Read More: Helinet Flies Ahead
June 08, 2020

Like many of her colleagues in aviation, Kathryn Purwin has gotten The Call—the one that delivers dreaded news about a loved one or coworker, the one that transforms your life into Before and After. Some time around Sep. 11, 2015, Kathryn learned that her husband, Alan Purwin, had been killed when the airplane he was on crashed in Colombia.

Best known for his film production work as a helicopter stunt pilot and aerial coordinator, Alan was the chairman of Helinet Aviation Services, a multimission helicopter operator based in Los Angeles. Since 1984, he had flown for nearly 150 movies and television productions, including the box-­office blockbusters Air Force One, Armageddon, The Fast and the Furious, Jurassic Park, and Transformers. Considered an innovative film production pilot, he was responsible for iconic stunts such as the helicopter chase scene in the 2003 movie The Italian Job.


Alan founded Helinet, originally called West Coast Helicopters, in 1987 at Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) in Los Angeles. Starting with a Bell 206 LongRanger, Alan and a partner, Michael Tamburro, provided flight services for several Los Angeles–based business professionals and athletes. In 1988, West Coast began transporting organs for LA-based transplant centers. Two years later, it secured its first newsgathering contract.

Charter, organ transport, electronic newsgathering—the fledgling helicopter company was acquiring a diverse list of missions. “I’ve watched this company grow from the very beginning,” says Kathryn. “I remember when Alan had one helicopter, one desk, and one phone line.”

Kathryn first met Alan at—where else?—an airport. She had attended the University of California, Los Angeles, with a double major in history and political science, intending to become a lawyer. But that plan was sidetracked when a friend took her flying. She was hooked.

Instead of a lawyer, Kathryn became a commercial pilot, flying business jets (she holds commercial multiengine and instrument fixed-wing ratings and also holds a helicopter license). When Alan started West Coast Helicopters, the two were already friends; they married in 1994. 

In 1998, Alan merged West Coast Helicopters with Helinet Aviation Services. His reputation as an aerial coordinator and stunt and production pilot for film and TV productions was growing, and the company was expanding into new missions, including helicopter air ambulance work and aircraft management.

With the birth of their children, Michaela and Kyle, Kathryn became less directly involved in the company. After Alan’s death, she didn’t initially plan to be an active owner of Helinet. There were all the other details that needed attention, and of course, her children. Besides, Alan had hired a management team three months before the accident.

Kathryn initially left it to that team to run the business. But without Alan to provide continuity, the company he had created was losing focus. He was a visionary, charismatic leader who could run a complex business out of his head. Replacing him as CEO seemed like an impossible task. 

“After he was gone, it wasn’t my original intent to come in,” says Kathryn. “But I saw that I needed to do that for Alan’s legacy to continue. He worked so hard for it. It was my commitment to Alan that I was going to keep this place alive. That’s why I came in, and that’s why I’m still here.”

Read More: Air Ambulances in a COVID-19 World
June 08, 2020

Air medical operators reset best practices and protective measures in the fight against an insidious pandemic.

In just a short time, the world has quickly become familiar with medical teams attired in full PPE (personal protective equipment) fighting to save lives in crowded hospitals. Helicopter air ambulance operators are also responding to the new normal of life during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, as they look to save lives on two fronts: their patients and their personnel.

An Initial Lull

When COVID-19 began to spread across the United States in late January 2020, air ambulance services experienced an initial deep drop in volume.

“One of the first things that happened is everything ground to a halt, which interestingly enough happened after 9/11, too,” says Tom Judge, executive director of LifeFlight of Maine, which operates three bases in the state. “The bottom dropped out for air medical, with a 50% decrease in volume—for both scene and interfacility transport.”

Jerry Splitt, Geisinger Medical Center’s program director, saw the same thing about his six bases across Pennsylvania. “Our volumes were consistent—and even on the increase. Then, suddenly a decrease. You know, they say the medical industry is recession-proof, but it’s not pandemic-proof. Reduced transports and procedures cut income.”

Although some of the decrease was attributed to the halting of elective procedures, another large contributing factor was stay-at-home orders issued by local governments. Fewer people on the roads and out being active leads to fewer trauma accidents requiring air transport.

Paul Schaaf, pilot for emergency medical services operator STAT MedEvac, experienced a decrease in pediatric transports for the same reasons. STAT MedEvac coordinates the operation of SkyBear, the rapid helicopter transport service of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

“I’m attributing [the decrease] to the kids not being in school or preschool catching the flu and other respiratory issues we used to fly them for,” Schaaf says. “They’re also not out in the woods or doing other activities that cause accidents, like snakebites, broken bones, etc. Parents are keeping kids close right now.”

Oddly, a sudden reduction in heart attack and stroke patients occurred at the same time, something that was also experienced after 9/11. These patients picked up again about the time the number of serious COVID-19 patients needing transport began to take off.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what causes this phenomenon,” says Rick Rohrbach, EMS Director at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey, about the sudden reduction in stroke and heart attack victims. “Maybe it’s because they were suddenly sitting at home on the couch. But the decrease … only lasted a few weeks.”

Sure enough, a few weeks into the stay-at-home orders, the scene changed. Typical respiratory-, heart-, and stroke-­related transports began to increase right about when COVID-19 patient transports began in earnest.

“We’re back to comparable volumes now, with COVID patients making up the difference from reduced trauma accidents,” says Rohrbach.


Read More: UAS Market Ready for a Breakout
June 08, 2020

The market for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) grows bigger every year, as more companies, industries, and governments find ways to use these aircraft. Because drones can easily carry lightweight cameras and other sensing equipment, they’re already utilized for inspection, surveillance, or data-gathering missions. But plans are under way to carry cargo and people, too.

“It depends on what study you read, but the commercial drone industry and light military [drone] market in 2018—in the US alone—was $2.6 billion. And by 2025 it will grow to $16.2 billion,” says Cameron Chell, co-founder and CEO of Canadian firm Draganfly, the world’s first commercial drone manufacturer.
Some studies suggest a much higher number. But whatever the real figure, there’s no denying the UAS industry’s current growth and prospects for more of it, regardless of where the hype surrounding the technology stands.

