At HAI HELI-EXPO 2024 in Anaheim, California, the members of Helicopter Association International voted to elect the first board of directors for the organization under its new brand, Vertical Aviation International. The board will sit for fiscal year 2024–25. VAI members reelected current board members Brian Jorgenson and Rick Kenin, who will fill the two available commercial operator positions. Their new three-year terms start Jul. 1, 2024.

While VAI member operators select the board members, the board itself selects its panel of officers, or Executive Committee, each year. Beginning Jul. 1, 2024, the following board members will serve one-year terms as officers:

  • Chair Mark A. Schlaefli, Dakota Rotors
  • Vice Chair Brian Jorgenson, Timberline Helicopters
  • Treasurer Rick Kenin, Boston MedFlight
  • Assistant Treasurer Paul Gottwig, Los Angeles County (California) Fire Department.

Schlaefli understands that he takes over as board chair at an intriguing time in the association’s history.

“Having been involved in the organization’s rebranding efforts, it’s quite humbling to take over as chair during the first year with a new brand and robust strategic plan. VAI has a great history, and we support an incredible industry that provides incredible value to people’s lives,” Schlaefli says. “There is excitement about VAI’s fresh identity and renewed purpose, and I feel a great sense of responsibility to help lead the organization forward and support VAI staff to bring innovative, industry-leading education, advocacy, and support to our membership.”

With organizational changes in the air, Schlaefli feels his role is clear. “There are two focus areas, the first of which came directly from our membership, and that is the promotion of and support for VAI staff in executing our strategic plan. On a more personal level, with many of the things happening across our industry, advocacy remains a top priority to help our members highlight the immense good that comes from vertical flight capabilities and to fight for our ability to deliver those services,” he says.

Schlaefli, who is currently completing a term as vice chair, continues: “From workforce development to actively advocating and fighting for airspace access and keeping the legislative wolves at bay, VAI will deliver solutions, and it is a humbling experience to be a part of that process.”

VAI President and CEO James Viola is pleased to have a seasoned group of leaders prepared for the 2024–2025 term. “We announced significant changes in our organization back in March, and now we need to implement those changes and advance our industry and our association,” he says. “Knowing that this board is already up to speed on the issues facing us means we have that much more time to work.”

Schlaefli also sees the benefit of having no changes to the board this year. “I am ecstatic that Brian and Rick were reelected. Both are veterans of the Executive Committee, are acutely in tune with our strategies and challenges, and will once again serve in an executive capacity this year. Having Paul join the Executive Committee represents a tremendous addition as well. Having that familiarity in place at this time—just after a major rebrand—allows us to continue the strategic journey into the future of vertical aviation.”

Schlaefli is proud of the work VAI board members put into their efforts to help the industry. “Service on the VAI Board of Directors is an important mechanism in my efforts to give back to the industry and work on behalf of our membership by providing services and support that will directly impact their operations,” Schlaefli says. “I have been fortunate to have mentors from every industry sector. The underlying consistent message from all of them has been clear—find ways to give back and move our industry forward for the good of all.”

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