Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
No Life Like It

As president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada, I am often asked about career development and what it’s like to be part of this important Canadian industry.


January 15, 2013
By Fred Jones

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As president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada, I am often asked about career development and what it’s like to be part of this important Canadian industry.

When asked these questions, I often wonder if the same considerations that drove my career choices still drive today’s youth.

I must confess that while my love of aviation began at 12, it didn’t become a career option for me until much later in life. The idea of a career that involved working closely with other people, adventure, and travel had always appealed to me – and still does. I loved working outdoors and I detested routine. The idea of a nine-to-five office job couldn’t have been less attractive; a career in aviation looked like a perfect fit.

In 1977, I became a commercial airline pilot and when placement options were looking bleak, I went back to university and built time instructing during the summers. I also took a critical look at the airline industry as a whole. I realized it was a heavily unionized environment so any progression up the ladder would largely depend on my seniority number. This did not appeal to me. What’s more, many of the older airline pilots I came in contact with didn’t appear to be particularly happy with their work. In short, the path in aviation I considered to be a passion and a privilege was for many simply a sizeable paycheque.

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As I completed university, I focused on getting a rotary-wing licence and set my sights on a career in the helicopter industry. It was a career path that involved travel, was devoid of routine – be careful what you ask for! – was non-unionized, meant working outdoors most of the time and offered adventure. What I didn’t appreciate at the time, but have quite enjoyed since, are the extended periods of time I have spent in Canada’s most isolated regions. It’s a privilege few are blessed with.

I started my career at a time when operators routinely deployed crews for 42-day tours, followed by a few days off, followed by another extended tour. My first employer, the late Dick Huisson of Huisson Helicopters, once said to me, “It’s a great life for a young person” and he was right. It’s largely a physical job in a seasonal industry with long summer hours. On top of that, it’s an industry that has taken me to the four corners of Canada and everywhere in between.

As a helicopter pilot, I have had so many adventures and seen things few can ever claim to have experienced – mountain tops, glaciers, caribou, whales, polar bears, and fishing like you can only imagine. Yes, there were unpleasant experiences in less-than-desirable mosquito and blackfly-infested camps – and some demanding customers, to boot – but the positive memories far outweigh the negative ones.

I believe times haven’t changed that much for young pilots and engineers, but the current shortage of flight crews and engineers has caused some concern. Each spring, I receive more calls regarding the shortage of qualified pilots and engineers than on any other subject – except perhaps the diminishing levels of service from Transport Canada.

A recent study by the Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace (CCAA) reveals the challenge going forward will be not so much about the looming shortage of pilots, but the shortage of experienced pilots who can fill the roles of aging, but qualified drivers. I know, as operators, one can only prevail upon them to stay “one more season” for so long.

Going forward, the message for those in the helicopter industry will be to “sell” the positive aspects of our industry to young people to rekindle their collective passions, but also, and particularly in the case of pilots, to give a mechanism to transition from “100-hour wonders” to pilots who are capable of operating safely and independently in a single-crew environment that changes constantly from one day to the next.

To accomplish this, we must create a more structured industry-wide program developed in concert with schools, colleges and the insurance industry, that will ensure we have a steady stream of qualified flight crews to operate our aircraft, and a plan to fuel the passion in a new generation of pilots and engineers.


Fred Jones is the president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada and a regular contributor to Helicopters magazine.


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