Vertical Flight sadly loses a great safety expert

Matt Zoccaro HAI PRESIDENT in front of helicopter
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Helicopter Association International Announces the Passing of Matthew Zuccaro

Incredible Background in Operations and Safety 

Effectively managed HAI and upgraded its SAFETY work

His peers wrote glowingly about him

Alexandria, Va. (Feb. 26, 2020) – Helicopter Association International (HAI) is deeply saddened to announce the passing of Matthew S. Zuccaro, the immediate past president and CEO of the association. Plans for services are still being determined and will be shared as soon as they are available.

“Matt was one of a kind in our industry,” says current HAI President and CEO James Viola. Helicopters were part of his life, beginning with his US Army service in Vietnam. Throughout his career, he made safe helicopter operations his priority, and we are a better, stronger, and safer industry today because of his efforts on behalf of rotorcraft. Speaking on behalf of our industry, we have lost a good friend who will be missed. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Doreen, and his family.”

A HAI member since the early 1980s, Matt was elected to the HAI Board of Directors in 1987 and served as chairman in 1991. He was named president of HAI in 2005 and retired in January of this year. During HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 in Anaheim in January, Matt was honored with the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, recognizing his 50 years of professionalism and skill as a pilot.Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award,

Among his many accomplishments, Matt may be best remembered for a column he wrote for ROTOR magazine in 2013, encouraging pilots to “land the damn helicopter” in situations where proceeding would endanger themselves and passengers. From that column, HAI’s Land & LIVE program was born, saving countless lives around the world—a fitting legacy for a man who was passionate about safety in the industry he loved so much.





Live and Land

For more information on Matt’s life and career, please see this article from the Winter 2020 issue of ROTOR.

Those interested in sharing memories or leaving messages for Matt’s family may do so at




Matt Zoccaro sitting in helicopter

One measure of a man is the eulogies which his peers write about you. The number, depth and sincerity of these messages are impressive:

AOPA Official Statement on the Passing of HAI’s Matt Zuccaro

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA’s) official statement on the passing of HAI’s Matthew Zuccaro.


Aviation Pros logo


HAI Announces the Passing of Matthew Zuccaro

Matt Zoccaro in portrait


AIN logoFormer HAI President Zuccaro Flies West

Aviation Leaders Praise HAI’s Matt Zuccaro

Matt in Land the Damn Helicopter tshirt

NBAA logo

NBAA Mourns Passing of HAI’s Matt Zuccaro

Vertical logo

HAI announces the passing of Matthew Zuccaro

WAI logo

WAI Acknowledges Sad Passing of Matt Zuccaro, HAI Longtime Leader

Matt Zuccaro with helicopter in background

HAI’s page on their President’s retirement makes it clear why so many colleagues revered him:

HAI Accomplishments Under Zuccaro’s Leadership

IHST. HAI, along with the American Helicopter Society, hosts the first International Helicopter Safety Symposium, leading to the establishment of the International Helicopter Safety Team, an international consortium of volunteers who apply modern, data-driven solutions to improving helicopter industry safety.

Katrina Video. HAI documents the helicopter industry’s efforts to help New Orleans and surrounding areas cope with the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.

ADS-B Pilot Program. HAI brokers deal with FAA and Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference operators and platform owners to provide ADS-B operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

ADS-B Gulf Operations. ADS-B operations in the Gulf begin, dramatically increasing the level of safety in the region.

FRAT. HAI Risk Assessment Tool launches with flight module and later including a maintenance module.

Rotor Safety Challenge. HAI launches annual program of free safety education sessions at HAI HELI-EXPO, providing continuing education to thousands of pilots, mechanics/engineers, and others.

Land & LIVE. Matt writes “Land the Damn Helicopter” column in ROTOR, launching the Land & LIVE Program to encourage and support the increased use of precautionary landings.

HAI-APS. First five operators accredited under the HAI Accreditation Program of Safety (HAI-APS), which offers HAI members mission-specific standards.

HAI Online Academy.  HAI launches 24/7 online education program, providing helicopter professionals with accessible, affordable professional development.

