It’s Official: Rotorcraft Pilot and Mechanic Shortage Verified

The results of a study forecasting the U.S. supply of rotorcraft pilots and mechanics over the next 18 years has been released, confirming what many in our industry suspected. Unless there are some fundamental changes in policy, outreach, scholarships, and access to financing, the helicopter industry faces large-scale deficits in the amount of available and qualified licensed and certificated pilots and mechanics.

The study projects a shortage of 7,469 helicopter pilots in the United States between 2018 and 2036. For maintenance technicians, the numbers are even more concerning. Our industry is projected to be short 40,613 certificated aviation mechanics in the United States between 2018 and 2036.

The study results, commissioned by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) and conducted by the University of North Dakota (UND), were released today, Feb. 28, at a press conference at HAI HELI-EXPO 2018 in Las Vegas. Allison McKay, HFI vice president, introduced the study, and two UND researchers, Dr. Elizabeth Bjerke and Kent W. Lovelace, reported the results. Recognizing the importance of this information, HFI is making available both the study results and an executive summary.

In addition to documenting the projected shortage, the study gathered information on how it is already changing operations. For example, more than 50 percent of surveyed operators said that the shortage of pilots and mechanics would definitely or probably interfere with their operation’s ability to grow over the next five years. Regional airlines are actively recruiting helicopter pilots — more than 500 transferred to fixed-wing operations in 2017 alone.

This shortage is an industry-wide problem, and fixing it will require efforts from many sectors, including government, industry, military, finance, insurance, and education. In the coming months, Helicopter Association International (HAI) and its charitable arm, HFI, will be recruiting stakeholders to collaboratively work on defining concrete next steps to combat the problem. If you would be interested in participating in this effort, please contact Allison McKay.

“Our industry needs to take a hard look at how we do things,” says Matt Zuccaro, HAI/HFI president. “We really don’t have a choice. These numbers show a future where the growth of our industry will be curtailed because operators won’t have the workforce they need. But we have the option to change that future by acting proactively now to recruit the next generation of pilots and maintainers.”

HFI Vice President McKay agrees. “The study results are certainly bad news for our industry. But the good news is that now we know the numbers — and now we can take steps to ensure the sustainability of our industry.”

Exposing Students to Helicopter Maintenance In School

How is Helicopter Foundation International’s Next-Gen Maintenance Initiative progressing? When did HFI launch it?

HFI launched the Next-Gen Maintenance Initiative about a year ago after discovering a gap in the aviation curriculum offerings at the high school and post-secondary levels. There are more than 200 U.S. high schools that offer varying types of aviation curriculum from after-school clubs to full-scale aviation high schools. However, most of these courses are based on fixed-wing aircraft. In addition, maintenance schools primarily teach to fixed-wing platforms, with only a few schools offering rotorcraft-specific training as an add-on or separate track. We realized if we want to attract the next generation of helicopter professionals, we needed to expose them to this thriving sector.

How is HFI working with high schools and post-secondary schools to implement helicopter-related education?

We are working with several school systems to launch rotorcraft-specific maintenance curricula and training to students. The goal is to create a maintenance program where students can begin coursework toward their A&P certification at the high school level and complete it at a post-secondary institution.

What feedback are you getting from educators?

We have received incredibly favorable responses to our program.  School systems want to be able to provide students with STEM education geared toward in-demand jobs. As we all know, aviation is faced with a shortage of qualified workers that will only increase in the future. It is critically important that we publicize this message to educators (and their students) around the country.

We are currently targeting areas with a concentration of helicopter-related employers, A&P schools, and infrastructure. However, word of mouth has also caused several school systems to express interest in the program.

How acute is the helicopter maintenance technician shortage?

We have data from Boeing and Oliver Wyman predicting a serious shortage, but we didn’t have numbers that specifically addressed how these numbers impacted the rotorcraft sector. We have partnered with the University of North Dakota to provide a helicopter pilot and aircraft mechanic supply forecast to quantify the number of new commercial helicopter pilots and mechanics that will enter the work force in the future, the demand for helicopter pilots and mechanics in the future and further quantify any surplus or shortage of helicopter pilots and mechanics.  This data is key to show helicopter owners and operators how the overall forecasted aviation shortage will specifically affect our sector.

