How Mobile Technology Helps a Private Helicopter School Stay Connected

Independent Helicopters takes tablets and smartphones into the stratosphere.

By Paul Macchia on September 23, 2013

When people chit-chat about the weather with Heather Howley it’s not just a passing conversation. As the owner and flight instructor for Independent Helicopters in Ballston Spa and Windsor, N.Y., weather and the ability to easily monitor quickly changing conditions seriously impacts her business. 

A few years ago, checking the weather was a bit of an inconvenience in the flight industry. Many hours were spent on the phone or in front of a computer screen to see if any hazardous storms were on the way. Now, Howley turns to her smartphone and scans apps such as My Radar, Aeroweather and FlyQ, which provide weather conditions and warns of any oncoming disasters.

But real-time knowledge of the weather isn’t the only benefit for Howley and her business in adapting mobile technology. Nearly 80 percent of the company’s business is rooted in flight instruction, while the balance is based on photo flights, tours, and power and pipeline flyover observation.

Going mobile has also changed the way Independent Helicopters is teaching their students. Flight planning, navigation and other essential flying functions are now tablet-based. When Howley has to travel overnight, she relies on her Verizon Wireless Jetpack to keep her connected as she scours the next day’s travel plans and other flight related information.

“When we teach our students about flying, it goes beyond the actual plane or helicopter,” says Howley. “We have to have a clear cut picture of the airport diagram, which helps us planning take-offs and landings. In the past, we had to print multiple copies of these schematics, and quite often, the airports runways may have changed due to construction or other issues. No more paper means peace of mind that all of our information is up to date.”

While most people spend their lives on the terra firma with mobile technology, Howley shared that the mobile signals work quite well without degradation at a few thousand feet above the earth.

“A consistently strong signal on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network is why Independent Helicopters chose the carrier and its mobile products,” she said. 

But back on the ground, mobile technology also is a catalyst on the business side and back-end for Independent Helicopters. The company does its credit card processing and billing with mobile technology.

Having a good business attitude about altitude has kept Howley and her business up in the air.