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Grads of Dodge City helicopter program in demand

Published on -11/8/2013, 12:07 PM

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DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) -- Graduates of a Dodge City Community College program that trains helicopter pilots aren't having any trouble finding high-paying jobs and the demand is expected to continue, a college official said.

The school also operates outreach campuses in Salina, Arizona and Utah, with students taking the academic part of the program in Dodge City and the flight training through Universal Helicopters, based in Arizona, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/17IHPWP ). The community college is planning to expand its operation in Provo, Utah, and will soon begin a program in Camarillo, Calif.

"All of our graduates are employed," said Anthony Lyons, the college's vice president of community and industry relations. "And that's the way we intend to keep it."

Students can earn seven pilot ratings during the program's first two years. Then, Universal Helicopters hires the graduates as part-time flight instructors while they complete their bachelor degrees at Kansas State University-Salina or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona.

The demand for commercial helicopter pilots will continue to grow as current pilots retire or no longer have medical certificates that allow them to fly, Lyons said.

As flight instructors, the students accumulate the 1,000 hours of flight time needed to be hired as commercial helicopter pilots. Graduates are finding jobs with oil rigs, medical evacuation operations or with other companies, Lyons said.

With a college degree, helicopter training and a recommendation from the school, "we're able to get all our graduates hired out at 1,000 hours," said Gordon Jiroux, president of Universal Helicopters.

Currently, about 120 students are enrolled in the programs, including 12 in Dodge City campus. About 150 or 160 students are expected to enroll in the spring semester.

The program can cost between $100,000 and $150,000 for the first two years of training and another $30,000 to $40,000 at Kansas State to complete a bachelor's degree, Lyons said. Embry-Riddle is more expensive. But he said students start out making $60,000 to $65,000 a year and some graduates are making around $80,000 a year just two or three years after they finish the program.

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