More Helicopter Charter Company Advice

You need a business plan? Do it right.

I need to start this blog post by reporting that at this moment, there are 2,214 items in my email Inbox, 64 of which have not yet been read. See?

My email inbox is really out of control.

So maybe you can understand why you’ll find this paragraph on the Contact Me page of this site:

I cannot provide career advice of any kind, whether you want to be a writer or a helicopter pilot. The posts in this blog have plenty of advice — read them. There’s a pretty good chance that I’ve covered your question here in a blog post.

Yet the contact form on that page continues to be used by pilots requesting career or business-related information. Apparently these people have failed to read or understand the paragraph right above the contact form, which says:

First, read the above. All of it. Now understand that if you contact me by email for any of the above reasons, I’m probably not going to respond.

I don’t know any way to be more clear than that.

So yes, I get dozens of email messages every month from people who either can’t read or comprehend the above-quoted paragraphs. And I delete just about every single one.

You want more about this? Read this.

So Outrageous It Needs an Answer

That said, here’s today’s question from a reader in Germany, a question I found so outrageous that I fired up my blog composition app and started typing.

Hi Maria,

i like your blog and read it nearly every week. I am a helicopter pilot too and try now to realize my own company next to my job at airbus helicopters.
I am just at the point: How can i buy a helicopter R44 like you ???

I know it is not easy but i have to create a concept for my bank.

Where do I begin?

How I Bought My Helicopter

How did I buy my R44? I sold my R22 and an apartment building I owned, took the proceeds plus a $160,000 loan from AOPA’s aircraft lending program, and handed it over to Robinson Helicopter. I then paid back that loan over eight years at about $2,100/month — while I covered my living expenses and all the costs of operating my business.

How did I buy the R22 and an apartment building? I worked my ass off as a writer, working 12-hour days, for more month-long stretches than I care to remember, writing books about how to use computers. I wrote 85 of them in 25 years and some of them did very, very well. But instead of pissing the money away on stupid things to keep up with the Joneses, I invested it in real estate and my future.

Through hard work and smart money management, I became a helicopter pilot without incurring a penny of debt and I acquired the assets I needed to build my helicopter charter company.

That’s what I did. Are you ready to do that, too?

Me and My Helicopter

First of all, I my entire guide for starting a helicopter charter business can be found in a post coincidentally titled “How to Start your Own Helicopter Charter Business.” Someone interested in doing this should probably start there. You want to know how you can do what I did? That blog post, which was written way back in 2009 and has been sitting on this blog waiting for folks to read it since then, explains exactly what I did.

So even though this person claims to read my blog “nearly every week,” this person hasn’t bothered to use the search box at the top of every single page to find blog entries that might have been missed that might have the information wanted. Instead, I’m expected take time out of my day — time that might be used to clear out some of the crap in my inbox — to explain how to write a business plan for a helicopter charter company.

Because that’s what needed here: a business plan.

Business Plan Resources

Most people can’t do what I did to start their own helicopter charter company. Those are the people who need business plans because they need a lender to give them the money that they need to acquire the assets that they need to start their business.

There are no shortcuts. Either you have the money and can spend it or you need to find a lender who will give it to you. And that lender is going to need some proof that you know everything about your business before you even start it.

That’s what business plans do: They help you understand every aspect of the business you want to start. They also prove to a lender that you’ve thought it through and that it has the potential to make a profit so they can get their money back.

There are countless sources of free information about creating business plans. Many of them are online. Google “How do I create a business plan?” and see for yourself. An especially good resource is the U.S. Small Business Administration‘s Create Your Business Plan page. These are also the folks who can help you get a loan through their own program.

Like reading books? (I hope someone still does.) A search of for “creating a business plan” yields a list of more than 2,900 books on the topic. Isn’t it worth investing a few dollars to help you do this right?

I Can’t Do It for You

Living the Dream?
People tell me that I’m “living the dream” and lately I think I agree. But it wasn’t luck or charity that got me here. I did it all myself, despite numerous obstacles, and I’m proud of it. When you achieve your goals through your own efforts, you’ll be proud, too.

If this post comes across as a snarky rant, it’s because that’s the way I feel about this. I’m really tired of people trying to get me to help them achieve their goals.

No one helped me. No one. In fact, too many people close to me tried to hold me back.

A professional pilot friend told me I was a fool to think I could start a career as a pilot so late in life. (I was 39 when I got my private pilot certificate.) He told me I’d never make any money.

My mother cried when I bought my first helicopter. She was convinced that I’d die in a fiery crash. (She also cried when I left my full-time job as a financial analyst to become a freelance writer.)