“I wouldn’t say all the hype is gone, but it is much reduced,” says Kay Wackwitz, a consulting aeronautical engineer and CEO of research and consulting firm Drone Industry Insights, based in Hamburg, Germany.

Most of the excitement generated in recent years has been aimed at attracting investment dollars to the small army of drone start-ups—and to the big ride-sharing companies like Uber that are itching to begin operating “flying taxis.” But a number of start-ups have scaled back their dreams, and some have even shut down after having learned how hard the technical challenges are, how long the road is to full certification, and how much of an investment would be required to produce a certificated and affordable finished product.

Read More: Steve Dickson’s 30,000-Foot View
June 08, 2020

FAA Administrator Stephen M. Dickson attended 12 different schools as his family moved to posts across the United States and around the world for his father’s career as a US Air Force pilot. After graduating from the US Air Force Academy, Dickson, too, flew for the Air Force. He moved to Delta Air Lines in 1991 to work as a line pilot and also earned a law degree along the way. After various stints in Delta management, including as chief pilot and senior VP of flight operations, Dickson retired … for a brief minute before being asked by US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to head the FAA. He was sworn in as the top US aviation official on Aug. 12, 2019.

ROTOR Editor Gina Kvitkovich sat down with Dickson in late January during his visit to HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 in Anaheim, California. This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.


ROTOR: What drew you to aviation and what made you stay?
Steve Dickson: It’s just a passion—it’s not like work to me. And aviation is something where you’re always learning and discovering new or better ways to do things.

Once I graduated from the academy, I wanted to fly and serve my country. That was another thing that was attractive about joining the FAA—it was a chance for things to come full circle and give something back to my country. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success in my business career; serving as FAA administrator was a chance for me to bring some of that perspective and be part of a team.

Do you still fly?
Not currently. I’ve got some other things I’m focused on right now, but I do plan to get qualified on the FAA’s aircraft. It’s always been important to me to lead by example.

One way the FAA is different from some other transportation authorities is that it has an operational mission. I think it’s important for the people at the FAA to see that their leader is out there with them and seeing the operation from the same perspective that they are.

I’m looking forward to rounding out my experience with GA [general aviation]. It actually has some similarities to military flying, where you’re kind of dispatching yourself, doing your own flight planning, and checking your own weather. With the pace of operations in a commercial airline environment, that’s all being done by the ops center.

What are your priorities as FAA administrator?
I came into the agency with a 90-day plan that I laid out on the first day for Secretary Chao, which of course falls closely in line with her overall transportation strategy. The agency is in the process of developing our five-year strategic plan, and I’ve got five strategy pillars.

The first and most important one, not surprisingly, is safety. And that’s safety as both a regulator and an operator of the airspace. We have to be able to do both.

The second pillar is global leadership. The United States has a responsibility to lead in safety and operations and in all aspects of commercial aviation around the world. In my observation, even before I arrived at the agency, when the FAA shows up somewhere, stakeholders really listen to what the FAA has to say. That’s not always true with other regulatory authorities, even fairly mature ones.

Over the years, the FAA has done more than any other regulatory authority to promote aviation safety around the world. But we do it through openness. With the United States being an open society and an open people in general, we’re very inclusive and collaborative by nature. Developing authorities around the world have really benefited from the mentoring and support the FAA has provided over the years, sometimes through ICAO [the International Civil Aviation Organization], other times through bilateral relationships, and other times through regional relationships. There’s an important mentoring role we can play.

The third pillar is operational excellence. This is really about operationalizing NextGen. We must make sure that we continue to invest in our infrastructure and do the needed physical modifications and modernization of the system—but we also need to make sure we’re getting operational benefits out of these investments.

The fourth pillar is innovation. This is where our approach to airspace integration is so important. Look at the commercial space sector. I had no idea, when I came into the agency, how involved the FAA is in licensing commercial space operations. We have 11 space ports around the country. A decade ago, we would have three or four commercial launches a year. This year, we’re close to 50 launches.

The FAA can’t continue to block off large swaths of airspace for these launches as we’ve done historically, so we’re developing technology to manage airspace more surgically, more dynamically. We’re developing systems so we can actually ingest the trajectory data and the predictive data off of the planned launches and reentries. Eventually, they’ll be displayed on the controller’s scopes so that we can manage operations much more dynamically.

This is really the most exciting period in aviation history, probably back to, I would say, the advent of the jet engine or maybe even the DC-3. That’s because of the innovation we see on the HAI HELI-EXPO show floor. You’re talking about fly-by-wire helicopters, developments with synthetic vision, and the rule-making we’re having to do around UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] and commercial space to enable all of these different capabilities to operate in the same airspace. It’s extremely exciting.

The final strategy pillar is about people. When it comes to recruiting and training, there’s an internal aspect to it in terms of staffing the FAA, but there’s an industry side to it as well. We need to mentor young people to understand the opportunities that exist in our industry, not only within the agency but also in the private sector.

Actually, I just reviewed the candidates who had applied to be on the Women in Aviation advisory board that was mandated in the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill. We had about 200 submittals for 20 slots. There are many accomplished people and stakeholders who have applied, but we need to get some diversification in terms of age and experience, because there may be some knowledge about the best way to reach young people that somebody my age might not pick up on.

The FAA will also convene different stakeholder groups and see where the opportunities are to promote aviation. There are a lot of good things happening around the industry, but they’re kind of piecemeal and fragmented. I think there’s a way we can coordinate our efforts effectively.

There are so many different ways into aviation now that didn’t exist years ago. A lot of what we need to do is get the message out about these opportunities to groups who may not be familiar with aviation. For many people, if they’ve never had a connection to aviation or no one in their family has been in aviation, they just aren’t aware of it.

As far as my strategy for the FAA workforce goes, the agency has to work to more systematically allow our people to have satisfying careers and ensure they have a broad perspective of the entire agency. My experience in large technical organizations like an airline or the military is that people who have subject-matter expertise in a particular technical discipline tend to want to matriculate and be promoted within that discipline. But if they haven’t had any exposure to the rest of the business or the rest of the enterprise, it can be challenging to find your best leaders.

