Australian helicopter association launched as sector grows rapidly

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A group of senior Australian helicopter industry executives are launching the Australian Helicopter Industry Association (AHIA) to represent the rapidly growing sector.

Australia's helicopter industry has not had a representative body since the collapse of the Helicopter Association of Australasia (HAA) in 2008 following a change in its business model and the impact of the global financial crisis.

Spearheading the new AHIA is Rob Rich, a former HAA president who started industry publications Heli-News and Heli-Safe. He was previously general manager at Chopperline Flight Training. The aim is to complete the registration of the AHIA by July leading to an official launch at next year's Australian International Air Show at Avalon in February, where it hopes to have a helicopter showcase to promote the industry.

Rich and his fellow executives believe an industry body is needed because of the rapid growth of the sector and "a lot of pressure points obstructing development of the helicopter industry".

Rich says the Australian helicopter industry is growing at a rate of about 9% a year, with the fleet comprising 1,950 helicopters - or 13% of the Australian register - as of April.

The fleet comprises 1,232 single-engine piston machines, 508 turbine single-engined helicopters and 211 twin-engined machines. Despite the general financial crisis, helicopter numbers in the country have grown by 53% in the past six years, with energy exploration operations particularly expected to further boost numbers in the future.

At this rate of growth, the fleet will be close to 3,000 in five years, says Rich. In comparison, the HAA was representing a fleet of 1,450 when it collapsed in 2008.

The pressure points the sector faces include a need to seek training and consultancy business opportunities for Australian companies in Asia, where a rapid growth of the rotary industry is expected. The sector also faces problems with long delays and inefficiencies with Civil Aviation Safety Authority pilot licensing and examination systems, with a raft of CASA changes to impact the sector in the future, says Rich.

"Agencies such as CASA need our help when planning to regulate new technology heading our way," Rich writes on the Bladeslapper internet forum for the Australian helicopter sector.

The sector is also increasingly facing manpower and training issues, particularly with booming offshore and HEMS operations, as well as the new military Helicopter Aircrew Training System expected to come on line from 2016.

A catalyst for the formation of the AHIA was the death in August 2011 of ABC helicopter pilot Gary Ticehurst in a night helicopter accident at Lake Eyre in South Australia. Ticehurst was a former president and committee member of the HAA and drove a number of important projects for the industry.