Maria Rodriquez has received the 2018 Helicopter Association International’s Salute to Excellence Appareo Pilot of the Year Award.
Not every operator gets the chance to fly a former U.S. president and first lady. But one of Maria Rodriguez's operations did earlier this year when Caribbean Buzz flew Barack and Michelle Obama.
That year Rodriguez made her U.S. Virgins Islands-based helicopters available for hurricane relief efforts in the wakes of Irma and Maria. For this work, she has been given Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) Salute to Excellence Appareo Pilot of the Year Award.
The award honors “an outstanding single feat performed by a helicopter pilot during the year or extraordinary professionalism over time,” HAI said. It will be presented during Heli-Expo 2018 in Las Vegas.
HAI said that Rodriguez opened Caribbean Buzz and Caribbean Buzz Management after her previous employer — for which she was a pilot — moved to the U.S. mainland. Rodriguez and her husband now own and operate helicopters that service the Caribbean and yacht support operations around the globe. According to HAI, Rodriguez’s operations specialize in remote/adventure helicopter and seaplane support.
Her hangar sustained some damage during Hurricane Irma, HAI said. But when Rodriguez confirmed her helicopters sustained none, immediately began to fly support missions whenever possible. She moved her fleet to a reinforced hangar in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria, but once again was flying support missions as soon as she could. During both hurricanes, she shared hundreds of photographs that were eventually distributed globally through various media outlets.
“Rodriguez does not seek the spotlight; she simply continues to serve her community through flight and photographs,” HAI said. “She returns daily to the cockpit, flying support and relief missions (for 28 straight days at one point) and is still flying and filming today to support those in need.”