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What About the Next Generation in the Helicopter Industry?


Upon my return from flying heli-

copters in Vietnam, I was assigned as a flight and ground instructor at the U.S. Army flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama. As

military separation

neared, I focused on securing a civilian job. With 10 pilots for each job, I made it tougher by limiting my search to my hometown, New York City. It took a while but I finally got a job and spent the next 40-plus years on a hell of a hel- icopter ride, which I would not trade for anything. As I meet with young flight instruc-

tors and their students, in conjunction with HAI’s safety, mentoring and schol- arship programs, I look back at my own experiences. I sincerely believe this new generation is far more challenged in their pursuit of a career in helicopters than my peers and I were. Most of us left the military with the

requisite experience and training to qualify us for available jobs, fortunate to have received that training and expe- rience—even with the combat environ- ment that came with the package— rather than having to go the civilian route with its associated costs. Consider this new generation mak-

ing their way via the civilian myriad of challenges to establish themselves as either helicopter pilots or maintenance technicians. The average flight student will incur a $70,000 debt to become a Certified Flight Instructor, since instructing is the only viable job for someone with 200-plus flight hours. Once instructing, their next goal is to

reach the magic 1,000-plus flight hours and gain some turbine engine time. Now they can be considered for their so-called “real job.” This could take a few years, during which time they try to survive on minimal wages as many of the flight schools struggle to main- tain operations in these difficult eco- nomic times. Add new FAA experience requirements, and the challenge increases. In my discussions with these new

industry entrants I can hear and see their frustration and disappointment. I also hear my two least desired state- ments: “I am only instructing until I get a ‘real job’” and, “If there was another way to build my time I would take it in a minute, rather than instruct.” Not what I want to hear, especially when I believe that flight instructing is one of the most important missions in our industry—and is absolutely a “real job.” I have talked to many long timers

in our industry who share my concerns and frustrations in a search to find a solution, especially when you consider the majority of helicopter accidents that occur in the training and personal flying segments. How do we encourage the next hel-

icopter generation to start or continue their efforts and realize their value to the industry’s future? We need to create a practical

process that allows committed persons a realistic opportunity to achieve their goals in a reasonable time frame for a positive

return on their financial 43

investment. This would suggest a review of

the flight school business

model to make flight instruction a legitimate career path rather than a stepping-stone to that “real job.” We should also consider that the current system has the most recently certified instructors, with the least overall expe- rience, instructing the next generation of pilots—the opposite of other profes- sions such as the legal or medical industry. There is definitely a place for new flight instructors within the initial training environment; thus we should consider phased training programs with new instructors teaching the basics and senior instructors handling advanced and mission-specific train- ing, all which creates an instructor career path. I also remind myself that when I

am talking to our future generations, through their frustration and disap- pointment I also see that sparkle in their eye and hear the passion in their voice as they talk of their dreams of fly- ing varied missions in advanced tech- nology helicopters, which many of us old timers now take for granted. How about we get together and

think about helping the new guys and gals along the way and let them know that if they stick with it they will never regret their decision? I know this is not an easy issue, so let me know your thoughts via email: TAILROTOR@AOL.COM. Remember, someone helped most

of us along the way. ◆ ROTORCRAFTPRO.COM

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