Andreas Hennig is a flight instructor at Heli-Flight in Germany, a founding member of the Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA). He has been flying helicopters for 23 years. It all started when he was 13 years old, the moment his neighbour landed a helicopter in the garden. What young boy wouldn’t be impressed by that!?
In 1999 Andreas Hennig started training for his private pilot licence in the United States, while also working at a radio station. It didn’t take him long to realise that flying helicopters is a lot cooler than working for a radio station. He then focused on his commercial licence and flight instructor licence.
Andreas: “I did my commercial licence in Austria. I started there, working as a freelancer for an Austrian company, where I also did my flight instructor licence. Then I came back to Germany and started to work as a flight instructor, which I have now been doing for the past 15 years.”
And then you started working at Heli-Flight?
“No, I started flying in the southern part of Germany. Then, after that I joined a very large helicopter company. I quit that job to work as a freelancer, to be self-employed. Something I’ve done my whole life. Even when I worked for other companies, I was always self-employed. Whether it was helicopter training, sightseeing, personal clients.”
Working for a company building helicopters
Andreas hasn’t only worked at companies flying helicopters, he’s also worked for a company building helicopters.
“When the first Cabri arrived in Germany, at the company where I was working, that was real fun. For me it was like I can fly this helicopter and I can also try to help improve it a little bit, with the manufacturer. In this case, with Guimbal Helicopters. I got in touch and built a good relationship with Bruno Guimbal and his team. I had flown for about seven years in the Cabri, about 2,000 flight hours. Then they asked me if I could fly for them – for the factory.
To train other flight instructors in advanced flight training. A flight instructor will learn how to improve their skills and capabilities. Fly more safely, because they see more than only the training.”
Working with Guimbal, Andreas was either sent to flight instructors all over the world, or trained them at Guimbal’s headquarters in Aix-en-Provence, near Marseille in France. It was exciting to see the Cabri develop and improve, and that Andreas himself could contribute to making the helicopter better and safer. After having had such an inspiring role at Guimbal, what was so attractive about Heli-Flight?
Rescue flights, flight instructor and examiner
“Well, the most interesting part for me is that I don’t have the same work every day. I like variety and that‘s what I found at Heli-Flight. I can do rescue flights, I can be a flight instructor and an examiner. Be all those things and it never gets boring. The last two days I was piloting rescue flights and the next two I will be a flight instructor. Then there will be examinations. After all that, I’ll be doing some office work, as the Safety and Compliance Monitoring Manager. I’m always happy to say, wow, this week I’m doing that, that and that, and not always the same, same and same. That’s very important to me.”
The job at Heli-Flight didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the first conversation was nine years ago, but it just wasn’t the right time. They kept in contact and then in 2019 it was the perfect moment for both parties. It shows the great value of building a network and keeping in touch. That’s how you get the best jobs.
Nothing more valuable than a network
“That’s exactly what I keep telling my students. They think about doing their licence in America because it’s cheaper. And then come back and get a job. I tell them, well then you don’t have a network. You can’t call somebody and say, hey, I’m a good pilot, you know me, because they don’t know you. So, if you want to apply for a job, do your licence in the country where you want to fly. Or at least, most of the training. It’s very important for them to know other people, to know other students. Also, older students in the same school, because they will be finished before you. They will go to different companies. Then you have a connection to their network.”
Heli-Flight is a family-run company, working from five bases with 16 helicopters, engaged in diverse activities, from passenger transport to aerial filming to helicopter pilot training. It’s also very well known for their main business: emergency and medical services.
Biggest and fastest rescue helicopters
“Yes, we provide helicopter rescue flights for the whole of Germany. We have one of the biggest and fastest rescue helicopters, and ambulance jets, flying all over Europe for organ transport. When we have a student, they first train for the commercial pilot’s licence and then we give them the chance to fly the pipeline helicopter for our company, carrying out inspections. We have the only R44 rescue helicopter in Europe. This is how they can quickly move in to HEMS and to train and practice HEMS flying on the R44 helicopter they know from the pipeline. Maybe after two to three years they have the chance to fly the bigger helicopters, like the AS365, H145 or EC155.”
So, at Heli-Flight young pilots get the opportunity to fly the R44 as a medical emergency helicopter. How do you decide which young pilot? Is it about willingness to learn? Flying style? Or their character?
If you don’t love flying it’s impossible to get a job
“During the training process, from PPL to CPL, we get to know the students. We can see if it’s really coming from the heart. Do they really want to fly? Character is important, but if you don’t love flying, then it’s impossible to get a job. You have to work, you have to want to work, you have to love this job. Those are the people we need. Pushing themselves for the next two, three, or four years. Flying pipeline, going up to northern part of Germany. There are not 10,000 helicopter companies. In Germany, there’s at most 15. So if you want to apply for a job, you have to be prepared to move to the base where you fly.”
One of the issues in the helicopter industry is the number of flying hours and how a pilot is judged. After attaining your licence, you’re considered good when you have flown around 200 hours. To get a serious job you need a minimum of 1,000 hours. What’s the best way to achieve this?
The easiest way to build hours
“The easiest way is to apply for pipeline jobs. For example, our pipeline pilots are flying 800-900 hours a year. There are many of these companies in Germany and elsewhere. After a couple of years, these pilots have 1,500 – 2,000 hours, then you’re ready for the rescue helicopters. Some people think you can pay for the hours, but if you love the work it’s much better to get a job somewhere.”
Clearly, eagerness is a must if you want to be a helicopter pilot. Many young pilots, after attaining their CPL or ATPL, do an instructor rating, as a way of getting more hours and paying for further training. Giving instruction makes you a better pilot. Does it also help with your career?
“it’s not as fast as pipeline piloting for hour building, perhaps 250 hours a year. However, it really does push your career, especially in Germany where it’s incredibly difficult to find flight instructors. Also, it improves your skills, you know better than other pilots how emergency manoeuvres work.”
Andreas regularly posts instructive videos on social media, which have a lot of followers. Interesting for novice and experienced pilots and even people outside of the helicopter business. What was your motivation to create these films?
Why not do this on Instagram?
“I love my job. I love being a flight instructor. When I’m landing anywhere with a helicopter both kids and adults are coming up to me and asking questions. I really enjoy giving them answers. One day I thought, why not do this on Instagram? Because I have quite some followers. Maybe they’re interested in how to fly helicopters. Normally you don’t have the chance to get this information, unless you spend a lot of time on Google. Or the videos are extremely long. So I try to explain within a maximum of eight minutes . How to fly a helicopter, or what will happen if the engine fails, or whatever. There are literally millions of themes that I can speak about. Explaining it simply to people who also don’t have any experience.”
If you’d like to watch some of Andreas’s instructive videos, you can click on this link https://www.instagram.com/helifliegen.fi/.