My wasband tried to talk me out of buying the R44. He should have know as well as I did how impossible it was to build any kind of charter business with an R22. He also tried to keep me from traveling to Washington state each summer — by endlessly trying to make me feel guilty about the trips — where I finally found the work I needed to make my company profitable. (I only wish I’d chosen my business over him about 10 years earlier.)

No one told me what I’d later learn through trial and error about advertising, getting maintenance done, finding clients, and building a niche for my services. (I’ve blogged extensively about all these things here.)

Every helicopter charter business is different. The only business I know about is mine — and I’ve shared most of what I know on this blog. It’s here for anyone willing to take the time to look for it. (Hint: there’s a Search box at the top of each page.)

I cannot be expected to cook up an all-purpose formula that will work for anyone who wants to create a business like mine where they live. And even if I could, I wouldn’t. Any business with that formula would fail. Why? Because if the business owner doesn’t fully understand his/her business, he can’t possibly make it succeed.

So my advice to those of you interested in starting a helicopter charter business is this: stop looking for someone to do the hard part for you. Do your homework. Analyze the market. Gather information about costs. Check out the competition. And then write a complete, thorough business plan.

If you can succeed at doing that on your own, you might have a shot at succeeding in your business.

You’re the Pilot

A reminder — or bit of inspiration — for a Monday morning.

I am the queen of clutter and a big portion of my life is spent sorting and discarding things I don’t need to in an effort keep that clutter under control. The clutter naturally extends to my computer’s virtual desktop, with so many stray icons scattered about that I can barely see the photo beneath them. So, once again, this morning I found myself reviewing and discarding the items I didn’t need.

And that’s when I stumbled upon one of those Facebook or Twitter memes that goes around. You know what I’m talking about. Someone takes a photo and superimposes text over it to share a message. Because social network users respond better to images than plain old text, the image is viewed and the message is read. If it’s meaningful to the viewer and the viewer is a sharer, it gets shared. Eventually it ends up in your Facebook timeline or Twitter stream.

Or mine.

I see a ton of these every day — so many that I fully admit to unfollowing the people who share only these canned messages. The way I see it is that if you can’t come up with something original, there’s really no reason to follow you because whatever you share will likely come from someone else anyway. And who likes seeing the same old crap over and over?

And they are crap, for the most part. Quotes or idioms or just statements that are meant to be deep or meaningful or funny. Most of them completely miss the mark. The ones I hate the most are the ones where the image has absolutely nothing to do with the text superimposed on it. I’m not big on Bible quotes, either, especially when there are so many cafeteria-style Christians who haven’t bothered to read the whole Bible and simply share the quotes they think say it all. (Newsflash: they don’t.)

But every once in a while, one will come across my social media network and really mean something to me. Those are the ones I share. And if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know just how rare it is that I share one of these.

And that’s what I found on my Desktop this morning. One that I’d seen and probably shared on February 19, 2015.

How do I know the exact date if I’m not even sure that I shared it? Easy. I copied the file to my Desktop and it was appropriately time- and date-stamped.

I don’t remember who shared it with me, but I suspect it came through on Twitter. If so, I likely retweeted it before saving it and likely sharing it on Facebook, too. If I wasn’t so lazy — or, in reality, eager to finish this up and get on with my day — I’d take a while to track it down. Ironically, this message sort of explains why I won’t bother.

I'm the Pilot

This particular meme is extremely meaningful to me on so many levels.

First, back in 2008, when my pilot friend Erik got sick with cancer, I found myself with a new sense of urgency in my life. I was 47 back then, not much younger than 54-year-old Erik. I saw myself stuck living in a place I didn’t want to be, mired in a life of [admittedly unusual] routine. While I worked hard, long hours when I had work to do — mostly writing books back then — I had lots of free time. That free time was being pissed away doing very little of interest. Time was flying and I knew time was the one thing I could never get back.

When Erik died the following year, it was easy to see how it could have been me. No one knows when The Big C will strike and how much damage it can do. What if it had been me? There were so many things I wanted to do with my life — things to learn, things to see, things to experience. I wanted to travel far and wide, to experience life in new ways. The dissatisfaction I’d begun to feel with my [admittedly cushy] life became more and more difficult to ignore.

Time was flying away from me and I was letting it.

At this point, I could go into yet another long dissertation about why I was stuck in Wickenburg and why I couldn’t change my life. As regular readers know, I was married at the time and my wasband was an anchor — and not in the positive sense of that metaphor. But in reality, it all comes down to me. I should have realized that my wasband was holding me back and that our relationship was going nowhere. But love and trust and the blind belief in lies and empty promises can play tricks on even the most analytical of people. I was a sucker and I paid for it.