The best engineer or the best mechanic or the best pilot may not actually be the best leader for the organization. 

We’ve got to systematically give folks the support and programs to be able to broaden as they’re promoted throughout their careers. We’re going to be doing some things internally, as well, to make our employee development more robust, so that we’re not just looking within our own technical disciplines for leaders.

Where are the opportunities to improve GA safety? 
That’s something I’m looking forward to working on with Jim [Viola, HAI president and CEO,] because I know he’s got a lot of experience in that area. [Viola was head of GA safety assurance for the FAA before he moved to HAI.]

I think the opportunity with GA safety is to continue to drill down on data. How do we develop a system that’s going to allow us to make the same kind of significant improvements we’ve seen in commercial airline travel?

It will require using the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee and the US Helicopter Safety Team and putting the same types of resources, focus, and attention on GA safety. Our vision is that no accident is acceptable. We don’t want anybody to ever get hurt or killed on an aircraft.

There’s always going to be operational pressure, because aviators tend to be very mission-oriented and -driven. Pilots are driven by a checklist, mechanics are driven by work cards—they want to get the task done. Well, sometimes you have to sit back and say, “OK; let’s set the parking brake,” or, “Let’s land and live.”

Let’s do whatever we need to do to say, “This is probably not a good idea. Let’s stop the operation, let’s let the weather pass, let’s talk about our game plan,” and then move forward from there.

We’ve got to be able to bring people together to have those kinds of conversations, but those conversations have to be rooted in data. We just need to figure out how to adapt the information we have to the GA environment so we can understand each other’s perspectives.

So the FAA will continue to focus on data as a key method of improving safety?
Another element of my innovation strategy is the digital transformation of the FAA so that we’re able to ingest and utilize data more effectively. We have a lot of data, but it’s compartmentalized and not easily combined and reshaped for different purposes.

Let’s look at the historical continuum of how the aviation industry has dealt with safety issues. The following example is focused on commercial airline operations, but I think it’s instructive. 

When you think about commercial aviation safety up until probably the 1970s or 1980s, it was really the blame game. It was always pilot error or the engine caught fire or the weather was bad. You didn’t have the data to go in and look at root causes.

Then we moved toward more disciplined, post-accident investigations, where it was more of a forensic approach. It’s the way we investigate accidents now, where you go in and you really look at all aspects—the human factors, the machine, the operating environment, the training records, and whatever else. So we moved from the blame game to forensics.

Then we moved from forensics to a proactive approach, and that’s where we are now. We have voluntary safety reporting programs, and we have data from flight-data monitoring and flight operational quality assurance that’s streaming off of engines and airplanes. We have other types of employee reporting and agency audits.

Then you have a team sift and filter that data to figure out what’s important, what the threats are, and what changes need to be made. This approach does allow you to be more proactive, but it’s an analog process.

We’re moving to a world where the data sources talk to each other. Maybe you’re online looking at a new TV, and then later these pop-up ads for TVs show up. These commercial companies know a lot about you by analyzing the data they’ve collected about you.

But we don’t have the same kind of visibility into a pilot. For example, when you look at a pilot who’s being put into the operation that day, what is their readiness level for that day? We need to look at their schedule, their qualification, their checkrides. That’s the people data. Then there’s the data on the machine. Then what about the operating environment? What’s the mission, what’s the tempo, what’s the weather?

This information comes from very different data sources. But imagine if we could bring that in and combine it with some machine learning or artificial intelligence. So the question isn’t just, “Do I want that pilot?” It’s, “Do I want to pair a captain with less than 100 hours with a new-hire first officer flying their first ride into Midway, a place with high-tempo operations where the shorter runway can be challenging?” 

That’s where you start to get into predictive analysis, where you look at the data to make a better-informed decision rather than reacting after the fact. You might say, “This mission meets the rules, but is that really a risk that we want to take on?” So you change the experience levels of the crew pairing, or you substitute a different equipment type, or you wait for the weather to clear, or you do whatever you can to reduce the risk. That’s what I’m pushing forward to.

Right now, there are a lot of data-driven processes within the FAA, but I want to bring all of that together into a common data lake. We can then use and manipulate that data for different purposes. For example, an aviation safety inspector’s personnel information is segregated from their training qualifications, even though it’s the same person. I want to bring all that together, because I may want to query it for different purposes. And that’s just one example.

You have to be able to translate the data into some kind of actionable information. And that’s the challenge.

What progress is being made on integrating UAS, or drones, into the National Airspace System?
The FAA has an excellent leader in Jay Merkle, who came from our Air Traffic Organization and is now overseeing our UAS integration team. He’s doing a good job of engaging stakeholders and bringing together the different lines of business within the FAA.

It’s a tall order to actually integrate UAS operations into the airspace system, but I think it’s the right strategy. Some stakeholders would rather see us establish certain routes or restrictions on UAS, but I think that would severely hamper the development of a technology that will be very beneficial to society. 

But we’ve got to manage the integration through a logical process. So we’ve tried to use our existing regulatory structure to do that. The challenge has been to create a pilot program in which we can test certain business opportunities in certain applications so that when we actually do write the rules, we write them in the most beneficial way to be able to continue that development.

Right now, it’s hard to say what things are going to look like five years from now. Every time you think you’ve got a good idea of what the trajectory is going to be, there are new innovations out there and new opportunities. We want to be supportive, and we don’t want to cut off any of that innovation. At the same time, we have to get some things out there first, like remote ID, so we can have a broader scale beyond visual-line-of-sight operations and operations over people.

Not everyone agrees on how we’re approaching UAS integration. We’ve got to make sure we understand their perspectives, but they’ve got to understand that the FAA oversees a system. We can’t favor one part of the country or one constituency over another. There will have to be some compromises and some trade-offs.

There are entities, such as cities, communities, and our security or law enforcement partners, that have certain interests that we have to account for when we write rules. And we have certain societal considerations, like noise, privacy, and data, that we’ve got to consider when we make rules, even as the safety regulator.

