HAI NAMES NEW PRESIDENT
JIM VIOLA IS A PILOT WITH ARMY, FAA EXPERIENCE
January 28, 2020 | By Mike Collins
James A. “Jim” Viola became president and chairman of the Helicopter Association International (HAI) on January 16, replacing Matthew S. Zuccaro, who announced his retirement last fall. Viola was introduced to the HAI membership at Heli-Expo 2020 in Anaheim, California. The show runs through January 30.
Viola most recently served as director of the Office of General Aviation Safety Assurance for the FAA, where he oversaw flight standards district offices and 2,500 employees across the United States, and was responsible for maintaining consistency and standardization in the application of GA safety oversight. He also was responsible for starting the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, serving as its initial government co-chair.
Viola is rated in both helicopters and airplanes, and said he owns a fixed-wing Grumman American AA–5B Tiger. “I really do love helicopters,” he said at a media briefing. “I fly airplanes if I need to.”
Safety is essential to the economic viability of the industry as well as to public trust, Viola said. Initially he will focus on member service, and is asking HAI members what the organization can do better, what it should stop doing, and what it’s not doing that it should.
Viola’s three- to five-year vision for HAI encompasses a strategic plan for member service initiatives. It also acknowledges the ongoing dynamic changes throughout vertical-lift aviation, including unmanned aircraft systems, and the contributions of industry manufacturers and suppliers.
“My style is more change management,” he said. “If there’s work we need to do because we’re not in alignment, we should get that out there.” He also wants to develop better relationships with other industry associations. He already reached out to AOPA President Mark Baker to discuss noise and access, the biggest issues for GA—whether fixed or rotary wing. “It’s all about access.”
Viola’s aviation career began with the U.S. Army, with the majority of his flying in MH–6 and MH–47 helicopters as a special operations pilot. He rose to the rank of colonel and completed his military career as division chief of Army Aviation for Current Operations, where he determined and recommended the aviation unit station; prioritization; and optimization of 4,200 Army aircraft, 100 manned units, and the combat rotation plan to Iraq and Afghanistan, HAI said in a news release.
He said he learned about HAI while he was flying Chinooks during the week and Robinson R22s on weekends, to earn his rotorcraft CFI. And his safety emphasis reaches back to the military. “I deployed 30 Black Hawks and crews to Iraq, and I brought 30 Black Hawks and crews home,” he said. He left the army Army in 2008 to work for the FAA.
HAI needs to embrace eVTOL, he said. “It’s not a replacement. Helicopters aren’t going away. We have these additional capabilities.” Bringing young people into the industry will be another challenge. “We’re trying to grow the workforce and we think that’s part of the association’s role.”
A strong advocate for GA, Viola has airline transport pilot ratings for helicopters and airplanes and is a dual-rated CFI with Special Federal Aviation Regulation 73 endorsements for the Robinson R22 and R44 helicopters. He has more than 6,000 flight hours, including 1,100 with night-vision goggles. Viola has three master’s degrees.
“I am grateful to the board of directors for selecting me to take up Matt’s role in promoting the international vertical lift industry,” Viola said. “Matt’s unwavering advocacy for safe flight of all kinds made him a pleasure to work with while I was with the FAA. I look forward to continuing his legacy of HAI advocacy for safety.”
Mike Collins Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994.
He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.