Heli NRW has been a flying school since 2011. Priding itself on always being in the forefront for new ideas and new technology. Also, one of the newest members of the Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA), who are improving flying standards in Europe. We talk to Robby Jansch, a flight instructor at the company, whose story is anything but typical for the industry.
Robby: “I was an IT programmer and then IT Project Manager at an advertising agency. It wasn’t my goal to enter the world of aviation, it was more like my dream job. In 1999, I did my private licence in the United States. 12 years later I obtained my commercial licence in the south of Germany. I flew for a few years for a helicopter operator in Dusseldorf, doing tours, film and photo flights for movies and documentaries. It was cool, but it just wasn’t enough flying for me. It was logical to make the next step. With Heli NRW I found the perfect combination, doing all the stuff I wanted to do. I can fly and I can teach. I always loved teaching. And actually, I was an instructor for the IT department at the advertising agency too, so in the end, it was the most natural decision to become a flight instructor.”
The flying IT Project Manager
Robby has now flown over 1,500 hours, with about 700 hours as a flight instructor, mostly in the Cabri G2. Even though he also loved IT and programming for large and small companies, in the end it became a little repetitive. Most of the requests from customers were more of the same, rather than something new.
Robby: “Teaching in a helicopter is totally different. It’s like reinventing everything for each person. You can’t repeat it every time, you have to remix it, use every new experience. It’s beginning from scratch with every new student. That’s really fascinating. And you see your own progress over time, that you are growing as an instructor. Sometimes, when I’m sitting in a helicopter, I will be showing something to a trainee pilot, and I think: Wow! Cool, I can do it to the point that I wasn’t able to do four or five years ago.”
Renewing the fleet
It’s clear that Robby really enjoys the continuous learning that you experience and need as a flight instructor. Heli NRW has always focused on the flight school, with a little side business in flying tours, film and photography. The company has also been concentrating on renewing its fleet and has also ordered its first simulators (more on that later). Heli NRW had two Schweizer helicopters which have been replaced by two Cabris and a completely new R44 with a full glass cockpit. With a third Cabri ordered for July 2023.
Robby: “Additionally, on the R44 we have a two axis autopilot which we also use for training. For our ambitious Students we can give them an inside view on how to actually use an autopilot. It is not only a theoretical thing, you fly it for real and learn how to use it. And that’s a big thing! The combination of the two axis autopilot and R44 is a great combination, certainly for low time pilots. Really knowing how the autopilot works is very important, once you move on in your career.”
There’s a lot going on
The training takes places at Mönchengladbach Airport, between Dusseldorf and Cologne. There’s a lot of national and international flight traffic and a large maintenance company for fixed-wing aircraft. In other words, there’s a lot going on, both in the air and on the ground.
Robby: “What’s really special about our place: we have a training area in front of our hangar, which we can use 360 days of the year. We can continue training even when the weather’s bad and we’re not allowed to fly. We can take the helicopter for hover training, quick-stop training, all the things you can do on the ground. If that goes well, you can do more of the training you need to be prepared for, such as or autorotations or landing approaches.”
Attracting students from the other side of Germany, but also the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Where do these people stay, when they train with Heli NRW?
Robby: “We are building an apartment which our students can use for a few days, there’s a hotel nearby and plenty of Airbnbs. If you drive, it’s only 20 minutes from Dusseldorf. Basically, there is something to suit every wallet. That’s the advantage of training in such a densely populated part of Germany.”
Unique international hour building programme
The LHA offers a unique international hour building programme, where young pilots can build their hours at different locations all over Europe. What makes Heli NRW attractive for this? In comparison to mountain flying or coastal exploration?
Robby: “There’s so much to explore. For example, there are twelve natural reservoirs, which are all extremely different. Including floodplains along the Rhine, forests and mixed woodlands. Many small rivers and lakes, which are beautiful in any season. There’s a lot going on too. There are numerous small airfields with nice restaurants, which we can fly to, for a nice lunch or dinner. It’s not just about chartering the aircraft for so many hours, all of our instructors are there for them too. If they need a safety pilot, that’s easy to arrange. If they need any suggestions, or someone to look over their flight plans, we’re there to help.”
It’s a great location for the international hour building programme. Within an hour you can fly in five different countries, including Germany. You’re that close to France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. If you don’t know the area or the people, there’s a whole team at Heli NRW, to help you and make you feel comfortable. And let’s get back to those two new simulators!
Robby: “We’re hopefully getting them before the end of this year. We only just closed the deal at European Rotors in Cologne. We’re still awaiting our EASA licence. However, the plan is to start training on them and be ready for when we have the certification. The idea is to start selling hours in the first quarter of 2023. We’re working on soft skill programmes. We will have CRM (Crew Resource Management) courses on the simulator, which is teamwork training. Also ATC (Air Traffic Control) training. And safety courses like IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) and Inadvertent IMC. To learn what to do in bad weather. We use existing actual accidents or incidents in aviation. We fly them in the simulator, showing how a pilot gets into an accident. We ask the question, how could we react differently?”
This is a very different approach to how other companies use simulators. Can you explain this?
Robby: “Most people only want to do the proficiency checks on the simulators. We want to do more than that. We want to also do training on the simulators. When you’re a commercial pilot, you have to do the CRM training. Most people are doing this online because it is time-consuming, and you don’t get anything new out of it. However, with us, we can simulate these kinds of problems. We can talk directly to the pilots. They can really experience where problems arise, rather than just talking about them. It’s a more realistic path to training, with the main goal: to improve flight safety.”
CRM training has often not been taken seriously enough. This way of thinking by Heli NRW takes it to the next level. The realism improves safety.