Which part of the event are you most looking forward to – the educational sessions, or the chance to network face to face once more?
Can I give more than one answer? Relationships help drive our industry, so face-to-face interactions are essential. It’s evident from the attendance at a couple of recent shows that people are ready to gather in person again. At the same time, I think our industry professionals are also ready to break away from online learning, and HAI HELI-EXPO is an ideal location for someone to choose from in-depth professional education courses or a robust slate of Rotor Safety Challenge classes. I also like the fly-in, which usually takes place Friday and Saturday before the show floor opens. It’s like we have our own private airshow, with some beautiful, new helicopters arriving to fill the show floor. The show floor is probably what most people think about with our show, with all the helicopters on display and the booths filled with new products and technology. We expect to have Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) participation on the show floor too, which will appeal to the rotorcraft pilots and operators who have been completing these same mission segments with helicopters for the past 70 years.
I guess, ultimately, I’m looking forward to walking through the doors of the convention center in Dallas and enjoying everything HAI HELI-EXPO has to offer. It’s an experience unlike any other in the rotorcraft industry.
The vertical lift sector has undoubtedly been invaluable during Covid-19, with airborne special missions providers continuing their invaluable work no matter what else is happening
How many companies are currently exhibiting, and how many participants have signed up? Is the attendance of HELI-EXPO still increasing?
We currently have nearly 500 booths sold, and the show floor is starting to fill in nicely. We’re on a comfortable pace compared with trends for previous shows this far in advance, and we expect to see additional booths coming in once there is a better understanding of the global travel restrictions. Our attendance numbers traditionally don’t pick up until after the first of the year, and I think we’ll see a similar pattern there, with people registering for the show as they come back to work as the new year gets underway. There are still factors like international travel restrictions that we can’t control, so I think it will be interesting to see how long it takes us to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The vertical lift sector has undoubtedly been invaluable during Covid-19, with airborne special missions providers continuing their invaluable work no matter what else is happening. Do you think the visibility of the sector has been enhanced by its response to Covid, and what can it do to capitalize on this in terms of advocacy for safety and funding for the sector?
I’ve taken every opportunity I’ve had to praise the first responders for their actions during the Covid-19 pandemic. While governments directed the public to stay at home, the airborne law enforcement and air ambulance mission sectors continued to fly their vital roles. It was unfortunate that other industry segments encountered turbulent economic times. Still, the mission segments that we depend upon the most really stepped up to the additional challenges and responded with the skill and professionalism we’ve come to expect.
It’s difficult to gauge how these extraordinary efforts will translate to the bottom line when budgeting time rolls around. For the locations where taxes pay for first responder services, there could be locations with lower revenues due to unemployment and lowered tax revenues. In the sites where charities play a role in funding, it’s harder to anticipate ramifications from the pandemic and resulting unemployment.
My advice to the service providers is to keep doing what you’ve been doing. The public and the media have seen you responding to medical calls and responding to police emergencies. That said, I don’t think it ever hurts to invite the media or your elected officials to visit your facility to see the depth and breadth of your operation firsthand.
The value of aerial firefighting assets has grown exponentially thanks to a changing climate and intense fire seasons; are you seeing more interest in aerial firefighting assets from governmental organisations in terms of engagement?
There is more government interest in contracting rotorcraft for fires, and a large part of that is now coming from state and local governments. The US government was the primary contractor for aerial assets for many years, and they still have the lion’s share. Now, states like California and Colorado are also starting to contract with operators for the fire seasons directly. Even some public utility companies are also contracting for firefighting aircraft.
Most Western states have significant resources to protect, and they’ve recognized the value of hitting fires hard and early. In the depth of the season, the federally contracted helicopters are typically working other higher-priority fires when new fires ignite, leaving local agencies scrambling to extinguish the fire with sometimes limited resources. Having one’s own helicopters available when you need them is not something everyone can afford, but it can certainly pay for itself when considering the costs of a significant fire.
Another intriguing change to the firefighting industry is that more companies move their aircraft back and forth across the equator as the fire season shifts between hemispheres. The winter months were a traditional time for deep maintenance, training, and preparing for the upcoming season. Now, operators are moving their crews and helicopters between continents, and the aircraft are working throughout the year.
Safety is always a key aspect of HAI HELI-EXPO’s educational sessions; what are the highlights going to be at 2022’s event?
Safety is indeed always front and center at our show. The Rotor Safety Challenge courses are the most accessible element for exhibitors and attendees interested in safety. These are free, held inside the convention center but outside the show floor, so even someone who doesn’t want to visit the floor can still benefit from about 60 safety classes. We have a complete schedule on the HELI-EXPO website, so it’s easy to find courses that meet your needs.
We also have our traditional free Safety Symposium on Monday, 7 March, from 08:30hrs to 10:30hrs, the day before the show opens. This year, we want to focus this event on the attendees, where our experts will address the concerns and issues brought up by audience members. They’re asking about what safety issues keep people from sleeping at night, worrying about outcomes. A symposium like this one is about as ‘hands-on’ as we can get to meeting the safety needs of our attendees.
For those who go onto the show floor, be sure to stop at the Safety Zone right in the middle of everything. This is a great place to meet the industry’s most dedicated safety professionals, where you can exchange leading practices, share safety tips, and gain first-hand experience that you can implement back home in your operation. This booth is manned by members of the HAI Safety Working Group, US Helicopter Safety Team, FAA Safety Team, and other committed organizations that are ready to help you improve your safety game. One of the most intriguing elements for me is the video booth inside the Safety Zone, where anyone can share what they learned from a real-life event they experienced. I’m grateful that so many people are willing to share their experiences, trying to prevent others from making the same mistakes they did. It’s a refreshing, positive experience that has the potential to help so many others in the rotorcraft industry.