In today’s world, Next Generation can have several meanings. We in the aviation community usually use it to describe the transformed U.S. National Airspace System that the FAA will roll out between now and 2025. In addition to improving safety, the technological advances of NextGen will facilitate more aircraft in the system.
From my vantage point, fitting in more aircraft is nice, but who is going to fly, maintain, and manage these aircraft? The Next Generation priority that the helicopter industry needs to focus on is people, not avionics.
The simple fact is that our industry is growing. Sales are up. Markets are expanding. Missions are multiplying. But while that side of the industry is growing, the number of new people entering the industry is decreasing. This is obviously not a sustainable trend for our industry.
We in the helicopter industry know that we have the goods. So what’s keeping people away?
Our industry is unique in that it offers a multitude of missions and work environments. Is someone looking to work in a big-city, corporate environment? Check, we’ve got that. How about a coastal location, near a beach, or in a rural area? We’ve got that too.
If an aviation student is interested in serving the public, then our industry offers jobs in law enforcement, helicopter air ambulance, or search and rescue. Maybe that person wants to train others or just make them happy by providing spectacular air tours for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
From listening to the stories of various HAI members, I can tell you: there are no limits to where a career in helicopter aviation can take you. Let’s make sure that young people are aware of the opportunities available in all segments in the helicopter industry.
Once we have their attention, it is imperative that we provide young people with a convincing argument to join the industry. The best young people — the ones who will lead and shape the industries they join — have lots of choices. They evaluate different careers based on such things as compensation, benefits, potential for advancement, work-life balance, job satisfaction, and a sense of achievement and value. It is our responsibility to ensure that the helicopter industry can compete with others on these terms.
We must also consider the path that a person must navigate to land a career in our industry, either as pilot, mechanic, or manager. Those of us who entered the industry in the 1970s had to persevere with fewer opportunities, in a market flooded with entrants, during a bad economy. We had to fight to make our dreams of a career in aviation come true.
But this “I had it tough, and so should you” scenario isn’t working so well for us. I’m not saying that we should make it easy. But those who work hard to enter the ranks of helicopter professionals should be looking at a rewarding career, a lifestyle that can support a family, and sustainable employment while benefiting the greater good.
What if we don’t turn this around? This industry of ours, which plays a unique role in many sectors of our economy, may have seen its best days. And not because of a poor economy or government overregulation. Our industry might not grow — it may even shrink — because we can’t attract enough people to the field.
Some reading this might say, “Who cares? I’ll be retired soon. Let those behind me figure it out.” Or we can roll up our sleeves and put the necessary effort into recruiting our replacements.
Can you guess which side I’m on? I, along with others, choose to pay back to an industry that has given me a lifetime of wonderful experiences, a solid career that allowed me to provide for my family, and the opportunity to do good things for others.
This is an effort that is being fought on a large scale by organizations such as HAI, but the true success is going to be in those one-on-one contacts made by those of you out in the field. When an opportunity arises to connect with a potential new industry entrant, reach out and grab it. One by one, person by person, we can ensure the future of our industry.
What are your thoughts? Let me know via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, have a safe flight and fly neighborly.