HAI plans full return of Heli-Expo to Dallas

After a year-long absence due to the pandemic, Heli-Expo returns to Dallas this week with a full schedule that includes nearly 600 exhibits, dozens of safety programs and educational sessions, plus new features such as commuter helicopter flights to and from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas, where the show takes place.

Helicopter Association International (HAI) President and CEO Jim Viola was encouraged that despite the complexities associated with the pandemic, measures were pointing in the right direction ahead of this year’s event. Over 500 exhibitors registered last month and that number continued to grow as the convention approached.

Early registrations also appeared on track, Viola said. “We are quite optimistic and expect a very positive show,” he told AIN.

Pandemic restrictions can act as a deterrent, Viola conceded and acknowledged that some companies still seemed reluctant to fully open travel. However, as more international destinations opened up and the pandemic appeared to be easing in the weeks leading up to Heli-Expo, HAI officials were watching closely to see if these trends would lead to increased attendance.

Most segments of the rotorcraft industry never shut down like other operations, Viola noted. “This community has been working all the time during the pandemic,” he said, pointing to power line, firefighting, air ambulance, search and rescue and many other operations.

This community, he said, had expressed a strong desire to reconnect in New Orleans, where HAI had hoped to hold its 2021 event but ultimately had to cancel due to the pandemic. “We were sad that we had to cancel this event. So I know that [the industry] is ready to get back together. It’s really like a return to basics for operators.

According to Viola, many activities are carried out at the show and many organizations plan their activities around the show because they have the opportunity to meet customers face to face. “They realize that value, and we’re doing our best to make sure that value is upheld,” he said.

HAI executives partnered with nearby Dallas Executive Airport to host the traditional in-and-out flight that closes the association’s annual convention. Chris Martino, senior director of operations and international affairs, called the arriving aircraft a “star of the show” and said the association had assembled an aircraft and flight operations manual for an arrival and smooth displays. “We want to make sure everyone is on the same sheet of music,” he added.

With the adjacent downtown Dallas CBD Vertiport available next to the convention center, Viola said he expects to see more helicopter activity during the show. In the weeks leading up to the show, HAI announced that it had formed a partnership with Longhorn Helicopters which can provide charter and sightseeing flights to and from the vertiport. Flights can be booked on heliexpocharters.com.

“By bringing more helicopter services to our show, we are demonstrating the value of our entire industry,” Viola said. “Our plan is to work with local partners each year to provide access for anyone who wants to avoid traffic or enjoy local sights in the best possible way, from the air.”

Inside the convention hall, between 50 and 60 aircraft are typically displayed on the show floor, some located in exhibits but others in dedicated static display space. The floor will also host a Security Zone, one of the largest sections of the exhibits, with several organizations and guest speakers.

Heli-Expo will additionally include a first-time exhibitor pavilion and “tabletop exhibits” which may be displayed for a brief period rather than the entire duration of the event. Additionally, some of the participants from eVTOL’s emerging sector are eyeing possible announcements during the show.

A comprehensive safety program will be offered including Rotor Safety Challenge courses which are typically one hour presentations on a range of topics. Fifty of these courses will be presented and participants will be able to collect tokens for each one. Those who collect one or more chips can hand them in at the HAI Security Booth and receive a certificate. In addition, Heli-Expo organizes several professional training courses that last from half a day to several days and can lead to certifications or renewal credits. In addition, a number of traditional manufacturer technical briefings will take place. Viola called the education segments one of the most important parts of the convention.

In addition to safety and education programs, Heli-Expo is hosting a job fair today with several employers who are hiring. In addition, support for resumes and LinkedIn pages as well as mentoring will be available. “Now is the time to get back into the industry because the industry is looking for pilots,” said Greg Brown, director of education and training services for HAI. He added that companies will be hiring for a range of positions.

A key feature of this year’s event, Viola pointed out, is its health and safety protocols, which will follow local, state and federal guidelines and include social distancing in educational events, cleaning standards and sanitation, and the availability of masks and hand sanitizer.

“We think everyone will agree that these guidelines are reasonable, which is why we think we’ll have a successful show,” he concluded.

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