The people of this great organization are a perfect fit to help our industry prosper.

What a year! In my last column for ROTOR as chair of the HAI Board of Directors, I want to enthusiastically thank everyone who has been part of my journey. It has been a remarkable experience.

When I took over as chair in July 2022, my vision and direction were clear: to help HAI become a truly international organization that could assist in the integration of emerging technology as part of our ongoing mission to expand, diversify, and strengthen the worldwide vertical aviation industry.

Jeff Smith

I jumped right in, traveling in June 2022 to Europe for a transcontinental road show, attending helicopter air shows, meeting with OEMs, and seeing some fantastic integration of safety management systems by Airbus and Safran. I also met the leaders of the European Helicopter Association (EHA), including Chairman Christian Müller; Vice Chairman Thierry Couderc, who is also the executive officer of Union Française de l’Hélicoptère; David Stubbs, chairman of The British Helicopter Association; and of course, EHA Executive Director Isabella Abbate.

Isabella, who masterminds the EUROPEAN ROTORS trade show, brought in HAI to produce the 2022 edition. Charlotte Zilke, HAI’s senior director of membership and conventions, and her staff performed their usual, remarkable job of making the show a huge success. What a great effort by this international team—I look forward to this year’s show in Madrid.

During my time as HAI chair, I traveled half the world with James Viola, HAI’s president and CEO, who is completely dedicated to the members of this organization. James not only shows leadership when he is traveling and meeting members—he also uses that leadership to empower the staff at HAI.

The dedication, loyalty, and pride demonstrated by the HAI staff is extraordinary, and the organization runs like a Swiss watch. With a staff of 35, these folks hold three events for the industry and attend 20 more. Their work to educate and inform, advocate on behalf of the industry, and elevate safety advances and protects all our members. In the past 18 months, the staff have launched 13 new member benefits. Please visit rotor.org/benefits to see how HAI is helping you.

Even though I have attended many HAI HELI-EXPO® trade shows, being at our 2023 event in Atlanta as the board chair was both enlightening and exhausting. Thanks to the efforts of Charlotte and her team and the entire HAI staff, everyone I spoke with was extremely impressed and happy with their experience at the show.

I made a point to eat at the staff lounge every day—it was great to hang out and talk with them. My in-house therapist was Gina Kvitkovich, our director of publications and media. Gina and I talked about everything, including what soup to have. Besides being an expert on soup, Gina is responsible for getting HAI’s message out and does so brilliantly. Thanks, Gina, for the shove and push.

Thanks also to Chris Martino, senior director of operations and international affairs, who, when I showed up at the staff lounge dressed in jeans and an HAI polo for what I thought would be a casual day, reminded me that we were sitting down to lunch with industry leaders (my idea, by the way)—in about 30 minutes! Certain disaster was averted by teamwork.

The flawless execution of the annual HAI HELI-EXPO fly-in and fly-out is something the US Department of Defense could learn from. I have great memories of watching HAI staff members, including Chris Martino; Chris Hill, senior director of safety; Zac Noble, director of flight operations and maintenance; Dan Sweet, director of public relations and communications; Cade Clark, VP of government affairs; John Shea, director of government affairs; Jaasmin Foote, social media manager; Ashten Brown, operations manager; and the rest of the staff act as a highly synchronized team, guiding 40-plus aircraft efficiently and safely to and from the show floor.

I especially want to thank Mike Hertzendorf, COO and VP of member services, for being there all the time, always at the right time, with the right message. Though he is intimidating to talk to at first, Mike is a baller of a leader, and HAI is lucky to have him.

Lastly, I really want to give a shout-out and huge thank-you to the HAI Government Affairs Department, including Cade Clark, John Shea, Manager of Government Affairs and Regional Relations Katia Veraza, and Policy Analyst Emma Taylor (now attending law school)—you guys are my immediate family at HAI.

Flying in the New York City metropolitan area, I have developed a specialty: explaining how our industry works to those who think it doesn’t. Cade and his team were my allies as we tackled every piece of legislation that touched vertical aviation, positive or negative, from every level of government. We built bridges inside and outside our industry. Along the way, we had to have the tough talks about Pepsi versus Coke and what kind of “brown water” we would be having.

The future is so bright for HAI. The incoming chair of the Board of Directors, Nicole Battjes, has more energy than anybody I have witnessed—juggling leadership and a demanding business and making it look easy. With her creative mind and business savvy, Nicole, in concert with James Viola, Mike Hertzendorf, and the rest of the HAI staff, will reposition our association—and the global vertical aviation industry—for sustainable growth and success.

As I give up the reins as chair, as well as my seat on the HAI Board of Directors, I want to tell you all it was a good ride. Be safe and prosperous—and see you next year in Anaheim!

Author

  • Jeff Smith

    Jeff Smith is the chief pilot for R.O.P. Aviation in Teterboro, New Jersey, and the 2022–23 chair of the HAI Board of Directors. A former US Army aviator, he is a dual-rated pilot with more than 11,500 flight hours. Jeff is an active industry volunteer and advocate who has worked on noise, safety, and airspace issues in the New York City area as a member of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

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Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is the chief pilot for R.O.P. Aviation in Teterboro, New Jersey, and the 2022–23 chair of the HAI Board of Directors. A former US Army aviator, he is a dual-rated pilot with more than 11,500 flight hours. Jeff is an active industry volunteer and advocate who has worked on noise, safety, and airspace issues in the New York City area as a member of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

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