Posted 15 days ago ago by Admin
The helicopter industry is quite resilient to the ebb and flow of issues such as the economy, disasters, and even global pandemics. Operators have developed strategic methods to continue producing revenue streams by diversifying their operations and having the ability to alter operational capabilities to match changing industry requirements. However, in today’s market, the single most detrimental operational limitation to an operator is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Nearly every operational capability found in an operator’s quiver requires an FAA touchpoint. FAA staffing shortages of helicopter qualified FAA inspectors creates delays in processing of paperwork to include manual updates and scheduling of required flight checks. Additionally, if you’re an operator seeking a new or added certification capability such as a Part 133 or 135, the FAA’s new Certification Service Oversight Process (CSOP) may add months to years for an operator to gain approval.
How did we get to this point? The FAA didn’t recognize helicopter qualified FAA inspectors as equals to their fixed-wing brethren for decades. It’s only been about ten (10) years since the FAA began hiring helicopter-only FAA inspectors. Once hired, each FAA inspector had to go through FAA flight training and qualification, so a helicopter-centric FAA inspector training/checking program had to be developed. It was at this point industry believed the FAA had finally realized the value of helicopters and would staff this new group of FAA helicopter experts to match the requirements of an established helicopter industry.
It was quickly realized that the FAA’s hiring of helicopter inspectors was flawed as many new hires had little experience in the type of helicopters operated by industry. Most new FAA helicopter inspectors were coming from military backgrounds in an era where all military training was in turbine helicopters. This method of hiring eliminated the ability for these newly hired FAA inspectors to aid many piston helicopter operators, especially in the Robinson helicopter market.
It is important to note that the Robinson make/model aircraft represented most piston helicopter operations where the FAA has oversight, and nearly all Part 135 piston helicopters as well. An additional issue was the required Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 73 related to Robinson make/model piston helicopters. The FAA decided that piston training was required. Due to the FAA’s selection of a non-Robinson piston helicopter to train FAA inspectors, most inspectors remained non-Robinson make/model qualified even after their training program.
The FAA has since switched to a Robinson piston airframe which addressed this SFAR issue, but this issue was keenly apparent from the beginning, yet decisively ignored. Those within FAA at the time developing the helicopter training program came from an era that preceded the Robinson aircraft and decided a different path. This lack of awareness to the needs of operators to meet FAA requirements continue to plague the helicopter industry. The FAA does not have the qualified staffing to support industry FAA requirements, but they say they’re trying hard to get there.
An issue that contributes to the FAA’s challenge to hire helicopter-specific inspectors is the General Schedule (GS) pay scale for a helicopter FAA inspector. It is below that of their fixed-wing qualified FAA inspector brethren and often offered as a GS-11 to start ($56,983 Step One to $74,074 Step Ten). This compensation plan does have more to offer than shown here, but in many cases, the overall compensation package is below what industry is paying for the same level of required experience. Additionally, the ability to grow within the FAA as a helicopter-only FAA inspector is also limited.
FAA helicopter inspectors are the backbone of helicopter industry functionality. They must remain proficient, current, and available to an industry that is often unappreciative of their efforts.
Remember, as an operator we only have one certificate to manage, with their assistance. The average FAA inspector may have oversight of forty (40) certificates or more!
So, when you get the chance, just say Thank You.
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.
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