Legacy Award at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2024 in Anaheim, California.

“We received numerous suggestions on how to honor Harold’s spirit and legacy,” says James Viola, VAI president and CEO.

“After careful consideration, we decided to create a new award that truly reflects Harold’s passion and his enduring efforts to enhance our industry. I am grateful to the VAI Technical and Maintenance Working Group, which proposed this idea and made it a reality.”

Now featuring 11 award categories, the VAI Salute to Excellence Awards recognize outstanding contributions by people working throughout the vertical aviation industry. While some awards acknowledge superlative efforts by individuals, several are open to teams or companies. VAI believes it’s only a matter of time before it receives nominations for people working in the advanced air mobility sector.

“We specifically changed the language of our awards criteria several years ago to include drones and other UAS [uncrewed aircraft system] aircraft,” Viola says. “Since then, we have honored several UAS operators with awards, and we look forward to receiving nominations for exceptional people working in advanced air mobility soon.”

VAI is currently accepting nominations for all 11 Salute to Excellence Awards:

  • Harold Summers Legacy Award
  • Matthew S. Zuccaro Land & LIVE Award
  • Communications Award
  • Humanitarian Service Award
  • W.A. “Dub” Blessing Flight Instructor of the Year Award
  • Law Enforcement Award
  • Golden Hour Award
  • Safety Award
  • Maintenance Award
  • Pilot of the Year Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nominations will be accepted through Sep. 30, 2024. VAI will announce the award recipients in early 2025.

For more information on the criteria for each award and the nomination process, visit

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