And that’s where the second part of the quote comes in. You see, we all do have control over our lives. We can make excuses why we don’t, but we do.

Throughout our lives, we make decisions that put us into the circumstances in which we find ourselves. School, jobs, relationships, habits, spending. How many decisions do we make each day? How do those decisions affect how we live and what we do? What if we’d made different decisions — how would they have changed our circumstances today?

Think about where you are now and what decisions you made to get there. Happy or unhappy, it’s up to you.

Time flies, but you’re the pilot. You have control over your life.

Of course, this whole meme is made even more meaningful to me because I am a pilot. Literally. I fly helicopters and have been doing so for the past 15 years. I now make my living primarily as a pilot — although I do still write — and I’ve never felt happier or better about my life and my future.

Why? Because I finally took control of my life and made it what I wanted it to be.

Time flies and I’m the pilot.

So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 10: Network

Who you meet, how you meet them, and what they think of you can impact your flying career.

[Note: Hard to believe that nearly four years have gone by since I wrote most of this series, but I find that the older I get, the faster time flies. I’d planned on writing additional parts, but life got in the way. I’m ready to continue now and, with four years to think about it, I’m pretty sure I’ve got some good content to add.]

Networking is an important part of building any career, including flying helicopters. The people you meet can help — or hinder — your career advancement.

How Networking has Helped My Flying Career

I’ve been flying helicopters for about 15 years now and have accumulated a modest 3,200 hours of flight time, mostly in my R44 and the R22 I owned before it. I’ve been networking with other pilots, owners, and operators since I realized I wanted to build a career as a pilot and it has paid off.

It’s networking that got me an interview with Papillon at the Grand Canyon back in 2004. What I said at the interview got the job.

It’s networking that got me started as a cherry drying pilot back in 2008. I met a pilot doing this kind of work and when he needed a pilot, he remembered and called me.

It’s networking that got me started doing frost control work back in 2013. I spoke to another pilot doing that kind of work and asked him if he knew of any jobs. He gave me the phone number of an almond grower and gave me the information I needed to write a mutually beneficial contract with a new client.

It’s networking that gets me just about all of my new business. Other than maintaining a website for my business, I don’t advertise anymore. I get new clients through word-of-mouth. When I want to explore the possibility of a rides gig, I look through my address book for friends and acquaintances who might have the connections I need to get a toe in the door.

And it’s networking that makes it relatively easy to find new pilots to work with me for cherry drying. I start my search by asking around. I remember the pilots I like — and the ones who rubbed me the wrong way — and make offers — or ignore requests — accordingly.

How to Network

Networking is actually kind of easy. Just meet and talk to new people involved in the industry. Need some ideas to get started? Try these:

  • Get to know other pilots at your flight school or job. Don’t be shy. Socialize. The guy you see in the pilot lounge at your flight school today might be someone working at the Gulf when you’re looking for work — and give you the contact you need to get an interview there. The CFI leaving to work at Papillon next week could be the chief pilot at a charter operation in a few years.
  • Join a helicopter organization. HAI and Whirly Girls comes to mind — although I admit that I don’t belong to either one of them for reasons I’d rather address in a separate blog post. These organizations are full of helicopter pilots and others in helicopter-related jobs. You can meet other members at events.
  • Attend helicopter aviation conferences and seminars. HeliExpo is an obvious suggestion, but other helicopter organizations and publications (such as Vertical Magazine) also sponsor events. And don’t forget the FAA! The Wings program occasionally has lectures for helicopter pilots; try attending one.
  • Aircrane
    I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with the pilot of one of these. Don’t you think it might be interesting to learn more about his work?

    Attend helicopter-related events. I’m thinking of helicopter fly-ins and other airport events. Although relatively rare, they do exist and they’re often full of helicopter pilots who are friendly and enthusiastic. I can think of three pilots I’m still very good friends with who I met at a helicopter event at Falcon Field Airport in Mesa, AZ years ago. One of them has worked for me drying cherries here in Washington.

  • Visit pilots at work. Years ago, on a road trip in Idaho, I passed a field filled with helicopters — a fire base. A Boeing Vertol 107 was parked there and I, a new pilot at the time, wanted to see it close up. I drove into the base, parked, and tracked down the pilot. Because he wasn’t busy, he very graciously took me aboard his ship, showed me how the snorkel pump worked, and let me sit in the co-pilot seat while he sat next to me and explained the mind-boggling array of switches, circuit breakers, and gauges. Although my goal that day was not to network with other pilots, I could easily have done so — there were a dozen or so waiting around for a fire call. Of course, if the base had been active, I would have stayed away. But there’s no reason you can’t visit pilots on duty but not actively working. Think of EMT and ENG bases, too. Often, the pilot is just sitting around, waiting for a call and wouldn’t mind a visitor. Just make sure you’re welcome before you barge in.

