Business Resources for Small Operators

Written by Max Lyons, this piece first appeared in Rotor Magazine's Winter 2016 issue during Lyons' time as chairman of Helicopter Association International's Board of Directors.

As I get older - or should I say, more experienced - I think a lot about what the future of general aviation will look like. This is an exciting time to be in the helicopter industry, when we are benefitting from advances in technology, training, and safety, as well as significant growth in emerging markets.

Nevertheless, our industry also faces challenges. Safety will always top that list, but another area of concern is one that business owners everywhere deal with on a daily basis: keeping their businesses afloat.

Most of us aren't in this industry by accident. We chose a career in helicopter aviation because we are fascinated by these flying machines and are proud of all that we can accomplish with them. We are more than an industry - our passion for aviation unites us as a community.

The flip side of this is that few aviation operators enter the business because of a love for spreadsheets, budgets, or performance metrics. But to be successful, business owners have to understand how to use these and other tools of business management.

All businesses begin as small businesses, often with one or two partners and no employees, and most businesses remain so. Just under 90% of all U.S. businesses employ fewer than 20 staff members, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These national statistics are reflected in our own industry. 87 percent of Helicopter Association International member operators operate fewer than 10 aircraft, and 74 percent operate fewer than five helicopters.

But there is more to running a successful helicopter operation than just being a great pilot or mechanic. It requires balancing operations, finance, and marketing - a task all the harder when your staff is limited.

Wearing many hats is what small business owners do - for example, a recent GoDaddy survey indicates that 46 percent of small businesses do not work with an accountant. However, learning on the fly doesn't always lead to good business decisions.

And the stakes are high. About 50 percent of all new businesses fail in their first five years and 66 percent fail in their first 10, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Yet the influx of new ideas, capital, and capacity that start-ups bring is vital to the growth and health of any industry.

Recognizing these challenges, Helicopter Association International offers education and resources to help its member operators grapple with the realities of running an aviation business. Six of the Helicopter Association International Professional Education courses offered at Heli-Expo 2016 focus on operations management, and ROTOR magazine also covers finance, leasing, tax law, and other business topics.

Another resource is the Helicopter Association International Business Management Committee, which works to improve helicopter owners' and operators' understanding of the economics and business side of the industry. During the last few years, under the leadership of committee chair James Quinn, who in his day job is chief information officer for PHI, the committee has presented an annual HAI Heli-Expo workshop on the fundamentals of running a helicopter business.

This year's workshop will focus on a subject important to any business owner: how to reduce operating costs without lowering standards for safety, quality, or customer satisfaction. You'll find more details about the workshop in the box at left. Small operators of those new to the business management - or really, anyone who would like to improve their expense-revenue ratio - should plan to attend.

Helping members operate sound, profitable businesses is one of the core missions of Helicopter Association International. As is so often the case, what's good for our members is also good for our industry.


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