Just weeks after retiring from the helm of the Helicopter Association International, Matthew Zuccaro died February 25 at the age of 70.
HAI did not release the cause of death.
Zuccaro had recently attended HAI Heli-Expo in California at the end of January, where he was honored with the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for “50 years of professionalism and skill as a pilot,” and where the association’s new president, James Viola, was introduced to the membership.
“Matt's retirement from the industry left a huge void in our lives and his passing brings an even greater loss to us all,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “Matt was an invaluable and respected leader throughout this industry and his service to our country and passion for aviation will remain in our hearts always."
Zuccaro had been a member of HAI since the 1980s, became a member of its board of directors in 1987 and its chairman in 1991, and then served as its sixth president from 2005 until January, according to the association.
The association grew under Zuccaro’s leadership, requiring a bigger headquarters and hosting what became the “world’s largest helicopter trade show”—HAI Heli-Expo, according to a recent article in ROTOR magazine.
Zuccaro was an advocate not only for the helicopter industry but for all of general aviation. He was actively involved in advocating for flight training benefits for veterans, and on other important issues such as “air traffic control privatization, user fees, and the safe integration of drones into the airspace,” as well as ADS-B services, the article noted. He also supported growing the pilot population and emphasized safety, including the launch of the “Land & LIVE” safety initiative that encourages helicopter pilots to land the helicopters instead of continuing into deteriorating weather, the article said. He also received “HAI’s Pilot Safety Award for 10,000 accident- and violation-free flight hours.”
Zuccaro advocated for many of the same issues that AOPA pursued and frequently joined AOPA leaders on panel discussions about the state of the GA industry. In 2009, he was already noting the declining helicopter pilot population and working with aviation associations to try to stem that.
“My tenure as president and CEO of HAI has been the highlight of my working life. Leading this association offered me the opportunity to pay back the industry that has provided me with a rewarding and fulfilling career,” Zuccaro wrote in a retirement message to HAI members.
Of Zuccaro’s retirement, Baker had said, “From serving our country to supporting safety improvements that will make this industry safer than ever, it has been a pleasure to work alongside Matt.”
Zuccaro got his start in aviation flying the Bell UH–1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter in Vietnam.
“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,” the ROTOR magazine article noted.
During HAI Heli-Expo 2014, AOPA President Mark Baker presented Zuccaro with a framed copy of the cover of the March 2014 issue of AOPA Pilot that featured a Bell Huey helicopter.
Zuccaro was a member of the Civil Air Patrol. According to the FAA Airmen Registry, Zuccaro held airplane and helicopter airline transport pilot certificates; multiple type ratings; airplane and helicopter flight instructor certificates; and advanced and instrument ground instructor certificates.
Zuccaro is survived by his wife, Doreen, and two children, Steven and Wendy. Viewings will be at the Beecher Flooks Funeral Home in Pleasantville, New York, from 7 to 9 p.m. on February 27, and from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on February 28. His service will take place at the Church of Saint John and Saint Mary in Chappaqua, New York, at 10 a.m. on February 29.
Pilots can share memories and leave messages for Zuccaro’s family through HAI’s website.