Our tremendously diverse and dynamic NAS makes it more challenging to do that. In some places, there isn’t as much GA activity. But in the United States, we have a diverse, robust GA sector with lots of different types of operations and a large helicopter sector. These opportunities create a lot of complexity that has to be managed.

But that’s something to be cherished. It makes the US aviation system much more diverse and complicated than anywhere else in the world. That’s one reason I think the FAA is still, by a large margin, the leading aviation authority in the world, because it has to bring together all these disparate elements, and that’s exciting.

Getting back to the subject of UAS integration, it goes back to fundamental questions, such as who’s responsible for the US airspace. Well, the answer depends on what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about civil airspace, it’s the FAA. If you’re talking about defense, it’s NORAD [the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US–Canadian organization that conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning in the defense of North America] and USNORTHCOM [the US Northern Command, the US Department of Defense command dedicated to homeland defense].

The Department of Defense is an airspace user as well. The ADS-B mandate was a good example of that. We had to create some opportunities for the military to be able to operate in a way that civil aircraft wouldn’t be able to within the system—a military aircraft doesn’t always want to broadcast its location. We certainly have to take DOD’s needs into consideration when we write rules.

From the FAA’s perspective, how did the ADS-B Out equipage mandate go?
Thanks to a lot of work and a lot of preparation on the part of all segments of the industry, I think it’s been going well. The compliance has been probably as we expected. There have been a few little surprises here and there with some operators, mostly foreign operators, that we’re dealing with.

As you get into any situation where you’ve got different aircraft avionics configurations, there have been some difficulties because there’s not just the ADS-B transponder, there are also multimode receivers and other things that are part of the architecture. 

There were difficulties with some manufacturers that showed up within the past year that are going to have to be remediated. But it’s a relatively small number of operators who were dealing with that.

Any surprises about the job of being FAA administrator?
Nothing happens as fast as you want it to happen. That’s certainly one observation. 

I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the people whom I have the privilege of working with in the agency, and that’s something that I appreciate every day. I love being part of a team that’s trying every day to make a difference and improve a system that already operates at an extremely high level. 

Finally, I get to learn more about different segments of the industry, some of which I was more familiar with than others. It’s been a great experience so far.

Read More: Learning to Survive a Helicopter Ditching
June 08, 2020

Ditching a helicopter in water isn’t an ideal way to end a flight, but as with everything flight related, training for such an eventuality improves your ability to, if not walk, at least dog-paddle away as safely as possible.

Depending on the environment, flight regime, equipment, skill, and luck, a water landing might mirror a ground landing and result in the aircraft resting comfortably upright on floats in placid water. Then again, elements of the environment, regime, equipage, skill, or luck might fail and you could find yourself in an inverted aircraft sinking in dark, stormy seas. Your fate might then rest entirely in your own hands—a destiny much more in your control if you’ve trained for that possibility beforehand.

I’ve recently flown several missions over the Gulf of Mexico. Even though I was wearing a life jacket and the aircraft had floats, when you fly over miles and miles of water, you do wonder how you would fare in a ditching incident.

With those experiences in mind, I audited “Aviation Survival and Egress Training with Emergency Breathing Devices,” a course teaching the skills needed to survive a helicopter ditching. The class, provided by Survival Systems USA of Groton, Connecticut, as part of HAI’s professional education program at HAI HELI-EXPO 2020, was a packed day that included both classroom lecture and in-pool practice.

Read More: Cautious Optimism Marks HAI HELI-EXPO 2020
June 05, 2020

Safety and steady growth take the main stage  at this year’s show.

HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 kicked off in Anaheim, California, in a somber yet determined mood. On Jan. 26, the day before the show opened, Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend Kobe Bryant and eight others perished in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, just 55 miles north of Anaheim. The accident and loss of life hit the tight-knit helicopter community hard while also leading to increased public scrutiny of the industry and its safety record.

Safety, First and Foremost

With the Calabasas accident fresh on everyone’s mind, safety continued to be a main theme at HAI HELI-EXPO®. More than 3,180 attendees participated in 30 professional education courses and 60 free Rotor Safety Challenge sessions, most of which were devoted to improving safety in some aspect of the vertical lift industry.

New HAI President and CEO James A. Viola drew on his personal passion and professional background in safety when addressing the media and the association’s membership. The former director of general aviation safety assurance for the FAA, US Army helicopter pilot, and the organizer of the US Helicopter Safety Team, Viola emphasized the importance of keeping safety as an essential activity for the industry.

“High-profile accidents and incidents bring more visibility, and not in a positive way for the industry,” Viola said at his introductory press conference on Jan. 27. “If there’s any connection to what we’re doing this week, it’s that this industry really goes out of its way to try to make sure we provide the safest environment possible. Zero accidents—that’s the vision, the goal, because no loss of life is acceptable.”

In addition to multiple safety courses, HAI for the first time created a safety kiosk near the show floor main entrance. Safety-focused affiliate organizations that typically have booths on the show floor were co-located in the kiosk, offering a front-and-center safety access point for all attendees. Participants included NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, the International Helicopter Safety Foundation, the Tour Operators Program of Safety, the FAA Safety Team, and the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team.

At the HAI Annual Membership Meeting on Jan. 28, FAA Administrator Stephen M. Dickson spoke about the industry’s safety challenges and how the agency is working to solve them. (To read ROTOR’s exclusive interview with Dickson during Expo, see p. 46.) With unmanned aircraft systems and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft quickly moving from prototype to testing, Dickson emphasized that those passengers will demand the very high level of safety achieved by airlines—a benchmark the helicopter industry has yet to meet.

Dickson also questioned the current climate in the helicopter industry in which, more often than not, accidents could have been avoided. If the industry can’t change that climate, it will be forced to, he said. “There’s a lot of energy in Congress as it relates to safety and noise concerns. If we can’t take meaningful action on both of these fronts very soon, I suspect that path forward might be dictated to us,” Dickson said.

Read More: Viola Assumes Leadership of HAI
January 20, 2020

Sets course for international growth and increased member services.

James A. Viola assumed the leadership of HAI on Jan. 16, 2020. As the president and CEO of the association, the seventh since its founding in 1948, Jim is responsible for carrying out the Board of Directors’ vision while overseeing the professional staff and day-to-day operations.

