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Politics and Helicopters: Is There a Connection?

Posted 5 years 272 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

Wow, what an election year! Through all the speeches, promises, surprises, and upsets, we as an industry move on to another day. The question is: does any of this political stuff truly affect our industry? Simple answer: absolutely! 

I must first clarify that I’m not writing a politically-charged piece to satisfy my own personal political views. This piece highlights the connection that our industry (particularly our younger types that are maneuvering their newly found career throughout the political fallout of a hard-fought election cycle) may not be aware of, as it relates to the political process. Let’s look at a few examples…

Helicopter Tours 

This segment of our industry is highly dependent upon the client’s discretionary income. Domestic (US based) customers could be affected by basic life expenses to include healthcare costs. As an example, we can see where changes to the Affordable Care Act may influence a family’s ability to enjoy a tour of the Grand Canyon. International clients often depend on the ability to obtain a Visa to visit the United States. Changes to the US Immigration Policy could affect this process. Additionally, the currency exchange rate (the cost of a US dollar weighed against a foreign currency) will place a benefit or burden on whether an international tourist may enjoy a helicopter tour, or not!

Oil and Gas

Each side of the political aisle has varying views on HOW to make the US less energy dependent on foreign sources. The topic of increased drilling for oil produces hearty opinions from those on both sides of the political aisle. Gulf of Mexico helicopter operators directly support the operations of oil exploration, drilling, and production. Political parties are split on whether to increase permitting of US oil production.  Additionally, foreign relations and trade agreements directly affect the price of a barrel of oil. The value of oil is a key component to profit margins the oil companies enjoy. When margins are down, helicopter operations are one of the first to experience a downturn. Many within our oil and gas helicopter industry are currently experiencing some of these effects.

Law Enforcement

The past few years have been difficult on our Law Enforcement community. Every day we see national news related to Law Enforcement Officers engaged in some sort of community backlash. In many cases, there are political undertones that drive the law enforcement community’s response in these situations. One such case this past year was during a search for a dangerous suspect where the State Police helicopter needed scheduled maintenance. A local Sheriff’s Department had a retired military OH-58 that resumed the search for this suspect. The OH58 was still in previous Army green and this was observed by the Governor. Immediately the helicopter was called off the search. The reason…the Governor didn’t want the appearance that the military was engaged in the search. The Sheriffs’ Department used rollers to paint the aircraft white and resumed their mission. 

Additional issues within the Law Enforcement community include the reduction and elimination of the US Government’s 1033 program. This program provides for the issuance of retired military equipment to law enforcement entities. Helicopters fall into this program and have been in harm’s way of being cut from departments in many cases.

Air Medical

Did I mention the Affordable Care Act? Who pays, what is paid, and how much is paid are burning hot questions that our Air Medical providers are watching very closely.

In summary…Politics and Helicopters are not mutually exclusive. Political currents affect our industry, and we as Helicopter Industry Professionals must keep a finger on the political pulse that drives our segment of the industry. Our career’s may depend on it! 

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.  Randy is currently  Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.