The helicopter pilot shortage


A Bell 429 helicopter in flight.

Experts warn that the high training fees for helicopter pilots and mechanics may be harming the industry.
A Bell 429 helicopter in flight.

A Bell 429 helicopter in flight.

Our first helicopter finance conference in the US last week was a pretty upbeat affair. With new leasing companies explaining their plans and financiers including the US Ex-Im bank outlining their desire to support more helicopters, the prospects for the commercial helicopter finance market are good.

However, Matt Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Association International, warned there is a real chance that the industry could face a shortage of qualified pilots and mechanics in just a few years.

He estimates that it costs an individual $80,000 to become a flight instructor and that it takes two years to become a qualified mechanic. Clearly a lot of people cannot afford to pay for this and, more worryingly, Matt feels  now that most people have flown, some of the magic has worn off.

Even when people train to be aviation mechanics they are very attractive to other industries. Disney World just poached a lot of Embry Riddle graduates to work in their theme parks.

Clearly there is no point building helicopters if no one can fly them. But operators are working on solutions. Matt praised operators like Bristow which owns flight schools and Air Medical which has bought a helicopter tour operator for thinking outside the box.

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