Jim comes to HAI after careers in the US Army, where he first learned to fly, and the FAA. In both organizations, he rose from the ranks to positions of authority. “I like to get things done, to influence things, instead of just sitting back and saying, ‘Well, I wish that hadn’t happened,’ ” says Jim.

US Army and FAA Careers

Jim’s first solo under powered flight may have occurred during army flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, but he also remembers fashioning cardboard wings and jumping off his friend’s garage roof as a child. Perhaps that experience also sparked his concern for aviation safety.

Jim grew up in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. After graduation, the high school track star attended college at nearby East Stroudsburg University. While still in school, Jim enlisted in the US Army Reserves, where his experience in basic training encouraged him to enroll in the US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Jim was an infantry officer when he saw an ad in the Army Times looking for second lieutenants who wanted to go to flight school. He jumped at the chance. After flight school and assignments in South Korea and with the 82nd Airborne, Jim volunteered for the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. In one of many deployments, he was sent to Somalia in 1993 (and later served as the army’s representative on the set of Black Hawk Down, the Hollywood film about the Battle of Mogadishu).

Jim concluded his army career at the rank of colonel with a stint at the Pentagon as the division chief of Army Aviation, Current Operations. Along the way, he picked up three advanced degrees, including a master’s in international relations from Auburn University and a master’s in strategic studies from the US Army War College.

Jim retired from the US Army in 2008, intent on a job in civil aviation. His goal was to set up a flight school, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stay in the federal government and joined the FAA as an aviation safety inspector (ASI). Over the next several years, he rose steadily through the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, which sets, oversees, and enforces certification standards for US airmen and operators. He concluded his FAA service as the director of General Aviation Safety Assurance, responsible for overseeing safety in the US GA community.

In this post, Jim led a staff responsible for more than 2,500 FAA employees with 78 offices around the United States. During his tenure in the job, Jim attempted to address one of the aviation community’s biggest complaints: the perceived lack of standardization in FSDO operations.

“When you come to a FSDO with an issue, you shouldn’t get that FSDO’s answer; you should get the FAA’s answer—which should be explained and enforced in the same way across the country. Where you ask the question or where you apply for the certificate shouldn’t matter,” he says. Jim encouraged the FSDOs to develop shared resources, in part to create operational efficiencies and in part to develop connections between what industry wags call “the individually owned and operated” FSDOs.

In his personal life, Jim is close to his two daughters, Danielle and Shauna, and their families, including his “3.5 grandchildren”— two boys, one girl, and one on the way. He is also an active community volunteer. He is the D.C.–area representative for his university, and he regularly flies for Operation Flying Heroes, an organization that uses an OH-6 and R44 to fly combat-wounded veterans and their families. The mission is to get the service member, whose last helicopter flight was probably a medical evacuation, back in the air and to introduce their young family members to aviation.

Lifelong Aviator

A lifelong aviator, Jim holds ATP ratings for both helicopters and airplanes and is a dual-rated CFII. He has more than 6,000 hours of flight time, including 1,100 hours in night-vision goggles, and still flies regularly.

“If I can fly once a week, at least, that’s great. If I haven’t flown in a month, then I’m miserable,” he says.

Jim runs a partnership in a Grumman AG-5B Tiger that he hangars at the Montgomery County Airpark (KGAI) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, near his home in Alexandria, Virginia. “Both of my partners are working on their instrument tickets, so providing instrument instruction to them keeps me sharp. I also fly an R44 out of that airport; the owner lets me fly it whenever I want in exchange for being his safety pilot / flight instructor.”

Jim has flown more than 70 types of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, including the following helicopter models: the Hughes TH-55 Osage, Bell UH-1 Iroquois, Bell OH-58 Kiowa (both Alpha and Charlie models), Bell AH-1 Cobra, Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, MD Helicopters MD530, Boeing CH-47 Chinook, and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.

Ask Jim for his favorite, and he immediately says, “The front seat in the Cobra is a great ride, especially because you got the side stick controls. Unlike most helicopters, where you have the rotor over your head, the Cobra’s front seat is way in front of the aircraft’s center of gravity, so you’re just out there. I love the front seat in a Cobra.”

But Jim can’t stop there. “If you want to ride a motorcycle, then you get the MD 530, five blades and plenty of horsepower. You feel like you can just strap it on your back, and you can get in and out of tight spots. If it’s a really nasty, bad-weather day, then you can get in a Chinook and go IFR high and far, especially with the MH-47’s air-to-air refueling capability, where I could get gas on the go at 110 knots.”

Solving Problems for People

During Jim’s career, he has consistently gravitated to positions of leadership. “I was always very interested in being a teacher. In fact, that’s originally what I thought I’d go to college for. I really enjoy being a flight instructor, which I was certified for as a civilian, not in the military. Being able to have someone walk in with zero knowledge and then seeing them do a solo and  then get a rating—it’s very rewarding.”

Military service also had its teaching moments. “As a military officer, a lot of responsibility for education comes with the job. Being a commander is really about teaching your soldiers and pilots how to do the right things and do them well. Prior to the FAA, I had planned to become a designated pilot examiner, which again is really about the training and certification of pilots and helping that pilot maintain his or her proficiencies.

“But inside the FAA as an ASI I quickly realized that to achieve some of the changes that I thought were necessary, doing it one pilot at a time was not going to work,” Jim says. “So that’s when I decided to focus on moving up in the organization to get to positions that would deliver a wider sphere of influence.

“Working at the Pentagon was challenging, but it was very educational for me to go to the highest level of my organization and see how it operates. I basically did the same thing at the FAA, starting out as an ASI and then working my way back to headquarters. In each case, I then did my best to support the folks in the field, using my knowledge of how both field and headquarters work.”

An individual member of HAI since 2008, Jim intends to use the same approach now that he’s the association’s president and CEO. “What I plan on now is to take my knowledge of working at the highest levels of US aviation and then expanding that to the international level. How can HAI, as an association, best represent the membership around the world and be proactive to where the industry is going?”