The Role of Social Networking

Social networking takes all kinds of networking to a new level. You can network 24/7 with pilots all over the world through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and online forums. Helicopter-specific groups on Facebook, for example, is a good way to share stories, photos, and questions with other pilots.

I’ve met more than a few helicopter pilots on Twitter and Facebook; while my social networking hasn’t advanced my career — or theirs — yet, who’s to say it won’t? In the meantime, I’ve gotten a ton of solid advice from pilots with far more experience than I’ll ever have. That, and the real-life friendship with some of these people, is worth the time and effort I put into online social networking.

Don’t Be a Dick

But be careful! Your activities — both online and in the real world — can come back to haunt you. It all depends on how you approach networking, how you treat your fellow pilots, and what your attitude is or seems to be.

I blogged about a pilot who proved what an inconsiderate and dangerous asshole he could be back in 2009. I’d flown into Sedona, AZ with my brother and his wife and a helicopter pilot didn’t like where I parked. He retaliated by hover-taxiing right past my family, within 15 feet of where they were standing, when he had several other safer departure routes. I reported his action to the airport management. When I reported him to my POI at the Scottsdale FSDO, I was told that he’d caught by an Inspector being rude to the receptionist. The Inspector had attempted an attitude adjustment, but I doubt he got anywhere with this particular jerk.

As regular readers of my blog know, I absolutely abhor online forums. The reason: every single discussion turns into a nasty exchange of inane comments, normally prompted by the comments of a troll who has to prove how smart he is by saying something that gets under the skin of someone else. The replies are fired out fast and furiously and inevitably turn mean. Why people put up with that crap is beyond me. I seldom find any content worth reading in an online forum. But that’s likely because I lack the patience necessary to wade through the bullshit for the gems hiding underneath. Unlike the trolls that haunt these forums, I have a life.

I remember the names of the assholes I meet in this industry. I remember the trolls in the forums, too. And I have a lot of friends in the industry. And we talk.

And what we share affects hiring decisions. Just saying.

I wrote a bit more about attitude in Part 5 of this series.

Networking Works — But It Can’t Work Miracles

I’ve had a good amount of success with networking to further my career, but I have to admit that career advancement isn’t the main reason I network with other pilots. I’m a relatively friendly person and I really like talking to people with similar interests. I’m also interested in learning new things from people who know, through experience, things I don’t know. I guess you can say I’m a natural at networking.

But I do admit that I’m frustrated annoyed by people who contact me directly, by email or phone or even blog comments, obviously trying to use me as an “in” for a job. News flash: contacting a stranger to ask for a favor is not a good networking strategy. I admit that I’m more likely to delete these incoming emails than answer them. Maybe it’s because I’m getting curmudgeony in my old age.

You can’t expect networking to work miracles, especially if you use a heavy handed approach. Just because you had a nice conversation with the Chief Pilot of a charter company while the two of you waited out a thunderstorm in the pilot lounge of an FBO doesn’t mean he’s going to hire you for the next position that opens. Especially if you come across as someone who’s only talking to him because you think that job offer is possible.

But if you make networking a natural part of your professional life, things will happen — normally, when you least expect it.

I Am NOT a Helicopter Consultant

Please don’t ask me for advice beyond what’s on this blog.

Today I got yet another request for help from a reader. That’s the third one this week.

Back in the old days, the requests were for help about using computers. They all followed the same two-part format:

  1. I’ve read your [book/article/blog post] and I think it’s [informative/helpful/great]! You’re a great writer and your work has been so helpful!
  2. Can you tell me how to [do something specific that is only vaguely related to what you wrote about and that isn’t covered in any source I can find for free on the Internet]?

Simple formula: complement and then ask for free information.

At one point, I was getting at least a dozen of these a week. So many, in fact, that I modified my Contact page so it warned would-be contacts that I’d delete any requests for help or information. It was really out of control. I could have easily spent several hours a day just researching and composing answers for these people.

Times change. My books, some of which were once bestsellers, are now dead. After all, what do you think the average life span of a computer how-to book is?

Now my blog attracts more helicopter pilots/owners and would-be helicopter pilots/owners. And guess what? They write to me using the same exact formula as above: complement and then ask for free information.

Well, times may have changed but my policy about researching and composing answers for people in search of free information has not.


