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Official Discussion: The Future of the Helicopter Industry


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So let's try an official discussion of the current and future of the Commercial Helicopter Industry. Surely the wide variety of pilots here from different areas, with different experiences, expectations and viewpoints, perhaps we can get a good accumulation of opinions and ideas about where the helicopter industry is and where it is going (and if that is a good or bad direction).

 

Reading the aviation articles in various magazines and blogs and listening to podcasts, there are certainly some positive and negative things happening in the helicopter industry right now, and what does that mean for the future of our industry. I'm hoping everyone will join in and discuss their ideas and opinions.

 

 

Below are some talking points that I've had on my mind, and if anyone wants to add any, they are free to do so:

 

1. Recent discovery of a very large oil deposit discovered in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to increase job growth and oil production in the area by a large amount. This means more helicopter jobs (assuming the companies get permission to drill and set up oil rigs) but it's assumed that it'll take years to get oil rigs erected. It's also dependent on which Gulf helicopter company gets the contracts. It could drive down hour requirements to go the gulf or create even more jobs that require high hours and we'll see something similar to what's happening to HEMS (many openings, but a lack of high time pilots willing to do it).

 

2. Speaking of HEMS. A simple internet search makes it seem that there are a lot of positions available for pilots. Having a helicopter for patient transport is very lucrative for these hospitals. It's assuming that this is an industry that will only grow with time, meaning more openings. But it seems that a lot of these jobs are remaining open for long periods of time, it could be that they aren't receiving applications because there is a shortage of pilots with the hours or nobody wants to do it in the first place? I don't know, perhaps someone else can clarify with their own experiences or ideas.

 

3. More airspace restrictions around tourist attractions. There have been many discussions over the years about the varying aspects of flying around tourist attractions. Congress seems to want to shut it down in addition to operators needing to keep people on the ground happy to avoid noise complaints and lawsuits. As the economy continues to recover, more people will travel to and visit these sites and spend money on these tour flights. It could go either way. I know speaking to a couple of the Papillion guys at Heli-success, they weren't anticipating hiring as many this season as they had in the past.

 

4. As the people in charge try to win votes and stay in office, the country is trying to be more green-friendly, and with that there's a threat to 100LL. They tried 100 Very Low Lead, but who knows where the future lays. 100LL is already tough to find in Europe because of these initiatives, and what options does that leave for flight schools trying to keep cost down in a market where 100LL become more expensive, rare or no longer sold? Training helicopters could switch to diesel engines and run on jet fuel, increasing the cost of flight training or worst case scenario, many flight schools switch to the R66 exclusively and the cost of getting a CFII for new students triples? That by itself could cause a lot of trouble for the future of the helicopter industry as well as the survivability of most flight schools.

 

5. The golden child, the one that we've been hearing since the beginning of our flight training, "All the Vietnam pilots will soon be retiring..." blah blah blah. Sure these guys out here are retiring, but it's certainly not the mass exodus that we we're expecting, and they aren't leaving the 1000 hour jobs, they're leaving the high time jobs, leaving holes at the top of the ladder which doesn't seem to flow downward. What does it mean for the future of our industry? Slowly as people build hours and climb up into those jobs it'll flow downhill to help the low-time guys, but is it really what we were expecting/promised by those hungry CFIIs who trained us?

 

All of these points are legitimate possibilities, and while they may not be very realistic, I'm hoping to create a discussion as to personal opinions regarding the future of the helicopter industry. In addition if you have any other ideas to add, please do so and offer your own opinions and suggestions.

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Speaking for the powerline industry, Power line patrol contracts which have been rather stable for the past few decades and employ somewhere between 50-75 helicopters on a full time basis in this country are being threatend by the increased capabilits of UAVs. While there has not been any noticable loss of business yet in the states it is largely because laws liminting the use of UAVs, As those are altered to accomidate the UAV industry some patrol contracts could be threatend.

 

In the powerline construction industry there hase been a boom for the past 5 years to expand the grid to accomidate renewable energy sources. The boom was patially the result of government stimulus packages that provided money for infastructure spending. While I dont see a dropoff coming, I think the rapid growth is over.

 

Powerline maintance is going to increase in the next decade. many powerlines being relied upon particularly on the east coast are 70-100 years old, undermaintaned and in need of repair and upgrade.

 

There are by my count at least 70 MD 500s and a handful of other aircraft that perform this work on a dedicated basis, as well as several that do it occasionally.

