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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Helicopter Training: From the Field

R&W Staff

Sorting Out Silver State’s Impact

Flight schools, former students and employees, and lawyers are trying to sort out the implications of Silver State Helicopters’ shutdown. Some former staffers are seizing the opportunity created by the Feb. 3 shutdown to open their own flight schools.

One group of former Silver State instructors has started Veracity Aviation at New Braunfels, Texas Municipal Airport, a former Silver State location. The school’s slogan is "Helicopter Flight Training Done Right."

Its founders and staff vow to heed the lessons of the downfall of Silver State, which required up-front payment of its $70,000 tuition but often failed to provide the aircraft and instructors needed for training, according to critics. Many of its more than 2,800 students were left with loans for the full tuition when Silver State suddenly closed its doors.

Other flight schools are considering filling Silver State’s void. Leading Edge Aviation in Bend, Ore., for instance, is weighing an expansion to Salem Municipal Airport, another ex-Silver State site.

The company reportedly is working with the Salem Airport administration on a bid to do that.

Officials of both schools said students would only pay for the training received.

While hundreds of former Silver State students crowded a March 10 U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing in Las Vegas, the company’s controversial owner, Jerry Airola, didn’t show. Silver State has filed for liquidation under Chapter 7 of federal bankruptcy law.

"Seventy grand a head. That’s a lot of money," Jamie Antoni, a former student, told KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. "They’re claiming the money is all gone. Where did it all go?"

A Salt Lake City law firm said it plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Silver State and the New York investment firm Eos Partners that bought into Silver State last year, as well as Airola. Daniel Reed, a lawyer associated with the firm, Harward & Associates, said the suit would charge those parties with fraud.

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