Global Economics Impacting Helicopter Maintenance Professionals

R. Fred Polak – President/CEO

It’s that time of year when the upcoming Presidential Election has just about all of us wishing it was over already. Politics by nature is only looked at in a favorable light by politicians. Time will tell how we are doing. Of a more pressing concern is how all the financial decisions being made in the U.S. and around the globe by governments and businesses affect us, the helicopter maintenance professional. It probably is not something we think about very much, if at all, but we should. The days of financial isolationism are long gone, and it is easy to understand why if China sneezes, we stand a good chance of catching a cold.

The aviation industry in general and the helicopter marketplace specifically are not immune to the ups and downs of the financial world. We work on helicopters that are not only manufactured in the U.S., but in Canada, France, England, Germany, Russia and Italy. There are probably one or two countries I have missed, but you get my point. The individual parts or entire assemblies/sub-assemblies of some helicopters are located in companies located in a score of other countries. Out-sourcing seems to be the name of the game today. How those countries’ economies are performing have a pronounced affect on our economy and business climate here.

If you keep up on aviation news in general, you know that Boeing learned the hard way that spreading out manufacturing jobs to different companies in different countries did not work out as planned with their 787 Dreamliner. With the price of oil around $27/barrel as of this writing, it is no surprise that the helicopter segment of the offshore oil support industry is canceling contracts left and right, laying off personnel and not placing orders for new aircraft. Here is a classic example of a global economic problem affecting sales, jobs and revenue for a segment of our industry. Are you getting the sniffles yet?

On a recent trip to Europe I perceived the notion there that denial is a river in Egypt. We know better, but it will still hurt our economy down the road. The European Union currency, the Euro, is overvalued and the European Central Bank (ECB) is spreading Euros by the bucketful to prop up the Eurozone economy. It won’t work, but since I do not have a degree in finance, what do I know? Common sense anyone?

A good analogy would be that your house has sprung a water pipe leak and the water is up to the height of your kitchen table and rising fast. You have two choices, fix the leak or raise the height of your ceiling. It seems that politicians the world over do not have any phone numbers for plumbers, only home construction crews and continually want to raise the height of their ceilings.

Eventually sales of new helicopters will taper off as the economy slows even more, and at some point will flatten out and then as economies improve, so will our industry. Operating helicopters is not for those who do not have deep pockets. When I teach an avionics class I usually ask my students what makes an aircraft fly? I get the usual answers of lift, thrust, etc. The real answer though is $$$$$. Without money, the aircraft is grounded. Where does the money come from? A customer is the only correct answer. Without customers, regardless of what part of helicopter operations your company is involved in, you are out of a job.

So what can we as helicopter maintenance professionals do to help retain and get new customers, even in tough economic times?

  1. Treat every customer like they were gold.
  2. Never argue with a customer. Let upper management do that.
  3. When talking with a customer, never talk to them like they are an idiot. Talk with them, not at them.
  4. Answer their questions to the best of your ability in terms they understand.
  5. Never say anything derogatory about a customer anywhere, or place derogatory statements on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. You never know who is looking or can overhear what you are saying.
  6. Treat everyone with the same respect and consideration you would want for yourself.

Think of the person or company that owns the helicopter entrusted to your care in this way. By having a helicopter or a fleet of helicopters, they have kept people employed at many different manufacturing locations. They require pilots to fly the helicopter and maintenance to be performed, which employs more people. The helicopter needs fuel and parts and that means those items are purchased, delivered and stored, which employs yet more people. The helicopter(s) you are maintaining has and is doing quite a bit to help keep our economy moving forward. You are an important link in that chain. Whether you realize it or not, you too are an important part of the global economic picture.