Immerse Yourself in the World of Aviation

Christine Brown can’t remember a time she wasn’t interested in flying. But while on a trip to Africa in 2004, a helicopter tour over Victoria Falls changed her career path.

“It was my very first time in a helicopter, and I absolutely fell in love with it,” Brown says.

While obtaining her B.S. in civil engineering from California Polytechnic State University, Brown also pursued her fixed-wing training. “I washed airplanes to make extra money for flying,” she says.

Brown applied for HFI’s Commercial Helicopter Rating Scholarship in 2011 and in 2012 began working on her helicopter rating. Most of her helicopter flight training was completed at Mountain Ridge Helicopters in Logan, Utah.

C_BrownShe currently holds a private, instrument, commercial, certificated flight instructor, and certificated flight instructor – instrument rotorcraft ratings, as well as a private airplane rating. “At some point, I would like to finish my fixed-wing ratings and obtain my rotorcraft ATP,” Brown says.

After obtaining her helicopter rating, Brown started as a flight instructor flying the Robinson R22 and R44 out of Linden, New Jersey. She is currently a pilot and the director of flight operations for NYONair, where she flies the Airbus AStar 350 as well as the TwinStar 355. The Kearny, New Jersey, company specializes in aerial production and photography. Brown also works part-time as a tour and charter pilot for Liberty Helicopters.

“I love flying the Airbus products. I have a fantastic mentor who is beginning to teach me how to fly the camera systems for production work,” she says. Brown hopes to one day fly for a wildlife conservation or antipoaching company.

For those considering helicopter aviation, Brown advises, “Jump in headfirst! You have to immerse yourself in the world of aviation in order to be successful in this industry.”

Helicopter Foundation International Debuts New Look

Alexandria, Va. (January 13, 2017) In order to better serve its mission, the Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) is pleased to announce a rebranding campaign which includes a new logo, tagline website and mission statement.  The new program launched Wednesday, January 11, 2017.

“The Foundation serves to recognize the history of the helicopter industry, to promote safety and to educate future generations of helicopter pilots and mechanics,” said Allison McKay, Vice President of HFI. “We wanted to update elements of the foundation in a way that better illustrates the services we provide.”

Most visible to the public will be the new logo, featuring bold, block letters in deep blue, and a two-tone stylized rotor system “dotting the i” of the logo. In certain instances, the logo will also feature the organization’s tagline of “Preserve the Past. Improve Safety. Secure the Future.” “We believe the new logo and tagline provide a fast method of understanding what we strive to accomplish with the foundation,” added McKay.

Expanding upon the organization’s tagline is the new official Mission Statement: “Helicopter Foundation International works to preserve the history of vertical flight, improve its safety, and educate the next generation of pilots and maintenance technicians.”

The foundation is committed to preserving the contributions of the first generation of pioneers who explored the boundaries of vertical flight. “Our archives contain oral histories and video interview, historical documents, photos, manuals, and articles from newspapers and magazines,” said McKay. “Thanks to donations, these materials will be cataloged and digitized for access by students, teachers and historians.”

“We also work to promote safety within the helicopter industry,” continued McKay.  “We are dedicated to eliminating fatalities, accidents and incidents by providing free rotorcraft education sessions at the annual HAI HELI-EXPO, the world’s largest helicopter trade show.  We also provide education through the ‘Land and LIVE Program’, which advocates precautionary landings when flight conditions begin to deteriorate.”

The final element of the Mission Statement focuses on education for future generations. “We have three strategies to build the next generation of helicopter industry professionals,” said McKay. “They include offering scholarships to aspiring pilots and maintenance technicians; offering a free mentoring roundtable at HELI-EXPO where experienced professionals share their knowledge with those new to the industry or looking at their next career opportunity; and HFI works to expand the number of high school and post-secondary schools that offer helicopter-specific course curriculum.”