In fact, Jim has a few ideas on the future direction of the industry. “First, I think we need to do better with the integration of drone operators. In my view, we want to as soon as possible have unmanned vehicles do all of our dirty, dull, and dangerous work, so we don’t put humans in jeopardy. And because the US aviation rules have been fairly restrictive, there is a lot we can learn from the drone industries in other countries.”

There is also the challenge posed by the rapid changes in aviation. “The world has changed a lot in the last 10 years, and it’s going to change more in the next 10,” says Jim. “General aviation is increasingly incorporating all sorts of aircraft that aren’t strictly helicopters, including drones and autonomous vehicles. I favor an approach where we gather under our umbrella not just helicopters, but all the aircraft that fit our operational profile: everything that operates at low altitudes, is capable of vertical takeoff and landing, and is not restricted to airports.”

Another big issue concerns the attempts to weaken the FAA’s authority over the US airspace. “That would be very bad because that’s one thing that we do so well in the United States and why we have the safest skies in the world. If we had to administer airspace on a state-by-state basis, it would be a nightmare. And that’s why HAI has been such a strong opponent of these proposals for local control of airspace.”

Vision for HAI

As part of the selection process, Jim presented to the Board of Directors a vision for HAI’s future. They obviously liked what they saw, but Jim says that vision needs to be developed further before it can be turned into a strategic plan for the organization.

“I put this vision together as part of the recruitment process. It was a great exercise for me as a candidate and for the board. Now I need to go back to the staff and members to ensure that this is a vision that is actionable and, most importantly, reflects what the members want and need. To succeed, it has to be a shared vision for the entire organization.”

When asked if he has a specific message for HAI members, Jim says, “I’d really like to know what keeps them up at night. How can HAI help them? That’s our job as an association, to take the weight off of our members. They can concentrate on what they need to do, knowing that we have a handle on the issue and HAI is going to work for them.”

Jim welcomes feedback from the members; feel free to start a conversation by sending your message to him at

Read More: Living with ADS-B
January 20, 2020

Your questions about the new FAA regulation answered.

It’s 2020, and the Jan. 1 ADS-B implementation date we’ve been talking about since 2010 has finally come and gone.

I know what you may be thinking: “not another ADS-B article.” Well, it’s not my intention to lay out another history of ADS-B or describe what you need to equip. There are countless articles and website resources about those topics (see, for example, from Fall 2018 ROTOR, “ADS-B: It’s Crunch Time,”

But if you’re like many members who’ve contacted HAI, you may still have questions about the new rule. Let’s try to address the most common ones here.

What if I fly through ADS-B Out rule airspace without the proper equipment?

I can’t speak for the FAA, but I suspect that if you fly without the proper equipment, you’ll have to answer to someone at the agency and that some type of enforcement action will certainly be a potential outcome. However, if you didn’t willfully violate the new regulation, the FAA might choose to issue you a compliance action instead. Under the FAA’s Compliance Program and the just culture that underlies it, you may be able to avoid being assessed a violation by agreeing to the terms of the compliance action, such as completing retraining or counseling, perhaps at some cost to you. (See a related story from Fall 2018 ROTOR, “After the Violation of an FAR,”

What if I need to operate in an area covered by ADS-B Out but I don’t have the equipment installed or it’s inoperative?

You may be able to get an exception from the FAA, called a deviation, to operate without ADS-B equipment under certain conditions and at certain times of day. To learn more about deviations and how to request one, check out the FAA’s Statement of Policy for Authorizations to Operators of Aircraft that are Not Equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out Equipment ( This document, published in April 2019, does a very good job of clearly explaining the policy and laying out much of its background.

The FAA’s authority to grant ADS-B Out deviations is described under Title 14 CFR 91.225(g), which states that deviation requests must be made to the “ATC [air traffic control] facility having jurisdiction over the concerned airspace.” Section 91.255(g) also specifies a couple of submission time lines based on your circumstances.

The first time line is for aircraft with inoperative ADS-B Out equipment: you’ve installed it on your aircraft, but for some reason it’s not working that day. In those situations, for operation “to the airport of ultimate destination, including any intermediate stops, or to proceed to a place where suitable repairs can be made or both, the request may be made at any time.”

The second time line applies to aircraft that aren’t equipped with ADS-B Out capability. A deviation to operate an unequipped aircraft may be requested but must be made at least one hour “before the proposed operation.” Also, these requests may not be submitted more than 24 hours prior to the proposed flight.

How do I submit a request for deviation?

The tool established by the FAA that allows you to make deviation requests is the ADS-B Deviation Authorization Pre-Flight Tool (ADAPT). The tool is Web-based and can be found on the FAA’s website at

All civil aircraft operators can use ADAPT, but the design of the tool was based on the projected needs of Part 91 operators. What this means is that the tool can be used by, for example, a Part 135 operator, but it’s not intended for routine or otherwise scheduled operations. The FAA has very clearly stated that ADAPT wasn’t designed to enable operators to skirt ADS-B Out requirements.

This all sounds complicated. How does ADAPT work?

It’s really not so bad. When you enter ADAPT, your first step will be to input your flight information in the Flight Information Entry section of the tool. You’ll recognize the section, as it looks very much like the old FAA flight plan we used for years.

The information you enter will be used in an initial analysis to determine whether you even need a deviation. If it’s determined that you do, you’ll be directed to the next Web page, where you’ll enter additional details about your intended flight before you submit your request to the FAA for consideration.

One important note: you must make sure the email address you provide is correct. That’s critical because the FAA’s official approval of your request will be delivered ONLY to that email address.

What should I expect to hear back from the FAA?

Once you’ve submitted your deviation request, you’ll get one of three responses from the FAA: approved, denied, or pending.

For an approved request, you’ll receive an email that provides the approval, plain and simple. Make sure you keep this correspondence, as it’s the official record of the request and approval.

If you receive a denied response, it simply means the flight couldn’t be approved as requested. Unfortunately, the FAA won’t be able to specify in the notice exactly why your request was denied. It may be possible to gain approval of the deviation by resubmitting your request using a different flight route, time of flight, and so on, that may be acceptable to the ATC facility with approval authority. In other circumstances, such as an inoperative transponder with altitude encoding (which should be installed for an ADAPT approval), the system may automatically deny the request every time.

