Kerry Lynch and Chad Trautvetter AIN Online
HAI Ushers in New Era as Vertical Aviation International
February 26, 2024
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  • Not only is the nascent advanced air mobility (AAM) sector plying new technologies in the aviation industry but it is also challenging how the rotorcraft segment defines itself. This latter point was made apparent last night when Helicopter Association International (HAI) announced an updated identity: Vertical Aviation International (VAI). Likewise, the Heli-Expo name for the association’s annual gathering will be retired after the 2024 edition closes on Thursday, with the new show moniker to be Verticon, now scheduled for March 2025 in Dallas.

    Unveiled during the association’s welcome reception yesterday evening at Heli-Expo, the rebranding comes as the association closes out the celebrations of its 75th anniversary. “We’ve got all kinds of great things going on,” said VAI president and CEO James Viola, adding that the rebranding is part of a “great year” that also marks the first eVTOL on the show floor.

    That eVTOL, Wisk’s Generation 6, is emblematic of VAI’s vision of representing all vertical aircraft, not just helicopters.

    “We looked at all the different rebranding options,” Viola told AIN, but the association wanted to reflect that “We want to be open arms. We want to make sure that all vertical aviation capability is actually represented by the association.”

    To that end, the association has worked to reach out to emerging players in vertical aviation and now counts among its membership companies such as Beta and Joby. “We’ve had to pull them in and help explain why a helicopter association is the right association for them,” he explained. “We’ve done that, and now we’re showing our openness to all of vertical aviation.”

    Important to this effort, he stressed, is the understanding that helicopters are not going away. “Helicopters do about 45 missions, and the new vehicles right now will maybe pick up three to five,” he said. In the future, that may change, but helicopters will always have a role, he explained.

    Instead, they are just different forms of vertical aviation that perform different missions but are complementary and can share resources such as infrastructure. “One of our key things [for future vertical lift] is that the more you do with us, the more you realize that we operate in the same environment, the same airspace. We need the same infrastructure, so let’s magnify our voice and come together.”

    Viola pointed to his history with the FAA stretching back to 2008. “I got to see a lot of that stuff come into general aviation and try to figure out where they fit,” he said. “Then, when I became the president and CEO of HAI, there was some verbiage out there that [eVTOLs] were going to replace helicopters.”

    Further, he saw some confusion among others about the fit with HAI. “You don’t have to do that explanation now that we’ve rebranded.”

    While many of the new members are developers, Viola noted that the association’s board is made up of operators. “We are in the middle of a governance review,” he said, adding the question is how to make sure everyone is properly represented on the board.  “We haven’t solved that yet.”

    However, the association does have an industry advisory council working with new members to ensure that their issues are incorporated into the association’s priorities. These have included a vertical aviation roadmap, he cited as an example.

    The culmination of discussions that have been ongoing for about four years, Viola said the process of rebranding has been a deliberate one. The association stood up a rebranding committee with the board and hired an association rebranding firm.

    “There have been meetings and pollings and talking to people to make sure that the membership’s thoughts are included in this. Most of the decisions by the board have been unanimous.”

    He stressed that VAI will be present, but Heli-Expo will remain throughout the show.