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This is an article on the Heli-Success Seminar as printed in the October 2008 issue of Rotorcraft Professional Magazine.

HELI – SUCCESS! Focus on Your Future

The weekend of October 26th 2008 was an historic one for the helicopter industry. OK…..not as historic as say when the first helicopter was flown or when autopilots first controlled helicopters, but historic none the less The first Helicopter Career Development Seminar titled "HELI – SUCCESS" was held on that date, to a full house, in Las Vegas. An educational event sponsored by Bell Helicopter with all the trimmings; door prizes, distinguished speakers, job fair and free food. Did I mention it was in Las Vegas?

The Airline Industry has held plenty of educational events which focus on the pilot and mechanic. Typically these events focus on helping job seekers new to the industry prepare for a career track into the airlines. They cover such topics as; self marketing, employer expectations, and the hiring process.

I was scratching my head and wondering why there were no similar educational or networking opportunities for pilots and mechanics in the helicopter industry. As a recruiter in the helicopter industry who interacts with hundreds of pilots and mechanics, I noticed that many people new to the industry are coming into this business lacking certain professional skills, embracing the wrong attitudes, or having no clear career track in mind.

So what can be done about it? I guess that I could sit around and be that crotchety guy who says, "Can you believe these kids today? Back in my day I walked 4 miles in the snow to get to my helicopter and yadda, yadda, yadda….." Or, I could be proactive and become a part of the process in "Raising the Bar" through sharing, mentoring, and education. I have committed to this process through a series of articles, websites, EBooks, and Career Development Seminars.

Let’s take a look at the mindset and development of the new helicopter pilot. For many, the allure of becoming a helicopter pilot is tantalizing. Once that first flight is completed that’s it, game over, most are hooked and there is no turning back. For most the biggest obstacle to becoming a pilot is a financial one. With such a large investment, I cannot help but wonder how much thought is given by the prospective pilot as to what will occur when the training is completed and a "wannabe" career pilot is born. Of course, it is not totally the new helicopter pilots fault; such information is sparsely available and tough to come by, hence the seminar and EBooks.

The overriding theme behind this educational event is to give the "up and coming" and/or transitioning pilots and mechanics in our industry a glimpse into the real world of working helicopters. For example, a newly minted Helicopter CFI who completes flight school and lands that first job as an instructor. Now they are being paid to fly, therefore they must be out working in the world, right? Well, not really!

Generally speaking, new CFI’s are a product of their schools and individual instructors. Chances are good their instructors had never worked outside of the training environment, and neither had their instructors, and so on. Most CFI’s are sheltered within what we like to call the "training bubble" with very little exposure to the big dark scary world of helicopters. Heck, it’s not their fault, the system is what it is and there are few, if any, "work arounds" built into our system for bringing up new people in the helicopter industry.

Overall, flight schools do a good job teaching people to fly helicopters. That is their main goal, right? Additionally, the time spent as a CFI hones those flying skills, gives the pilot a deeper understanding of flying, as well as giving them a chance to discover their own limitations. By now you are no doubt wondering, "What’s my beef?" So here it is……….

Flight schools market and sell, "Professional" Flight Training Programs. Many claim to take you from no experience to becoming marketable in the world of helicopters which leads to riches and stardom. But do they truly prepare and give a new pilot insight to life beyond the training bubble? I contend that they fall very short. They teach you how to fly and introduce issues such as safety, judgment, and aeronautical decision making. But is that enough? I believe not.

Who offers real world insights into the economic and political impact on careers in our industry? What about personal attitude, resumes, salaries, safety culture, career paths, and unions in the helicopter industry? Our goal was to expose the attendees to the real issues that will impact their careers.

There is a serious gap between the skills and understanding which pilots gain in training and while working in the training bubble, as compared to what is needed out in the real world. I can break those shortfalls into four categories: 

  1. Presentation skills.
  2. Career track planning skills.  
  3. Professionalism and attitude.
  4. Understanding what employers want..

Let us take each of those categories and relate how the seminar addressed them.

Presentation Skills

In the seminar we covered points in the area of "Presentation" such as the hiring process, resumes, phone interviews, email communications, and personal interviews. The emphasis was placed on the resume. The resume is the single most important component of the hiring process.

The point was made that a pilot candidate can be a very personable individual with the good looks of Brad Pitt and the stick skills of "Chuck" P. Aaron. However, it means very little if your poorly written resume has crash landed into the Chief Pilot’s circular file. The resume segment focused on the "format" of a resume with the primary goal being to give the hiring authority everything they want to see in about 30 seconds. If that can be accomplished and the reviewer likes what they see, you may get your resume put into the "look at further" pile. An entire segment was dedicated to the Top 10 tips for creating a successful resume for use in the helicopter industry.

Career Track Planning Skills

In this segment Randy Rowles of Bell Helicopter defined typical career paths for pilots based on experience levels and skill sets. He outlined the minimum experience levels required for various sectors of the industry and what factors influence those numbers.

The industry was broken down into 4 tiers of jobs ranging from initial (entry) level to tier 3. The main focus of this portion of the seminar was to get pilots to look at all potential sectors of the industry for which they have interest. Next, learn the requirements and skill sets which will be required for those positions, make a long term plan to develop those skills, and position them to achieve their goals.

Professionalism and Attitude

It was no surprise that professionalism and attitude top of the list of attributes that hiring authorities placed the most value. We heard many times throughout the event from employers who said they prefer a "great attitude" over a "great stick". In this segment Randy Rowles covered such areas as personal branding, safety culture and various types of attitudes (good and bad) that people climbing the industry ladder will encounter.

Understanding What Employers Want

If there was only one place on the planet to get the inside skinny on what the hiring authorities in certain sectors were looking for in a new hire, it was at this seminar. "THE" hiring authorities for the largest operators in four Jim Palmer of Bristow Group Speaks at Seminarsectors were present. In addition to myself and Randy Rowles, speakers at this event included Chris Basset, Chief Pilot of Air Methods Corporation; Mike Johns, Chief Pilot of Papillion Airways; Jim Palmer, HR Manager of Air Logistics (a Bristow Company); and Larry Karpman, Regional Director of Flight Safety International.

In total, the 6 speakers who gave presentations during the two day event had over 160 years cumulative experience in the helicopter industry. Each speaker gave a clear synopsis of what attributes they looked for when hiring as well as exactly what to expect when it comes to work/life conditions, job duties, pay, and benefits. One of the highlights of the event was the panel style Q & A session which took place between the audience and all of the speakers. There were some very tough questions asked of the panel and no topic was left out of bounds.


Yes, you read that right! As an added bonus, there was a flight training giveaway. One lucky attendee (500 hour CFI) was the winner of a drawing which awarded him a FREE Bell 206 Initial Pilot Training – Turbine Transition Course, courtesy of Bell Helicopter. Lucky partiicipant wins free Bell 206 Initial Pilot Course at Seminar.

Our goal was to provide an event which incorporated education, mentoring, networking, and career development. By any measurement, we feel our team delivered. I promised myself when I was growing up in the helicopter industry that I would not forget those who "opened that door" or gave me that little nudge in the right direction. There is no better way to honor those people, than for each of us to do the same for every next generation of rotor heads who just cannot help but get drawn to this crazy industry like a moth to the flame.

Written by Lyn Burks