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Helicopter Pilots Wanted: The Slow Death of an Industry

Posted 5 years 68 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an overwhelming number of helicopter pilots turn to the “dark side” …Airlines! The airline industry is experiencing a shortage of qualified aviators within their ranks and was in search of viable solutions. To the surprise of many, the airline industry took a hard look at expanding their longtime relationship with the US Military and found an almost untapped market in the helicopter pilot pool.

Almost immediately, fixed wing opportunities for military helicopter pilots began flooding the market and those military helicopter pilots seeking a civilian career in aviation found a home. Although this was a solid remedy initially, the number of pilots needed by the airline far outweighed those available solely via the military pilot route. So…back to the helicopter pilot pool well they went, this time civilian helicopter pilots were the target!

Today, many helicopter pilots from both the military and civil sector have transitioned over to the airlines. Many of our alphabet groups that represent aviation interests have embraced this transition, however we may want to ask what is the cost to the helicopter industry of this low-hanging fruit for airline hiring?

I spend most of my day working with various helicopter organizations around the country; mostly within the training and checking side of the business. A growing concern among operators is the increasing lack of [qualified] helicopter pilots within the helicopter pilot pool. This shortage on experience is concerning because there is no easy remedy. The experience required to safely conduct fire suppression, aerial construction, and other highly skilled helicopter operations can take many years to develop.

As operators, these challenges often come and go, however a new distraction within the industry is causing concern for operators as well…Drones! Embraced by the public and regulators alike, the Drone market is on its way to dominate the aviation marketplace. This is the only segment within the aviation industry where a person can directly engage with the technology from their home, gain certification without hardly any investment of time or money and be given attention and protection from government regulators within a solid veil of anonymity. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently issued a drone operator the first Air Agency Certificate for an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). This was considered a win for the aviation industry and movement in the right direction for the FAA. I agree that growth in any segment of the aviation industry is good. However, how many future pilots, both helicopter and fixed-wing, are being removed from the actual cockpit and taking a virtual pilot seat with a drone? This is a real issue that must be addressed by all within the aviation industry to include the airlines.

The loss of interest in aviation among our younger generation is real. The work and cost required to become a pilot of an aircraft has become staggering. It’s time for operators to come together and develop solutions to this issue. Taking a back seat only gets you to where others desire for you to be, and Out-of-Business USA is a real destination! 

About Randy:  Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.