A partnership between Big Bend Community College and Inland Helicopters of Spokane will provide opportunities for students to become helicopter pilots while earning an associates degree. The new helicopter pilot training program begins in January of 2012.
“This is another example of the type of public/private partnerships we must establish to create new programs in today’s economy,” said BBCC President Bill Bonaudi. The partnership opens a new range of careers for BBCC aviation students, including emergency medical services, power line patrol, tourism, law enforcement, fire fighting, logging, aerial photography, agriculture, border patrol, fish and wildlife counts, and news gathering.
“Students in the helicopter pilot program will be enrolled as BBCC students,” said BBCC Flight Instructor John Swedburg. Flight instruction and two helicopters will be provided by Inland Helicopters at Grant County International Airport. “Inland Helicopters will recruit for us, and they have Veteran’s Administration and federal financial aid funding options to help students,” Swedburg said. With Inland Helicopter providing the instructors and equipment, BBCC will provide instruction in ground school, meteorology, technical writing and math—the same classes taken by students enrolled in BBCC’s Commercial Pilot Program. Inland will develop some classroom instruction to “fill the gaps” pertinent to helicopters, said David Valenti of Inland Helicopters. “Aerodynamics and weight and balance are different for helicopters than for airplanes, for instance,” Valenti said.
Inland Helicopter uses Robinson R22 and R44 helicopters for primary training. The two-seat R22 gets most of the training time due to its lower operating and maintenance costs. The R44 has twice the useful load and faster cruising speed.
Students who complete the program can graduate with an Associate of Applied Science Degree and FAA certificates including Private, Instrument, Commercial, and Certified Flight Instructor. “Big Bend was very receptive and enthusiastic in working with us,” Valenti said. “Their instructors measure their flight time experience in the thousands of hours, so they know what they are doing.”
Valenti said national statistics show an improving job market for helicopter pilots. Among helicopter pilots, 25 percent are over age 61, and 22 percent are between age 51 and 61. Upcoming retirements will create a shortage, he said.
BBCC has had a commercial pilot program since 1965. The program has 27 aircraft in its fleet and is the largest and most successful pilot training program in the Pacific Northwest.
For more information contact Inland Helicopters at (509) 534-9114 or Big Bend Community College at (509) 793-2004