Commercial helicopter industry is clearly a growth industry. The numbers and kinds of uses that have been found for the industry and all its players are vast and will likely continue to grow in both diversity and number over the next 50+ years. Currently the commercial helicopter industry provides services for thousands of private, corporate and often civil organizations and individuals ranging in diversity of task from land and wildlife surveys to pleasure viewing. The industry answers the call for disaster relief, firefighting and many other important public tasks as well, often contracted through private industry helicopter companies for those who do not wish to or do not have the means to support independent fleets of their own. Yet, increasingly there is a shortage of qualified pilots to fly the existing helicopters both nationally and internationally.
The basic change was one that was expected by the industry but has not yet been completely answered by the support systems that train pilots to fly. The largest problem is seeded in the fact that prior to the 1970s and 80s most helicopter pilots and many commercial pilots of all aircraft were trained through service in the U.S. military. For many individuals this opportunity provided excellent training that was both highly sought after and very economical. While private training on the same scale was often out of the market for many of these quality and capable pilots. Though the market for private training and education has improved and expanded the gap has yet to be met and as the veterans of the last heavily militarily trained era that of Vietnam begin to retire in large numbers the need for highly qualified pilots to take their places has simply not been met by the private institutions and schools that offer similar training. The challenge to the industry is being felt all over the world, (Dunham, 2007) even as growth continues in the private commercial helicopter industry and the enormity of the weight they carry for both the private and public sectors continues to grow the number of pilots continues to dwindle (Austin, 2008; Garvey, 2006; Vigil, 2006) The private institutions that train pilots continue to expand and become more competitive the cost is often still seen as a barrier to many as they look at the return on their investment, i.e. The market in which they enter and the wages they will be paid once successful in their training (Rimmer, 2000; Moore, 2008).
Figure 1 Occupations most affected by retirements between 1993-2000
For example in an article written in late 2000, prior to the real pinch of pilot loss the industry saw the need to point out that commercial airline pilots make a significant dollar amount more than privately employed pilots, say working for corporate entities or individuals and this can still be said to be true, though the numbers are changing for the better, most pilots will seek the best return on the investment of their education (Phillips, 2000) This then is not necessarily the smaller industry players, such as corporations that own a single or just a few helicopters, of which there are thousands doing work in nearly every imaginable industry from helicopter logging to larger market television news stations or even larger law enforcement agencies. These entities require skilled pilots and a pay scale that compensates pilots well if they are going to continue to provide services independent of larger commercial contracts, which may cost more and have lessor availability. Concurrently it must also be said that on-the-job training cannot rule the day in this industry and companies, both large and small cannot compromise standards simply to fill pilot's seats. Therefore this work will attempt to follow the trend of the pilot shortage through smaller industry players to see how they view the shortage, how it has affected their business and how they see the future with regard to a new class of highly skilled pilots. The work will in short act as a research based introduction to the small scale commercial helicopter industry, and seek to better understand the ways in which it has been affected and will respond to the growing commercial helicopter pilot shortage.
The fundamental research questions then become how will and has the training and industry responded to this new demand for pilots and given the extremely high cost of maintaining helicopter fleets how will the industry change to compensate individuals competitively in this growing market?
Commercial helicopter companies and other organizations that own, maintain and fly small fleets of helicopters or through contracts have near exclusive use of leased helicopters. The work will attempt to provide diversified data, through the recruitment of as many types of companies as possible, i.e. those using helicopter services for tourism as well as those using helicopter services for industrial applications such as helicopter logging, firefighting, sky view for traffic and/or even aerials in large metropolitan areas, law enforcement, entertainment, corporate transportation, material transportation, survey aerials etc. The work will hope to focus on smaller organizations that provide multiple services through contracting as well as singularly focused organizations, such as law enforcement and corporate transportation.
This work will be an investigation into the strategies that commercial helicopter users and companies have and are using now and in the past to both recruit and retain qualified pilots. The work will also look specifically at how the problem of pilot shortage has or has not affected the particular entities through identifying key players in the helicopter use and maintenance areas of these companies and seeking their qualitative and quantitative (where applicable) data regarding issues of recruitment and retention. The hope is that through the sampling and survey answers the researcher can glean a greater understanding of both the types and kinds of needs not being met by the existing training organizations as well as the scope and scale of the problem through a thorough survey analysis of multiple and diverse industry helicopter use sources. The researcher will identify U.S. based companies and seek contact information for the types of companies that fit the qualifications of the study, i.e. own or lease exclusive or near exclusive rights to between 1 and 5 helicopters and provide commercial services for both their own company needs and/or contract helicopter services to other organizations or individuals either regionally or nationally.
Data Instruments and Collection
The main data instrument of this research proposal will be a researcher produced survey, that asks questions of the key players in the small scale commercial helicopter industry to ascertain changes in the demographics of both recruitment and retention of qualified pilots. The questions will be associated with recruitment data, such as how many openings, how long advertisements go unanswered, how many applicants apply, how many show qualifications to perform the particular skill set needed for the type of flying done by the company, what type of skill set is needed i.e. helicopter logging is significantly different and requires a different skill set than freighting passengers, hauling water to a fire, hauling and dropping hanging cargo, etc. The questions will also focus on the type of qualifications in addition to licensure that are sought by the company and how these qualifications are gained by pilots, i.e. most companies seek pilots with experience beyond minimal training for licensure including bachelor's degrees in aviation, logged flight hours far exceeding those required for licensure and other industry specific qualifications that are associated with both regulations and insurance standards.
Lastly the survey material completed will be followed by a short phone interview and/or a follow up email correspondence that will ask general questions about industry trends and organizational trends associated with pilot recruitment and retention, which will broaden the qualitative data of this mixed methods proposal. Quantitative data will be logged in interview form and kept anonymous.
Number of openings for pilots, length of time in response, number of qualified respondents, type of qualifications respondents might be lacking or needing to fill positions, type of experience sought and for what reasons, benefit and salary packages today as compared to 10 years prior (accounting for cost of living changes), how long it has taken in the last 10 years to fill positions with qualified pilots and possibly where those pilots have been trained or did earlier career work to qualify to do they work sought by the company.
Data Analysis and Presentation
The data from this work will likely be varied as it is intended to be both qualitative and quantitative, providing data that will hopefully show a more holistic view of industry need and how the training and educational work of the up and coming pilots (i.e. those who are under the age of 45 and are more likely to have received training outside the military. To analyze the comparative data the work will use standard statistical formulations and all pertinent qualitative data will be logged in interview form by participant question and answer. Pertinent qualitative data will be analyzed through…