Helicopter Foundation International hosts NCASE meeting

This week the Helicopter Foundation International was pleased to host the 2017 National Coalition for Aviation & Space Education (NCASE) Annual Meeting. NCASE was formed in 1993 in partnership with the FAA. Their mission is to promote aviation and space education while supporting schools’ initiatives at the local, state and national levels. The NCASE was formed in a cooperative spirit between the aviation industry and the FAA to present a united voice on aviation education issues.


Apply for an Aviation Scholarship Today!

Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) is pleased to announce the Commercial Pilot Rating and Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarships will accept new applications beginning September 1, 2016.

Applicants for the Commercial Pilot Rating Scholarship must already have obtained their private license and be enrolled in a commercial helicopter rating program at an FAA-approved Part 141 school or international equivalent. Up to four scholarships may be awarded.

Applicants for the Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship must already be enrolled in a maintenance technician certificate program at an FAA-approved Part 147 school or international equivalent. Up to six scholarships may be awarded.

The application deadline is midnight EST November 30, 2016.

If you are enrolled in either pilot or maintenance technician training, review the scholarship descriptions and requirements in more detail at and consider applying for an HFI scholarship. Direct scholarship questions to

Founded in 1983 and based in Alexandria, VA, Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of helicopter aviation, improving its safety, and educating the next generation. HFI annually offers up to 19 scholarships to help support students studying to become part of tomorrow’s vertical aviation industry.

HFI Scholarship Helps Maintenance Tech Get Industry Foothold

HFIGregory Gilliland was always mechanically inclined and loved working on cars throughout high school. After graduation, he decided to attend the aviation program of the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.

While there, Gilliland interned at CJ Systems Aviation Group in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, working in its Part 145 repair station under the supervision of licensed airframe and powerplant (A&P) technicians. He graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Technology in 2008 with a B.S. in aviation maintenance technology and a minor in management.

Gilliland wanted to pursue a career in helicopter maintenance, but his limited job experience made it difficult to land a position. He knew having factory training would give him invaluable experience and help in his job search. In 2008, he applied for and won the first-place award for the HFI Bill Sanderson Aviation Maintenance Technician Scholarship.

With the scholarship money assisting with travel and lodging expenses, Gilliland was able to attend the maintenance factory course of his choice: the one for the Airbus AS350 B2. He chose to study maintenance for that model because of its widespread use and the corresponding plentiful job opportunities.

Gilliland considers himself a lifelong learner and has continued to pursue studies related to his career. He holds current FAA A&P ratings, an FAA inspection authorization, and an FCC general radiotelephone operator license with radar endorsement. In addition to the AS350 B2 course, he has also attended the Eurocopter EC145 initial airframe course and Turbomeca’s Arriel 1 line maintenance course.

In 2014, Gilliland graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with an M.S. in management with a focus on aviation/aerospace industrial management. Since 2009, he has worked for Metro Aviation, one of the leading helicopter air ambulance operators in the United States.

Gilliland is currently the lead technician for Metro’s Sentara Nightingale contract in Norfolk, Virginia. Prior to that position, he was a field technician for the company’s Allegheny General Hospital contract in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Gilliland joined the HAI Technical Committee in 2014 as a way to help address issues facing the maintenance side of the helicopter industry. A side benefit to his participation in the committee “was the tremendous experience I gain from networking with maintenance managers from other facets of our industry.”

When asked about his future plans, Gilliland said he will “continue working to gain experience as a manager and helicopter technician. In the future, I see myself working for a helicopter operator in a maintenance manager role.”

In an industry where it can be hard for entry-level technicians to get a job, Gilliland says, “Never give up on your goals.” Through hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

Sally Murphy: First Female U.S. Military Helicopter Pilot

SallyShe thought she was going to be a history teacher. Then, in 1972, Sally Woolfolk — a young woman barely into her 20s — mailed in her army commissioning papers, setting her on a course to become the first female U.S. military helicopter pilot.

During her U.S. Army career, during most of which she used her married name of Murphy, she served with distinction, rising to the rank of colonel. “I turned to the army as a first step to financial independence and an adventure of my very own,” she says. And Murphy talks about these adventures in this month’s HFI Heritage Series interview.

