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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Tom Nicholson

Posted 3 years 162 days ago ago by Admin

RPMN: What is your current position?

I currently work for Air Evac Lifeteam as a base pilot supervisor and flight instructor. Essentially, I'm one of four pilots at an EMS base with the added responsibilities of scheduling and pilot oversight. I also help out the training department with new hires and recurrent flight training as needed.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My dad was a police officer in South Florida and was friends with one of the pilots from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. I was about 14 years old when he took me for a tour of Palm Beach County...and from that moment I wanted to fly!

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

About nine years ago I was working as a police officer in South Florida and I absolutely hated it. I was on the verge of going back into the Army, when my wife recommended I do an intro. flight and use my GI Bill benefits. My wife worked with the girlfriend of a flight instructor from Ocean Helicopters in South Florida, I did a flight with him and started training that same month. I then had the opportunity to become a flight instructor at Ocean Helicopters and built my hours and time with them. As a flight instructor I had the chance to fly with many people from all over the world and that taught me about the need for pilots across the globe.

RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?

Ever since that first flight with the sheriff's office, I was fascinated with helicopters, but never really thought being a pilot was something I could do. It wasn't until I did the intro. flight and was able to get my hands on the controls, that I knew flying was what I wanted to do.  I was lucky to have the GI Bill Benefits to help me gain my licenses.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

The moment the DPE handed me my CFII temporary certificate, I was offered a flight instructor position at Ocean Helicopters in West Palm Beach. Other than trying to survive on flight instructor pay, I have to say it was the most fun job I've had to date. At the time we had plenty of students to stay busy, a good group of instructors, and a really good chief pilot who took care of us.

RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?

It's always hard to what if, but if I had never got into flying, I would most likely still be a police officer or in the Army. If for some reason I was to get out of the helicopter industry, I would go to the fixed-wing side and try the airlines.  We know the airlines are grabbing up pilots very fast and giving lots of opportunities to helicopter pilots right now.

RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

I'm mainly a homebody, but do manage to get out the house from time to time. I play golf when I can, spend time with the wife, and go to the lake for fishing and relaxation. Getting ready for our first child has kept us busy preparing and studying for a little one. I am sure when the new baby arrives, my time off will change drastically!

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Being able to continue to fly in a difficult market for helicopter pilots. I work with a great company and team. I want to keep flying and know that I am doing what I really love to do.

RPMN: Have you ever had an ‘Oh, crap!’ moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?

Fortunately, I haven't. The so-called ‘emergencies’ I  had were alt. lights, eng. chip lights, and FADEC failures. All landed without incident. Being trained to handle these situations from my first days of flight training to our company training, made most of them a non-event.

RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?

There's a lot of pilots out there with a lot of different experiences and a vast amount of knowledge. Don't be afraid to pick their brains and ask questions. Every pilot I've had time to speak with, I've learned at least a little something that can help make me a better pilot in some way. Always keep learning and continue to stay current on regulations.

RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?

At the moment I think the greatest challenge is getting younger people interested in aviation, whether rotor- or fixed-wing. With the high cost of training, especially with helicopters, and the low interest in joining the military, I think over the next several years the pool is going to continue to shrink. Now add the uptick of current helicopter pilots leaving for the airline industry and it's becoming increasingly harder to find and keep qualified pilots.  Finding the ones that will spend the money to train at a good school and stick with it for the long haul. Everyone is looking for an easy, quick way to a good paying job and in the helicopter industry it doesn’t happen fast. Find those that are patient and willing to do what needs to be done to be a good, safe pilot.