Rotor & Wing International

State of the Industry

From the public service perspective.

This article has no central theme except some thoughts I have about the state of the industry. I would call it the State of the Union address, but I don’t have a team of writers to help me write, which should be obvious to the most casual observer. I also don’t enjoy the security of a Secret Service detail to keep me out of trouble. I might wind up in witness protection some day, but that’s another matter.

My consultant work keeps me involved in the airborne law enforcement market. This year I have had insight into upgrades installed on a Bell Helicopter 412 operated by the U.S. Park Service in Washington D.C. This is truly a state-of-the-art system, and I would suggest that anyone contemplating a ground-up surveillance program contact these folks and ask for an overview. I’m not going to go into details because I don’t know the sensitivities of the agency, but I’m sure other qualified agencies could get a peek.

The second program that got my attention is the U.S. Forest Service Firewatch in Redding, California. This program uses Bell Cobras to perform helicopter coordinator or air tactical group supervisor functions on wildland fires. For those of you not in that part of the business, these are command and control missions. Cameras with both visual and infrared sensors, downlinks and tactical moving map systems are employed — another program worth looking at if you are in the fire suppression business.

I also have been dismayed to see some less successful events. Two of these semi-failures have occurred for the same reason. Law enforcement agencies have written grants that named specific manufacturers of equipment to be acquired. In both cases, competitive products were available on the market. After taking delivery of the first of several of these products scheduled to be delivered over a multi-year contract, the agency decided that the equipment was not acceptable due to aftermarket support or operational deficiencies. Now the agency has a decision to make — change manufacturers and lose the grant money or go to the folks that granted the money and discuss a change in the grant. Both solutions have political issues inside and outside the agency. My suggestion is to write the grant with two extra words: or equivalent. You might not be able to write a sole-source contract, but honest competition never hurts. It just makes everyone involved work a little harder.

I attended the HAI-sponsored U.S. Forest Service Safety Meeting in Boise, Idaho, in November. The meeting was well attended, and I would suggest attending if you operate or sell to this market. Matt Zuccaro gave a general statement about all things helicopter, from drones to regulations and everything in between. Since the election had already occurred, Zuccaro was asked what he thought the results of a Trump administration might bode for the helicopter industry. His answer was, “Perhaps a little less regulations.”

He may be correct, but I don’t think regulations are our biggest concern as a industry. I believe what we need to worry about is the regulation-makers, who have tried to circumnavigate normal regulation processes due to a lack of congressional oversight. Whether a pilots’ body mass index, inlet barrier filters or the inspector causing the removal of a front door off a Jet Ranger are things that require a A&P license, these are all symbolic of what I see as large issues facing the industry and the country entirely.

It has been said that the downfall of this industry will be MBAs out of Stanford, Harvard or wherever. I concur with this thought. Certainly not because I’m smarter or more educated than these folks — I’m not.

What I see from a micro prospective is that these folks’ primary goal is to influence the stock of their respective companies in 90-day blocks. I have witnessed, as a consultant, decisions made that affect short-term gain but long-term pain for the company. One of the few things on which I agreed with Hillary Clinton was a statement she made regarding this issue. Clinton stated the requirement for publicly traded companies to make 90-day financial statements was counterproductive to good business decision-making and should be replaced by a once-a-year requirement. I think this would greatly help our industry. R&WI