EHC (European Helicopter Center) is the leading helicopter flight academy in Scandinavia. It is renowned in the industry, as one of the main providers of pilots for offshore helicopter operators. EHC is also a founder member of the recently established Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA), Europe’s first network of helicopter schools, set up to improve flying standards.
Founded in 1993, EHC has built up quite a reputation, training many hundreds of pilots in the challenging Norwegian flying conditions. These pilots go on to make a name for themselves all over Europe. So what is it that makes EHC so special? So good in fact, that it has been called the Harvard of helicopter schools. That’s just one of the questions we put to Anette Haldorsen (business manager) and Peter Blom (accountable manager/head of training) at EHC.
There are many things that make EHC unique. Apart from being strictly an ATO, there’s also the fact that all students are housed in a large on-site campus (37 rooms). And a CEO who’s not a pilot, that’s unusual. Normally it’s a pilot who runs the company. What does that mean for the school and the business
Anette: “When I came here in 2015 as head of marketing, EHC operated both as an academy and as a transport and aerial work operator. I was doing all the promotions for the school and also running the commercial department for all the other business. From that perspective, I could see that we were not big enough for the big tenders. And the academy was growing. So, we split the company in two and in this process myself and Peter got the roles we now have. Doing what we both do best, that was unique.
Specialising in training, meant that we could slim down the administration and really focus. It’s basically only me around here who’s not able to fly helicopters. All others are pilots. So my job is obviously to take care of the organisation, the logistics, the finances and the people around here. So it’s quite an exciting way of running the company.”
EHC, an open-minded setting
Peter: “Yes, we are pure ATO. We know exactly what will happen when we are hiring an instructor. We know that within three years, he or she will apply for other jobs. So we have an open-minded setting. We always discuss openly, even if we have hired our instructor just three months ago, that person can speak out and say: Peter, I’m applying for a job there and there. I’ll let you know if I get an interview. Then I have the possibility to plan ahead. It’s an open community, it’s an open privilege for everyone to speak out. If they have a next job, that’s perfect. And it’s even better for us because then we always have rotation. We can see the instructor coming in we can see the instructor doing a great job and then going out to get the next job.”
“We get the best of the best”
Peter: “Whenever we have an opening we have an internal interview where all students can apply. We get the best of the best because we have the privilege of seeing the students throughout a year or two. We can really hand-pick that one person willing to get the instructor rating. We also sponsor that person for 75% of the instructor costs too. So that they can grow without too many expenses.”
Anette: “It’s important to say that not all instructors are hired from our system. We also have instructors from other schools. If everyone was a student here and everyone started teaching here then you’re totally blind for other students.”
What’s not so easy to find are instructors for the advanced courses, like a multi-engine instructor or for the IR and MCC courses. These people have to have the right ratings. You need the hour requirements. You need to have experience, perhaps be a little older, maybe even worked offshore.
“We hold each other’s hands”
EHC is perfect for the career development of students and can pick and choose the best candidates to become a flight instructor. In what other ways can EHC help would-be pilots?
Anette: “Norway is not the biggest country but there are still 17 helicopter companies. We hold each other’s hands. Meaning that if one company needs very experienced pilots, new pilots or whatever, they often contact us. They ask: do you have any recommendations? We then contact people who might like to have that position. We can then send our recommendation back to the company asking for good pilots.”
70% of the students are Norwegian, while the instrument course includes more international students. That is also to do with funding from the government for scholarships, with a really low interest rate. A necessity, considering the country’s terrain. In fact, Norway has one of the highest ratios of helicopters to people in the world.
Over 17 instructors
Focussing on what they did best made the academy more successful. There are now over 17 instructors at EHC. The school has an extremely efficient booking system, also because the students are available all the time. The instructors know exactly what to do and how to prepare. Maintenance is also very efficiently handled. By working with the R44 and the EC135 there are less hours spent on the ground.
When you travel around helicopter operators all over Europe, you will find that many pilots have done their instrument rating at EHC, why is that?
Peter: “In Norway we don’t have VAT for training. Or extra costs for landing fees. Or having to pay extra for the fuel. We have one set price and that’s it. The other thing is reputation. At least two thirds of offshore pilots in the North Sea have studied here, one way or the other.
Anette: “Because we have been here a long time and because of our size, that we know all the pilots, they just automatically call us.”
EHC, a fantastic network of alumni
Anette: “I get very proud when our former students come in wearing some kind of company logo on their jacket just to say hi. A police helicopter lands outside and they come in and grab a coffee. They all come to us and say hi because they all feel like a part of the EHC family.”
Peter: “The students and the instructors who come here have a heart for EHC. We don’t force instructors to fly. If the weather’s bad, have fun and drink coffee. Or don’t come at all. We don’t need to know where they are all the time. The salary is good here, instructors don’t quit because they’re frustrated. They stop flying at EHC because their next job is the one they’ve dreamed about their whole life.”
Anette: “Maybe it sounds strange, but I’m very proud every time I lose an instructor because we see that they go to other companies, bigger companies. They don’t leave here to start working in a gas station. They leave to fly a bigger helicopter. That makes us very proud because then we know that we are relevant for them. The first step.”
Ex-students often call
Peter: “The students see that the instructors love the job. They actually enjoy being here with other students and the instructors. As an example, our instrument instructor gets a student from Poland who’s been in different companies, flying in Iraq or Iran. Or a student that has been out firefighting in Portugal. Super good stories. The instructors almost become friends in the time the students are here. Prospective students often call: should I do a modular course, or should I do a full-time integrated course? In the integrated course, you get to know 60 other people in the industry while you’re here. If it’s an instrument course, you’re most likely hired by another company. That’s no problem. Come here and you will be welcomed by the other students. They want to know your story!”
EHC is about sharing each other’s stories, getting to know one another and feeding the industry internationally.
“I remember the name of all the students”
Anette: “I remember the name of all the students who have been here since I started in 2015. Again, it’s about being part of this big family, being relevant out there. We try to take care of the employees and the students as much as we can. We always tell our students on the first day of school: welcome to the longest interview you will ever have, because this is a two-year-long job interview. We also tell our students that roles can be reversed. That ten years from now the student could be in charge of one of our instructors.”