November 22, 2023

Rotor-MIT Collaborative Study Details Opportunities for Technology in Helicopter Aerial Work

Rotor Newsroom

Rotor Technologies, Inc., in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) I-Corps program, conducted a major study on the challenges and opportunities in the helicopter aerial work industry, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Helicopter Society. 

The study found that helicopter aerial work missions are diverse and complex, resulting in operational challenges not seen in commercial air transport, and creating business challenges such as low aircraft utilization, seasonal demand, and tough contracting structures. 

A case study on aerial firefighting found that the ability to prevent, contain, and mitigate the incidence of extreme wildfires is being severely strained and that technology could have an important role to play in the future of aerial firefighting, in particular through enhanced situational awareness, efficacy monitoring, night and degraded visual environment operations, uncrewed aircraft systems, and advanced communications systems. 

Participants in the study highlighted that new technology developed for aerial work should be reliable and maintainable, compatible with existing operations and equipment, designed with human factors in mind, and integrated with mission-specific tools. 

“When it comes to the development and adoption of technology in helicopter aerial work, those who develop technology are not those who use it,” the authors note, “This paper hopes to short-circuit the flow of information from ‘market’ to ‘product,’ so new entrants developing technology might have an easier time finding product-market fit in this complex industry. The challenges the correspondents reported today and their assessment of future needs are evidence of the huge opportunity for better technology.”

The 18-page study, titled “Helicopter Aerial Work: Technology to Meet Growing Needs in Critical Missions,” is the most comprehensive contemporary study of the helicopter aerial work industry. It draws upon data from more than 180 interviews conducted during late 2021 and early 2022 by the Rotor team with operators, pilots, and users across the helicopter aerial work industry. The study is available in digital format through open access; readers can also read the key findings in a two-page executive summary

Rotor would like to thank the MIT I-Corps for supporting this research. We also owe a debt of gratitude to our friends across North America and the world who took time out from “keeping the rotors turning” to tell us about what they do. We thank the over 180 industry leaders who participated in the study, including, among many others:

  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Australian NAFC
  • British Columbia Wildfire
  • British Helicopter Association
  • CalFire
  • CHC Helicopter
  • CHI Aviation
  • Colorado Fire
  • Columbia Helicopter
  • Dauntless Air
  • Erickson
  • French Fire Service
  • Helicopter Association International
  • HeliOffshore
  • Hellenic Fire Service
  • JBI Helicopters
  • National Parks Service
  • National Agricultural Aviation Association
  • National EMS Pilot Association
  • Orange County Fire Authority
  • Portuguese Agency for Fire Management
  • RescEU
  • San Diego Gas and Electric
  • Sikorsky Helicopter
  • Spanish MITECO
  • US Forest Service
  • US Department of the Interior
Published On
November 22, 2023
About Rotor

Rotor develops autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft to make vertical flight radically safer and more accessible.

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