No Girls Allowed

According to Murphy, growing up in the 1950s and ’60s was different. Although she was “a tomboy,” schools in the Kansas City suburbs, where her family lived, had no sports for girls. However, she learned from her parents that “I could do anything as long as I worked to make it happen.”

She went to Kansas State College, her “hometown” college, heading for a teaching career. At that time, women’s opportunities after college were pretty limited to nursing, secretarial work, and teaching, Murphy says. Then she saw a recruiting brochure, entitled Begin as an Executive, which spurred her to apply for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

“In the early ’70s, women were still excluded from being directly in the army,” she says. But that was about to change.

The Door Opens

Murphy became a WAC officer in intelligence, taking the military intelligence basic officer’s and tactical intelligence courses at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Also attending the first course was Capt. Dan Murphy, a Vietnam-era helicopter pilot.

The two became close, and Dan encouraged her to apply for flight school. She describes him as her “cheerleader in bucking me up through many other challenges in the years to come.”

Sally2Dan and Sally married in 1974. Their son, Sean Murphy, followed both parents into the army and served in Afghanistan and Iraq before his death in 2009, following a parachute failure in a training mission.

During Murphy’s initial intelligence training, the army flight program was opened to female candidates. Picked by military intelligence and aviation to attend the first session of initial rotary-wing instruction that was open to females, Murphy ended up the only woman in the class at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After graduating, she became the first woman Army helicopter pilot.

She started training on the Hughes TH-55 Army training helicopter. The two-person craft was so small it was often described as being made by toymaker Mattel, but Murphy soon moved up to UH-1 Hueys. She later switched to the U-21 Beechcraft Queen Air, a turboprop with enough room for the equipment for signals intelligence work.

It was at this time that Murphy crossed paths with Jean Ross Howard Phelan, the founder of the Whirly-Girls, an organization that promotes women in helicopter aviation and HAI affiliate, and someone who Murphy regards as a role model.

“The commander of Fort Rucker, Maj. Gen. [William J.] Maddox, was a friend and strong supporter of her activities. Jean was on post for public relations purposes and she provided me with my membership credentials. I had not heard of this wonderful group of women helicopter pilots until then,” Murphy says.

“Over the years, I … became increasingly flattered to be considered a Whirly-Girl,” she says. “Several of their speakers rank among the best I have ever heard.”

An Army Career

Over the course of her career, Murphy had a wide range of assignments, which she discusses in detail in her interview.

She flew RU-21 aircraft on the border between East and West Germany while conducting signals intelligence missions for the 330th Army Security Agency Company. A later assignment took her to Fort Riley, Kansas, where she worked to prepare U.S. forces to fight with NATO forces against any Soviet attack. She worked on force modernization both at Fort. Riley and with V Corps.

After an European assignment, Murphy returned to the United States, where her responsibilities included the Army’s just-beginning UAV program. “I wrote, staffed, and received approval for the first Joint requirements plan for unmanned aerial vehicles,” Murphy says.

Her later posts included service with the IX Corps in Japan, where she was the corps aviation officer and commanded the 78th Aviation Battalion (Provisional). She later served as the chief of the Army Intelligence Master Plan and director of intelligence, futures.

After promotion to colonel, Murphy knew future assignments would not include aviation duties. She chose her final flight carefully.“I selected a Huey flight in Japan with a very good friend because it was most probable that it would be my last one forever.”

Murphy retired from active duty on July 1, 1999, after nearly 27 years of service, and moved on to a job in defense contracting.

Sally3Looking to the Future

Murphy’s advice for those starting a helicopter — or any — career is simple: get up every day and do the best you can.

“Set goals, but don’t limit yourself by adherence to a strict plan because the unexpected … can often present better opportunities and satisfaction,” she says.

As someone who broke through barriers to women in the military, Murphy says, “If you chose a career that is male dominated and historically closed to women, don’t be surprised when it is often harder than you think is fair.

“Never believe those who tell you something can’t be done or has never been done before, because that is looking to the past and you are the future.”