features Leading Helicopter Academies discuss groundbreaking network agreement

Helicopter training schools can offer a bewildering array of courses for the novice pilot, which can only add to the stress of learning to fly. The recently-launched Leading Helicopter Academies network hopes to simplify the process and enhance student opportunities.
Avatar for Glenn Sands By Glenn Sands | July 25, 2022

Estimated reading time 10 minutes, 56 seconds.

Photos by Lloyd Horgan

Ten flight training organizations across Europe have joined together to establish the Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA) network — a first-of-kind cooperative network that aims to offer students more options than ever before in terms of flight training.

Heli Austria is one of the 10 founding members of the Leading Helicopter Academies network, which hopes to offer flight students more choice and opportunities.

The LHA was launched in June 2022, and is the result of a simple exploratory email sent in 2021 by HeliCentre, a helicopter training school based in the Netherlands, to similar establishments across Europe.

The network will offer prospective students a comprehensive overview of their training options across Europe, and will allow students of one organization the ability to fill any blanks in their training with another LHA member. And for the members, they can share their experience and best practices with one another.

An instructor takes a student through a preflight checklist in a Bell 505 Jet Ranger X.

“HeliCentre reached out to many of us with the idea, and the immediate response from many of us was, ‘This is so obvious — why haven’t we thought of this before?’ ” said Annette K. Haldorsen, LHA spokesperson and CEO of the European Helicopter Center (EHC) in Norway.

“There were several helicopter academies across Europe, but we are so far apart. It’s a long way from Norway to Greece or Portugal. We don’t all speak the same language, and we don’t have the same kind of students, but we all have the same problems and solutions. As I read the email, it was clear that we were all following the EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] guidelines, so we weren’t competitive. We were all in the same market — and we’d be able to help each other.

“As it was the middle of the pandemic, we had several meetings on Teams where we got to know one another and discussed ideas. It was only in June this year that we all finally managed to meet up face-to-face in Amsterdam. So, I guess you could call that our first launch conference.”

The 10 founding members of the LHA are the European Helicopter Center (Norway), Heli Austria Flight Academy, Helibravo (Portugal), HeliCentre (Netherlands), Heli-flight (Germany), Helicopter Groundschool (Belgium), LION Helicopters (Czech Republic), Mountainflyers (Switzerland), Pole-Air (France) and Superior Air (Greece).

Students could potentially take classes with one member operator, and other classes with another in a different flight environment.

Together, they have a combined fleet of 150 helicopters and provide over 16,000 hours of flight training every year.

Part of the launch process involved putting together lists of what kind of helicopters the various training schools had, the kind of students they were enrolling, what the schools taught and how they did it, and most importantly, what they needed in terms of assistance moving forward.
“One example that came to light was that if a helicopter school in Portugal needed to teach a student about flying in winter conditions, it was impossible,” Haldorsen said. “But if we could offer them a position in our Norwegian school during the snow season, that would solve the problem — even though it might be on a different helicopter.”

With a host of flight schools spread across Europe, Haldorsen said it was “critical” that standards are maintained across the group.

“We all come under the EASA umbrella and some courses we offer are the same — but some are not. For example, if a student has booked a CPL [commercial pilot license] and an instrument course but that particular school can’t provide the latter, we’d be able to offer the first year in Portugal. Then they can come to Norway for six months to complete their instrument qualification. For any kind of specialist training, such as firefighting or something that we can’t offer but that other schools in Europe can, we’ll have the ability going ahead to know what each of us can teach. By getting to know each other more, we’ll know what kind of specialist training we each provide.

“From that first meeting we realized that we all have so much to learn from one another and how, in combination, we can help out on future tenders. One of our goals was to make an organization that was easier for the customer and for companies to find their way around the intricacies of helicopter training. By combining our resources and skills it means that LHA is one of the biggest helicopter training schools now in terms of annual flight hours.”

With such resources available within the LHA, what is the process for a student who has their CPL and wants to specialize to acquire a full-time commercial pilot position?

