Advanced avionics and systems on the next generation of helicopters is leading to a growing skills gap amongst pilots around the world who are needed to fly them.
Now a partnership between Blackpool and The Fylde College (B&FC) and local company HeliSpeed aims to plug that gap by creating a world-class ‘helicopter academy’ at Blackpool Airport.
From its headquarters at the airport, HeliSpeed has been providing a unique service for the past four years that matches the needs of helicopter operators around the world with pilots with the right licence, the right skill set, and relevant mission-specific experience.
Its database of over 700 pilots in 39 countries shows what types of helicopter each is licenced to fly, their areas of operational expertise, and where they are located. This allows pilots to be supplied quickly and for short or long periods, all major large helicopter types to be flown, and a wide range of needs to be met from servicing offshore gas and oil rigs to disaster relief and VIP flights.
Captain Geoff Packer, Chief Executive Officer and founder of HeliSpeed, says that his company’s global reach and vast technical experience provides them with a unique insight what the future holds in terms of the skills needed by professional helicopter pilots.
“We know both from our own experience and through our wide net of industry contacts that although there are currently enough pilots around the world their collective pool of skills is steadily shrinking. This is largely because helicopter technology is developing fast and pilots need to constantly update their skills and knowledge.
“It’s a problem for our industry that is steadily leading to a skills shortage that will only increase over time and which needs to be addressed. Our new HeliSpeed Academy is designed to do just that.
“This is a bold ambition and we need help to achieve it,” he says. “Here in Blackpool we have an ideal partner in Blackpool and The Fylde College with excellent facilities just a few hundred yards from our own offices and with the right mix of lecture rooms and well-equipped workshops to meet our needs. I have no doubt that other synergies will emerge between us and the college as this project progresses.”
HeliSpeed has teamed up with the college through its commercial wing, B&FC for Business, which supports over 1,000 companies across the North West by co-creating workforce development strategies and delivering training.
“The expertise that the college has in high technology areas such as aeronautics, automotive, nuclear and IT make us an ideal partner for HeliSpeed,” says Business Development Director Claire Jameson, who heads up B&FC for Business.
“Our recently opened Lancashire Energy HQ site at the airport is ideally located to support this exciting new venture. Built at a cost of £12.2 million pounds it offers some exceptional and very adaptable facilities for training and which Helispeed will themselves enhance and adapt in line with the training needs of their clients.”
Along with adding to the skills of experienced pilots, Geoff Packer says that training could also be provided to young people wanting to learn to fly a helicopter. The company also expects to add a further eight people to its workforce, more that doubling its current size.