Finally, if you receive a pending response, it’s just letting you know that some degree of manual review is necessary on the FAA’s part. This could be for several reasons. The bottom line for the submitter is that it will just take a little more time to receive a more definitive response.

It’s also important to note that ADAPT has been in development for quite some time, and the FAA smartly leveraged several industry professionals and associations to build and test an effective tool and to ensure its smooth launch. Our industry was an active participant in the development of the ADAPT program, a testament to the FAA’s continued commitment to sustaining strong partnerships with the aviation community. Finally, if you have ideas for improving the system, the agency has a feedback tool on its website.

What resources does the FAA have that could help me better understand and comply with ADS-B Out?

The ADAPT website offers several resources to walk you through the submission process, including a tutorial video and a user guide. In addition, the agency has assumed a very proactive outreach position, making itself available to answer questions and closely partnering with aviation groups. You’ll also see FAA ADS-B representatives at aviation industry events.

The point is, there are several great resources to help you through your ADS-B transition, and I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with them. At HAI, we’ve learned that the more you work with regulatory issues, the less complex they become. I think you’ll find the same to be true of ADAPT.

Additional Resources

From the FAA

From ROTOR magazine

Read More: Best Practices for Preflight Inspection and Cargo Security
January 20, 2020

It’s a basic task for pilots—and a fundamental part of flight safety.

The US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) has reviewed 123 fatal accidents that occurred between 2009 and 2013 to find common causal factors and develop recommendations for reducing those risks. The resulting recommendations for safety improvements are called Helicopter Safety Enhancements (H-SE) (learn more at

One of these enhancements is H-SE #28, Helicopter Final Walk-Around and Security of External Cargo. This enhancement resulted from several fatal accidents where the pilots’ failure to conduct a proper preflight inspection and walk-around were causal factors. You would think that this is Helicopter 101, but pilots are still killing themselves and others by not properly addressing this task.

H-SE #28 derives directly from 14 CFR 91.7, which states, “The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight.” An adequate preflight inspection and final walk-around are key to fulfilling this responsibility. Postflight inspection can also help to identify issues prior to the next flight.

Better guidance on how and why to conduct a proper preflight and walk-around, as well as increased attention to their importance, may mitigate such events in the future. Therefore, the USHST, with the help of helicopter operators, safety professionals, aircraft manufacturers, and the HAI Safety Working Group, has developed guidance to reinforce the basic pilot skills used in conducting these inspections.

The list is not all inclusive, and each recommendation can be expanded per pilot preference. Going back to basics may sound elementary, but refocusing on these basic tasks will help reduce helicopter accidents and save lives.

Recommended Practices for Helicopter Preflight Inspection, Final Walk-Around, and Postflight Inspection

No Rushing. Allow adequate time to conduct mission planning and preflight inspections. Don’t rush these flight-critical tasks.

No Distractions. Enforce a “no distraction” policy during preflight inspections. This includes unnecessary conversations, eating or drinking, or using technology devices for purposes not directly related to the preflight inspection.

No Interruptions. Avoid interruptions during a preflight inspection. If interrupted during a preflight, before resuming the inspection, go back at least two steps before the interruption occurred. If you can’t recall where that is, start from the beginning.

Formal Checklist. Refer to a printed or electronic checklist during preflight inspections, noting steps completed or items of concern.

Preflight Kit. Prepare and make available a preflight kit that includes all materials needed to ensure a complete inspection, including flashlights, gloves, printed or electronic copies of the preflight inspection checklist, and any other tools or materials needed to assess the aircraft, including work stands or ladders. Include the preflight kit in your tool control program.

FRAT. Update your flight risk assessment tool (FRAT) score to reflect any items of concern discovered during the preflight inspection. Operators, add a section to your FRAT that prompts pilots to include preflight items.

Pilot Briefing. The pilot in command, not just ground-operation personnel, must conduct a preflight briefing for passengers.

Solid Footing. Watch out when stepping on aircraft surfaces, even nonskid ones, particularly when they’re wet. Always use two points of contact.

Secure Aircraft. Conduct a thorough assessment of all readily accessible areas during preflight inspections. Ensure  that panels, cargo, and passenger doors are secured. During adverse weather or environmental conditions, take extra care to ensure these checks are completed.

Rotor Clearance. Ensure that both main and tail rotor covers and tie-downs are removed and securely stowed. Verify that blade-tip paths are clear of potential obstacles. Before you manually move a rotor blade, provide an audible alert so that other personnel can maintain a safe distance.

Ground-Handling Wheels. Remove and securely stow ground-handling wheels.

Fuel Cap. Always check that fuel caps are securely fastened.

Fuel Level. Use a trusted method, such as a dipstick, to visually verify your fuel level. Don’t use the aircraft fuel gauge as your sole method of verifying fuel levels.

Red Flag. Place a clear warning indicator, such as a red cover, over the cyclic or seat of the aircraft awaiting a preflight inspection. Pilots may remove it only after completing a thorough preflight and final walk-around inspection. Verify that flight control covers or other warning devices don’t indicate a grounding condition.

Flight Controls. Verify that all red flags are removed and that flight controls are in the correct position and setting before starting the aircraft. Pay particular attention to the throttle setting to prevent a hot start.

Personal Items. Ensure that all personnel secure headgear and other personal items when on the flight line.

Final Walk-around. After completing the preflight inspection, conduct a final walk-around before getting into the aircraft. A pilot or trained crew member should always be the last person to get into the aircraft.

Final Rotor Check. Before starting the aircraft, perform a final visual confirmation that the main and tail rotors are untied and tip paths are clear of any obstacles.

Postflight Inspection. Conduct a postflight inspection of aircraft, looking for fluids, unusual wear, or damage to aircraft. 

Read More: The Return of Single-Engine IFR Helicopters
January 20, 2020

Bell and Leonardo bring IFR-capable aircraft to market.