“If you’re a student and you know you simply want an instrument course, it’s simply a case of looking on the website and seeing which will work best — the whole of Europe is available,” said Haldorsen. “If they are seeking something more specialized like firefighting, a search on our website will show what schools teach this and where they are located. It’s about making it as easy as possible for the student or experienced pilot seeking additional skills.

“Working through this process also brought a tremendous exchange of ideas across all the schools. We’d often discuss rules and regulations and techniques. It ranged from how theory lessons are taught in the classroom, to autorotation techniques.

Time in flight simulators could more easily be found through LHA members, said Haldorsen. VRM Switzerland Photo

“Several instructors from schools visited each other now that Europe has opened up,” she continued. “Here at EHC, we are in the planning stages of visiting some of the other schools in a few months’ time. It’s just about pushing that goal and learning and sharing what we know and sharing with others.”

The diverse fleet of training helicopters that now falls within LHA could be seen as a problem, with a student halfway through their course having to convert to a new type when relocating for a specialist training syllabus. Haldorsen disagrees.

“Having a diverse fleet is a huge advantage,” she said. “Our school has two types of helicopter: the [Robinson] R44 and [Airbus] H135. When they are done, if I have students who would like a type rating on a further type, I can make a call to one of the schools within the LHA group and organize that.”

“Concerning simulators, EASA’s regulations for simulator training are growing and it wants more to be available for students. This is good news for LHA as we now have a range of available helicopter simulators positioned across Europe.

“So, let’s say one school has a problem with one or two of its training helicopters, they can make a call to another school and ask to rent a helicopter or request time in their simulator to continue the student’s training,” she continued. “Or the student can relocate for a month or so whilst the repairs are carried out. The possibilities for trainees are all very exciting and endless.”

With the prospect of helicopter students moving back and forth across Europe to various flight schools while under the LHA banner, their abilities and requirements have to be closely monitored and logged, but Haldorsen doesn’t foresee any issues.

“Of course, we will discuss their particular needs with every student, because even though we have integrated courses, they vary, and we also have modular courses,” she said. “So, if a student wants to shop around a little, we can sit with them and offer advice on a tailored package. At EHC, we offer very integrated courses, and we also have modular courses where we can mix and match. Of course, we must stick to the EASA regulations, but what we are now looking at is how the courses going ahead will allow a student to fly in hot weather in southern Europe before teaching them how to operate in cold conditions in Norway. It’s a very exciting prospect.”

There is potential for future helicopter pilots graduating under the LHA umbrella to be much more experienced, having flown more types and in a wider variety of weather conditions than was previously the norm. Haldorsen believes that this is only the beginning.

“I hope that we are now on the road to making Europe more accessible and [making it] easier for student helicopter pilots to move within this market,” she said. “If you sit at home and Google ‘helicopter training,’ there are about 50 different links with everything from small flying clubs to large schools.

The 10 founding members have a combined fleet of 150 helicopters and provide over 16,000 hours of flight training every year.

“Our goal with LHA is to make it easy to understand for new pilots,” she said. “If there are big operators or government organizations that have a need to train their pilots with new skills, then the process for tendering can be part of the LHA business plan, too. It’s about all helping each other and making the training better and relevant and accessible.”

Haldorsen said the reaction from the industry has been overwhelmingly positive so far. “As soon as the announcement was made, I started getting emails in my inbox with enquiries. People have been very welcoming of this idea. Their common reaction was that often they Google ‘helicopter training schools’ and find those that are listed had closed or no longer operated the service.

The network’s goal is to make flight training easy to understand for prospective students.

“I have to confess, I have been involved within the industry for a long time and when we all met in Amsterdam, I didn’t know what all the schools in the academy offered,” she said. “It’s going to be exciting, and the road ahead will be to the benefit of all involved.”

Notice a spelling mistake or typo?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Report an error or typo

Have a story idea you would like to suggest?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Suggest a story

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.