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5. The golden child, the one that we've been hearing since the beginning of our flight training, "All the Vietnam pilots will soon be retiring..." blah blah blah. Sure these guys out here are retiring, but it's certainly not the mass exodus that we we're expecting, and they aren't leaving the 1000 hour jobs, they're leaving the high time jobs, leaving holes at the top of the ladder which doesn't seem to flow downward. What does it mean for the future of our industry? Slowly as people build hours and climb up into those jobs it'll flow downhill to help the low-time guys, but is it really what we were expecting/promised by those hungry CFIIs who trained us?

 

No it won't! There are too many of us down here and there will always be plenty of more experienced pilots, coming from the military, to take those upper level jobs!

 

If today the military decided to retire its entire helicopter fleet and replace it with drones, I wonder how long it would take to get through all those pilots in order to make room for us low timers,...eighty years perhaps?

 

Things will never change!

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Dont forget, a lot of pilots are getting out of the military with fairly low times. The days of pilots leaving with 3000 hours are long gone.

 

I'd still be willing to bet that a 500hr military pilot is WAAAAAAY more experienced, and better trained, than a 1000hr CFII. So if those high time jobs really had to choose between them, the'd still pick the military guys!

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I'd still be willing to bet that a 500hr military pilot is WAAAAAAY more experienced, and better trained, than a 1000hr CFII. So if those high time jobs really had to choose between them, the'd still pick the military guys!

I think you might be wrong on that one. They still will hire based on hours not on what kind of training you have. You can be a half-a&&ed pilot and still get a job if you have the right hours.

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Dont forget, a lot of pilots are getting out of the military with fairly low times. The days of pilots leaving with 3000 hours are long gone.

 

Not really. The days of getting out at 8 years with a lot of time are coming to a close. But there are plenty of pilots with 2-3000+ hours who are waiting on retirement and then will be switching over to the civilian side. There's still plenty of pilots left in the military who spent the last ten years flying their butts off.

Edited by SBuzzkill
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I'd still be willing to bet that a 500hr military pilot is WAAAAAAY more experienced, and better trained, than a 1000hr CFII. So if those high time jobs really had to choose between them, the'd still pick the military guys!

 

That’s a pretty bold statement. With that, in order to gauge you level of knowledge, please tell me, how long have you worked in the commercial sector?

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I think you might be wrong on that one. They still will hire based on hours not on what kind of training you have. You can be a half-a&&ed pilot and still get a job if you have the right hours.

 

Today yes, but we're talking about the future of the industry. If high time employers start to get desperate, its anyone's guess,...and this is mine.

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I personally met a guy fresh out of the military. He came out with about 1100 hours all turbine and couldn't even get a call back from Temsco or Papillion. I was surprised when I talked to him because I was under the same impression a 1000 hour civilian trained guy with no turbine was "apparently" a better candidate than the military guys with 1000 turbine and no civilian experience.... but who knows, maybe they didn't like his resume or he didn't call back often enough...

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I talked to a couple military guys at Heli-Success last year. While the ground school and training regimen is way above what many civilian schools may teach, there are some downsides. Military guys get little if any solo PIC time, there is often some other guy/gal in the other seat. Many do come out with less than 1000 hours, some just 700-800. Some haven't made the jump to get their FAA certs, they have little if any unaided night flight time, Some pros besides training are NVG use, disciplined, and familiarity with SMS systems and logic.( ie....rules!)

 

Always a pro and a con...

 

One of the biggest hurdles is they haven't been around the civilian helicopter world. Their networking amounts to zero in the industry in which they hope to be working. Many of the smart ones realize that, which is why so many military pilots were at last year's event.

 

As far as 100LL, Frank recognized 10 years ago they have to start weaning their helicopters off of av gas, it's just not available in many of the remote areas where Robinsons are quite popular. Hence the R66......he wanted a diesel, but the technology/weight just wasn't right yet, and then RR came out with the new RR300 and that clinched it.

 

HEMS is absolutely exploding, and with the Obama health care thing, it will continue to take off. Love it or not, it is the driving factor behind a lot of the growth.

 

Helicopter pilot jobs are a bit like winning the lottery. Somebody has to win, but you do have to at least enter first to win one. And you don't enter by using a fax machine..

 

Enough said.

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And you don't enter by using a fax machine..

 

 

Nope. You enter with a fax machine, an email, a phone call, a hand written letter AND a "Hey I was just in the neighborhood..."

 

 

"AND" being the operative word there...

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Nope. You enter with a fax machine, an email, a phone call, a hand written letter AND a "Hey I was just in the neighborhood..."

 

 

"AND" being the operative word there...

 

Nope, you walk in, hand them your resume. When they give you a blank stare, you say, "Don't you remember me, I faxed you, e-mailed you, called you, AND sent you a hand written letter?" When they still give you that look of, who gives a sh*t, you say, "Oh' yeah, AND Fred said to say hi."

