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a recent press release, the joint venture company intends this year to field a fleet of UH-60 and CH-47D helicopters modified for aerial firefighting.


The Coulson Aviation USA-Unical Air joint venture is but one example of new entrants in the U.S. market, more than we have seen in the recent past and some coming in with considerable financial backing. A market flooded with competitors may lead to a race to the bottom on pricing, which means that operators may have to drastically cut costs,


potentially impacting safety and training. Some operators may leave the business altogether, leaving fewer vendors competing for similar contracts.


However, capacity for now is continuing to outstrip demand. In that regard, look no further than to large air tankers. There are still 18-22 large air tankers under contract, although 34-36 are actually available. Since the supply-demand situation is not likely to change significantly, the potential is there for consolidation into a few large companies that could drive the smaller operators out of business.


For helicopter operators, there has been little in the way of merger and acquisition activity. However, they too may be at risk if the trend toward large helicopters continues in the aerial firefighting world. For some, the purchase and operating costs will be prohibitive, and as some claim, the days of the mom-and-pop operator in this industry may be numbered.


An ongoing challenge facing both helicopter and fixed-wing operators is the recruitment and retention of qualified pilots and mechanics. Many mechanics graduating from training schools are pursuing careers with airlines or non-aviation companies that generally offer better pay and benefits. For aerial firefighting companies, increasing pay and benefits has helped. But as one of our member companies points out, the days when there were four pilots competing for one job opening are over.


Among the coming trends the industry should prepare for are budgets that remain stable at lower levels than in the past. Customer demand is unlikely to change, which implies the expectation that the industry will do the same or more for less.


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• Unlimited Valve Actuations • Pilot-Operated Capacity Control • Low-Power Consumption


Night operations are also coming thanks to new technologies that may make this possible. In addition, the industry will have to figure out how to safely integrate unmanned aerial systems used for data gathering and surveillance into the fire traffic area. We’re going to have to see what changes we’ll have to make in our operations, based on the impact they will have.


Any changes to come will not present insurmountable challenges. As long as the aerial firefighting industry continues to invest in people, infrastructure, and


innovative technologies to fight fires with greater efficiency – and continues to build upon its truly collaborative customer relationships – I believe its continued success is assured.


George Hill is Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), the Washington-based trade association representing the interests of the privately owned and operated aerial firefighting industry in the U.S.


Aerial Fir e f i ghting Industr y Standard


Visit Us At HAI Heli-Expo Booth #613


Toll Free: 1 866 570 FIRE (3473) BambiBucket.com


rotorcraftpro.com 77


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