HFI-UND Study. Helicopter Foundation International, HAI’s charitable arm, releases helicopter industry staffing study conducted by the University of North Dakota, providing first documentation of long-rumored shortages of skilled pilots and mechanics/engineers.

ATC Privatization. HAI joins with other general aviation organizations in successful effort to stop privatization of US air traffic control.

Veterans’ Flight-Training Benefits. HAI blocks efforts by Congress to reduce the use of veterans’ benefits to pay for flight training.

Representing Manned Aviation to Congress. Matt testifies as only representative of manned aviation to US Senate hearing on UAS integration, ensuring congressional support for FAA authority over NAS and for the integration, not segregation, of new aircraft into the NAS.

Utah Rotor Pathway Program. HAI coordinates development of the Utah Rotor Pathway Program, the first statewide partnership between government, industry, and educators to provide rotor-specific education and training opportunities, providing a model for future workforce development programs around the United States.

HAI Aviation Reporting Program. HAI launches HARP, its online aviation report tool, providing helicopter pilots and operators with a one-stop portal to reach a variety of reporting tools, including those of the NTSB, NASA-AARS, FAA, and USDA.


Further, a biography of his life:

Helicopter Pilot, Veteran, Safety Advocate

young Matt with cigar



Matt Zuccaro was born in New York City into a large, close-knit family. He would often accompany his father to his work in operations at Idlewild Airport, which later became JFK International. It was there Matt first dreamed of flying.

At age 14, Matt became a Civil Air Patrol cadet. One day in 1965, he met another young cadet, Doreen Keefe, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As the war in Vietnam was escalating, Matt decided to quit college and join the US army in 1968—in part because he knew the army was desperate for helicopter pilots. It was the quickest way into the cockpit. After training at Fort Rucker in Alabama—a long way from the streets of New York City—in July 1969, Matt was deployed to Vietnam—a place even farther away from home.


7/17 flag and Huey





During his year in Vietnam, Matt served with the 7/17th Air Cavalry, flying Hueys in and out of combat. For his service, Matt received 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 4 Bronze Stars, 1 Air Medal for Valor, and 19 Air Medals. Matt returned to the US in 1970, and he and Doreen were married three weeks later.

Zuccaro's medals

Over the next 50 years, Matt and Doreen raised two children, Steven and Wendy, and saw their family grow, as spouses and grandchildren joined the clan. Matt never misses an opportunity to thank Doreen, whom he describes as his copilot, for her love and support throughout his career.

After leaving the army in 1971, Matt’s first civilian job was as a charter pilot and flight instructor for a New York City company. In those days, operators often took on any mission that came up. From helicopter air ambulance and air tours to aerial photography and power-line patrol, Matt saw it all.

Civil Air Patrol

When he returned to civilian life, Matt also rejoined the Civil Air Patrol, where he was for many years a fixed-wing instructor and check pilot. He is still a member.

Over the next 35 years, Matt held pilot and executive management positions with companies such as Union Carbide and charter, aircraft management, and maintenance organizations. At Resorts International Airlines, working closely with the FAA, he established the first and only dedicated IFR helicopter airline, flying from New YorkZuccaro landing Helicopter on World Trade Center City to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Hartford, Connecticut.

Matt lands on top of one of the World Trade Center towers while conducting initial proving runs for establishing the rooftop heliport.

Matt also worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he was one of two pilots to land on top of the World Trade Center heliport. He also was airport operations supervisor at JFK International Airport—the same job his father held when he introduced Matt to aviation all those years ago.

During this time, Matt was active in various industry groups. He was a founding member of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council and, since the early 1980s, a member of Helicopter Association International, where he served on the Affiliate, Safety, and Fly Neighborly Committees. Matt was first elected to the HAI Board of Directors in 1987 and served as chairman in 1991.

Eastern Region helicopter Council







Most of all, in his career, Matt put safety first. A recipient of HAI’s Pilot Safety Award for 10,000 accident- and violation-free flight hours, he has been a vocal advocate for a helicopter industry with zero accidents.

He was most certainly revered by his peers. Hopefully those with whom he worked captured the passion for safety, some of the knowledge of vertical flight and the skill to identify practical, proactive solutions for this critical segment of aviation.


Matt Zuccaro HAI




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