 

"Oh' you know Fred, well come on in, lets show you around!"

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My experience is its a case of choose your poison when hiring a 1000 hour pilot right now.

 

If you hire civilian you are more likely to run into no turbine understanding/experince, overly conservative decision making and a sense of entitlement.

 

If you go military you are more likely to run into guys that bust minimums (weather and ac limintations)to get the job done, guys with little knowlege of airspace/FARs, and have less power mangement experience.

 

Not saying these are always the case, cartainly not.

 

I dont think either group is seen as superior industry wide.

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My experience is its a case of choose your poison when hiring a 1000 hour pilot right now.

 

If you hire civilian you are more likely to run into no turbine understanding/experince, overly conservative decision making and a sense of entitlement.

 

If you go military you are more likely to run into guys that bust minimums (weather and ac limintations)to get the job done, guys with little knowlege of airspace/FARs, and have less power mangement experience.

 

Not saying these are always the case, cartainly not.

 

I dont think either group is seen as superior industry wide.

 

There's a third option. Less than 500hr civilian pilots. Yes we still lack the turbine experience (although a lot of us have TEN WHOLE HOURS IN A 206!). We're not quite overly conservative,...yet, and we're still 500hrs or so away from that sense of entitlement! Plus we're willing to do anything you say, and work for peanuts!

 

...I also think we're thought of as inferior industry wide. :lol:

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  • 4 weeks later...

Zippie- You make some great points. The UAV one is also a threat to our business as 500F stated.

 

Overall, I think you will see 100LL go away. IF Lycoming gets a substitute fuel approved, think of how many aircraft that could affect at one time. I know Kurt Robinson has been pushing them for some time to come up with an alternative on their own, and don't wait until the Government outlaws it to get started.

 

Most pilots don't realize it, but we are under attack from a small group of homeowners who feel their rights trump ours. They live next to airports, just off a departure route, under the Hollywood sign, or along the coast in the Hamptons, and they just can't imagine why they have more aircraft noise than they would like. It's a growing threat, and an easy choice for politicians. We are a very small voice in that discussion and we're going to lose one battle after another.

 

 

UAV's just plain scare me. Hell, I still have fixed wing's surprise me from a mile out, I wouldn't see a UAV until it came in my windscreen and sat next to me.

 

I do think there are some holes of experience that are coming up. Training all but stopped when SSH closed down, and then the economy tanked 5 years later. So there may be some areas where pilots have more choices coming down the pike. I've heard a few stories this year that I have not heard in previous years of operators hiring more green guys because they are losing more pilots out the other (more experienced now) door.

Anyway, some thoughts on your topics....

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Most pilots don't realize it, but we are under attack from a small group of homeowners who feel their rights trump ours. They live next to airports, just off a departure route, under the Hollywood sign, or along the coast in the Hamptons, and they just can't imagine why they have more aircraft noise than they would like. It's a growing threat, and an easy choice for politicians. We are a very small voice in that discussion and we're going to lose one battle after another.

 

 

Yeah, but unlike airplanes who actually need those airports, we can just pick up and move. You can park a chopper next to a trailer just about anywhere!

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As far as open EMS jobs I think the high number of open positions boils down to location and pay. The major benefit of an EMS job is to be home every night. If your base is in an area thats too far away from where you want to live, why would you work there? If you were going to commute and be away from home you could make more money doing any number of other jobs. EMS isn't the best paying job after all.

 

Some pilots will take a base away from where they want to be just to build seniority to get the base thats close to home after a few years, but even still there's no need to take a base thats FAR away. Seniority is seniority, doesn't matter if you earn it by working in the middle of a major residential area or out in BFE, so why take an assignment in a place where no one wants to be?

 

As far as entry level jobs I think civilian pilots have the edge with most major entry level operators. They already have connections with people who have jumped through the same hoops they're about to, and have probably worked at the same companies that 1000 hour pilots are applying to. All they have to do is go to a decent sized school and keep in touch with their instructors. Go to Papillon, Sundance, Temsco or Maverick and see how many pilots they hired right out of the military. A few years ago the number was pretty small, I'm thinking that hasn't changed much.

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Some of the guys I work with don't have a clue about civilian jobs. The extent of their research is "I need to get flight time" or "I have a few friends that got out and are doing _______." Most of them think that 1,000 hours of military flying will get them an airlift job. They have no idea what jobs are actually out there for a 1,000 hour pilot and are surprised at what we find when I pull of job listings for their hour level.

Edited by SBuzzkill
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