Helicopter program phased out

Liberty University’s School of Aeronautics will phase out its helicopter training program, citing low enrollment and a lack of available jobs for helicopter pilots.

Students currently enrolled in the helicopter program will be allowed to finish their training, but the small market for helicopter jobs has traditionally been a problem, according to School of Aeronautics Dean retired Air Force Gen. Dave Young.

“The primary reason is that we are committed to educating and training our students so that they can obtain employment when they graduate from Liberty,” Young said. “In the aviation industry today — and in the foreseeable future — the employment opportunities are going to be in fixed-wing aircraft, not helicopters.”

According to Young, the problem is part of the nature of commercial aviation: companies require pilots to have a certain minimum number of flight hours — much more than the amount required for a commercial license. To obtain the required hours, many pilots become certified flight instructors (CFIs) to earn flight hours while teaching new pilots.

The CFI option is not available to helicopter pilots at Liberty, however, because there are so few helicopter students and only one helicopter available to fly. Low enrollment is due to both the limited size of the industry and the expense of flying a helicopter versus a fixed-wing aircraft, Young said. It costs $325 per hour for the helicopter versus $150 for a Cessna.

Military training still makes up the vast majority of helicopter training in the U.S. If someone wants to fly helicopters, they ought to join the Army and learn to fly that way, Young said. The helicopters themselves also cost much more to acquire than fixed-wing aircraft, limiting their availability.

“Let’s say I had 10 helicopter students — with only one or two helicopters, I couldn’t promise all 10 of them a position as an instructor pilot,” Director of Helicopter Flight Operations Don Childs said. “Whereas in the fixed-wing program, we’re growing so fast, we have a lot of opportunity.”

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