This past summer, our industry welcomed back an old friend, one that hadn’t been seen in the US market since 1999: the single-engine helicopter certificated for flight under IFR conditions (SE-IFR). In July 2019, Leonardo received an FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) for the first SE-IFR helicopter in more than two decades, the TH-119. Less than a month later, Bell received an STC for its 407 GXi to operate under instrument flight rules.

It’s no coincidence that both of these exciting new entrants arrived so recently. These first certifications are the culmination of decades of work behind the scenes, in both technology and regulation. The paths the two manufacturers took to certification, however, are vastly different.

SE-IFR: A History

To truly understand the SE-IFR issue, it’s important to understand how we got here.

Helicopter flight rules for instrument conditions made their first appearance in the 1970s. At the time, single-engine rotorcraft conducted IFR flights regularly, well before the advent of GPS, glass cockpits, and digital autopilot systems. The rules these helicopters were certificated under, found in Appendix B of 14 CFR Part 27, Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Rotorcraft, hadn’t changed significantly since the early 1980s.

In 1999, the FAA issued AC 27-1B, Certification of Normal Category Rotorcraft. This document, which was a total revision of AC 27-1A, issued in 1997, dictated the extinction of SE-IFR rotorcraft.

AC 27-1B in essence incorporated into Part 27 numerical safety analysis methods as a way of determining OEM compliance in meeting safety standards. The advisory circular (AC) required helicopter manufacturers to prove that critical aircraft systems had an “extremely improbable” failure rate of one in 1 billion. In other words, OEMs had to demonstrate that these systems would incur only one failure in 1 billion hours of runtime. Any critical onboard system that couldn’t meet this failure rate was required to be duplicated, with redundancy providing an additional safety margin.

Overnight, single-engine IFR helicopters became cost and weight prohibitive.

In 2003, AC-1B was revised again, raising the bar even higher. This time, the AC defined loss of function of attitude, airspeed, or barometric altitude instruments, or conditions that would cause those instruments to issue hazardously misleading readings, as individually “catastrophic” when operating in instrument conditions. Industry interpretation of this change was that triple-redundant systems would now be required.

At the same time the 2003 AC was issued, Part 23 single-­engine airplane manufacturers received relief from these new requirements: SE-IFR airplanes were required to meet a probability of one in 1 million before being subject to duplicate systems. In response, new aircraft came on the scene, like the Cirrus SR-series, that deployed the latest GPS, glass cockpits, and autopilot technology. This relief wasn’t extended to the helicopter industry, however, in part because the latter was still a long way off from meeting even this lower probability requirement.

“There are several reasons why regulation changes for small light airplanes couldn’t be extended to helicopters at the time,” says Harold Summers, director of flight operations and technical services at HAI. “Helicopters aren’t inherently stable like airplanes. There also was a great deal of work needed to prove that the aircraft could be safely flown in IFR conditions without all the redundancies. The advanced, lighter technology for helicopters hadn’t yet caught up.”

Industry Asks for Change

In 2015, with support from partner associations, the helicopter industry petitioned the FAA to consider reducing certification barriers for SE-IFR helicopters. In the 16 years since the publication of AC 27-1B, a number of important technologies, including WAAS (wide area augmentation systems), GPS, cell phones, tablets, and flight planning apps, had been introduced, all available in affordable, lightweight, consumer-­friendly packages. The industry was finally in a position to meet the same one in 1 million standard as light airplanes.

In the summer of 2015, HAI, AHS International (rebranded in 2018 as the Vertical Flight Society, or VFS), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and the Aircraft Electronics Association published the 14 CFR 27 Single-Engine IFR Certification Proposal, an association and industry white paper ( The proposal explicitly linked improving helicopter safety to facilitating an economically viable certification plan for SE-IFR helicopters and expanding IFR operations.

The paper referenced worldwide helicopter accidents related to flights in marginal VFR (MVFR) and inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC). The authors argued that more accidents (194), and resulting fatalities (326), occurred from 2001 to 2013 from pilots being ill-equipped for MVFR and IIMC conditions than would have occurred from the expected failure rates of SE-IFR helicopter systems.

“The lack of SE-IFR helicopters developed a dangerous culture in our industry,” explains Paul Schaaf, former HAI vice president of operations and the HAI lead for the white paper. “Pilots needed to get their instrument rating to get a job, but very few used it again if they flew single-engine operations. Few companies kept their pilots’ instrument skills strong. Add to that the pressures to get the job done if there’s any chance of VFR, and it’s a recipe for disaster. 

“We argued that the probability of IIMC and controlled flight into terrain was higher than any probability of equipment failure,” Schaaf continues. “By allowing SE-IFR helicopters, we could save lives.”

The white paper addressed six key concerns with the FAA’s certification standards for SE-IFR helicopters:

  • Use one in 1 million as the failure rate that would require redundant systems in lighter SE helicopters rather than the original FAA standard rate of one in 1 billion
  • Allow generic high-intensity radiated field (HIRF) testing based on established construction techniques (ambiguities in the then-current Part 27 language required testing on a case-by-case basis each time a new piece of equipment was added)
  • Allow a single hydraulic system when aircraft can be shown through rigorous testing to be flyable without hydraulics
  • Reduce the requirement for three navigation communication systems to two
  • Reduce the requirement for dual pitot–static systems to one
  • Allow a battery to be considered as a second electrical generation system.

In 2017, the FAA released policy statement PS-ASW-27-15, Safety Continuum for Part 27 Normal Category Rotorcraft Systems and Equipment, which adopted some of the processes and concepts recommended in the white paper. With the publication of the Safety Continuum, the FAA officially recognized that safety and risk must be balanced across a wide spectrum of aircraft and operations, specifically calling out aircraft weight and propulsion type, whether passengers are flown for hire, and societal expectations as major factors in airworthiness decisions. 

The FAA saw the Safety Continuum as a way to “facilitate a more rapid incorporation of advances in technology for systems and equipment by recognizing a balanced approach between the risk and safety benefits [of] installing such technology.”

Through the FAA’s Safety Continuum process, helicopter manufacturers received relief in failure probabilities and can now request waivers from the AC 27-1B requirements by submitting issue papers. After close review, the FAA can decide whether to issue the waivers.