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Ruedi Hafen named Pilot of the Year

March 26, 2013  By Carey Fredericks

March 26, 2013, Niagara Falls, Ont. - Ruedi Hafen, former owner of Niagara Helicopter Limited, recently received the coveted Helicopter Association International’s oldest and most prestigious award in its Salute to Excellence Awards program, naming him its Pilot of the Year 2013 during its HELI-EXPO 2013 convention in Las Vegas.

Representing more than 3,000 members in 70 countries, the HAI presented the award to Mr. Hafen on March 6th during its awards dinner, at the Encore at the Wynn, held during its 2013 convention held in the Las Vegas Convention Center between March 4th and March 7th, a convention attended by more than 20,000 visitors with more than 700 vertical aviation exhibitors from around the world.

According to the HAI, for more than 50 years, it “has recognized the outstanding achievements and exceptional merits of individuals and organizations through the Salute to Excellence Awards program. All at HAI congratulate the 2013 awardees for their service to our industry.”

The HAI also noted that its “Pilot of the Year Award is the oldest of HAI’s Salute to Excellence awards. The award recognizes an outstanding single feat performed by a helicopter pilot during the year, or extraordinary professionalism over a period of time. Nominees must be active helicopter pilots.”

Mr. Hafen’s award was one of nine excellence awards, the other eight having been bestowed on others honoured for their contributions to the vertical aviation industry.


The awards were presented individually to each of the recipients at a private meeting on Wed., March 6th, prior to the awards dinner, which it considers as being the “premier event” of the giant exhibition.

A total of 650 men and women occupied all 65 tables set up for the awards banquet. During the course of the evening, the HAI introduced all nine award recipients, along with a brief video shown on giant viewing screens, highlighting their accomplishments. Each recipient was also given a life-size photograph commemorating the event for their personal use at home or at work.

As for the videos, the HAI said that it would soon post them on the popular You Tube web site.

Mr. Hafen attended the event with five members of his immediate family, and was later joined at his three awards dinner tables by 23 other friends and colleagues who had flown from Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Switzerland to be with him when he received his award. He also noted that “Lloyd Shoppa, former president of Bell Helicopter TEXTRON, and his wife Betty, came from their home in Texas solely to be there for my award celebration to join us at our family table.”

This marked the 58th time Mr. Hafen has been similarly honoured since he began his helicopter flying career in Switzerland in 1978. Since then, he has logged 40,000 accident-free and violation-free hours as a pilot-in-command of an aircraft, an impressive feat which the HAI noted at its awards dinner.

The HAI also publicly recognized at the awards dinner Mr. Hafen’s key role in two amazing helicopter-assisted rescue operations.
The first rescue occurred on March 11th, 2009 when he and his Niagara Helicopters Limited support team helped the Niagara Parks Commission police High Angle River Team (known as the HART), and Niagara Falls Fire Department firefighters rescue a man from the raging waters of the Niagara River Gorge.

The second rescue took place on June 18th, 2011, when Mr. Hafen and a similar Niagara Helicopters Limited support team, and a member of the Canadian HART used a helicopter to rescue two New York State Parks Police officers who were stranded in a police boat on the American side of the Niagara River, upstream from the Horseshoe Falls section of Niagara Falls.


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