I am not a helicopter consultant. I can’t help you buy a helicopter. I can’t help you get hooked up with a flight school. I can’t advise you on a career as a helicopter pilot. I can’t tell you which helicopter is best for you to buy. I can’t tell you what it costs to operate a helicopter — other than the one I own, which I detailed here. I can’t help you get your Part 135 certificate. I can’t tell you how to start your own helicopter charter business.

I blog about helicopters, among other things. I blog about my own experiences and the topics that interest me.

I am not a free resource for every bit of information you might need about anything remotely related to helicopters and flying.

I make a living as a pilot and a writer. People pay me for my work. What you’ll find on this blog is what I’m willing to give away for free. When the bank and grocery story and utility companies start accepting your complements as payment for my bills, I’ll rethink my policy.

Until then, good luck with Google.


Whew. That feels better.

Stop Whining and Just Do Your F*cking Job

A Google search phrase touches a nerve.

Every once in a while, when I check the stats for my blog, I also take a look at the search engine terms and phrases that visitors used to find posts on my blog. This list is never complete — Google has begun hiding search words/phrases for privacy reasons — but it certainly is enlightening. It gives me a good idea of what people come to my blog to learn. That, in turn, gives me ideas for future topics.

During the first six hours of today, the following search phrase stands out:

i m a girl and i want become a pilot so what can i do

This is a seriously sore subject with me. You see, I don’t believe a woman should do anything different from a man when pursuing any career. The career path to becoming a pilot is the same no matter what your gender is: get the required education and training, get job experience, and move forward.

How could this possibly be any different for women than it is for men?

Women need to stop thinking of themselves as women when out in the job market. They need to stop thinking about men vs. women and simply think of job candidates vs. job candidates.

The way this search phrase was written, I get the distinct impression that the searcher was a young person — perhaps even a teen or younger. After all, she referred to herself as a “girl” instead of as a “woman” or simply “female.” That means that for some reason, she’s been taught to think of herself first as female and second as a professional. Why are parents and teachers doing this to our young people?

These days, there have been far too many whining complaints from women who are complaining about different treatment because they’re women. I’m calling bullshit on all of this. The reason you’re being treated differently is because you’re acting differently. Maybe you’re making different demands from your employer — excessive time off to deal with your children. Maybe you’re dressing differently in the workplace — short skirts, tight pants, and low-cut blouses. Maybe you’re acting differently at the office — spending too much time on the phone or gossiping about coworkers.

If you want to be treated the same as your male counterparts in the workplace, you need to stop acting like a woman and start acting like a worker.

And before you share your sob stories with me or put me on your hate list, take a lead from me. I’ve been in and achieved success in three male dominated careers — by choice — in the past 32 years:

  • Corporate auditing/finance. Straight out of college at the age of 20, I got a job as an auditor for the New York City Comptroller’s Office. I’d estimate that only about 20% of the people holding the same job were women. By the age of 22, I was a supervisor with 12 people below me, most of whom were men. Three years later, I moved into an Internal Audit position at a Fortune 100 corporation. I’d say 30% of our small audit staff were female. From there, I moved into a financial analyst position at the same company; 25% were women. I got good pay raises every year and with every promotion. (And yes, I was promoted.)
  • Technical computing/computer book authoring. In 1990, I left my full-time job to pursue a freelance career as a computer trainer and book author. This is clearly a male-dominated industry with roughly 10-20% of the people doing what I did being women. Yet I was able to get and hold a number of computer training positions, land over 80 book contracts, and write hundreds of articles about computing. I’m still doing this work.
  • Aviation/piloting. In 2000, I learned to fly and began building a career as a pilot and charter operator. How many female pilots do you see around? And helicopter pilots? I can’t imagine more than 5% of all helicopter pilots being women. It’s a seriously male-dominated field. Yet I built my company over time to the point where it generates a good amount of business, especially through summer contract work. For the past two seasons, I have been the only female helicopter pilot doing cherry drying work in Washington state.

How did I achieve such success when surrounded by men doing the same job? By simply doing my job without whining.

Ladies, take note! You want the same opportunities as men in the workplace? Stop whining and crying about how different you are. Stop being different. Focus on the work and get the job done. Do it to the best of your abilities. Be a team player.

Nobody likes a whiner. I’m sick of being lumped into a group — women — who incessantly whine about how different they’re treated when all they can do is show how different they are.

And if you think you’re a woman first and an employee second, you have absolutely no place in the workplace. Employers and clients don’t want men or women. They want people who get the job done.

November 6, 2014 PM Postscript: Here’s another blog post from 2013 that also discusses this issue, but with quotes from female pilots.