Pilot training school suddenly closes down

February 6, 2008 4:41:15 PM PST
Hundreds of students face an uncertain future now that their flight school has filed for bankruptcy. Many of those students have been training in the Houston area. Many of them have already paid for lessons they'll never get. The Nevada-based Silver State Helicopters filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The company's owner shut down all the locations, including one at Hooks Airport in Tomball. It came as a surprise to employees and students who saw this place as their path to success.

Student Kevin Yasuda said, "It's insurmountable, my level of concern. This means the rest of all of our lives."

Thousands of lives are left in limbo after the sudden closing of Silver State Helicopters. The nationwide school offered helicopter flight training.

"I had my dreams kind of set on flying for EMS and Life Flight," Yasuda said.

Students say the owner, Jerry Airola, told them he could help them achieve those dreams and become professional certified flight instructors. They received training for months at the school's Hooks Airport location.

Student Todd Eggerberger explained, "For all us it basically was something like a dream that we never thought would be possible. He made it seem like it would be possible."

Eggerberger and many others took out large high interest rate student loans to pay tuition.

"(I have) a $70,000 loan that I can't pay back," he told Eyewitness News.

The young Houston father can't pay the loan back because he, like other students, never completed his training. Interest rates on the loans range from 10 to 20 percent

Eggerberger said, "I have a three-month-old baby. It's been real hard for my relationship with my wife."

For now dreams of becoming professional pilots are on hold. However in just months students are supposed to begin repaying their loans.

"My only other option is to get more money somehow and go to another school, if I can get the money," said student Michael Phillips. "I hope I can continue my training."

According to former employees, the company had 40 schools in at least 19 states across the country. They estimate nearly 600 people are now suddenly without a job, and thousands of students are stuck with high interest large loans.

"This is just like a hammer has fallen on all of our heads," Eggerberger said.

A press release from Silver State Helicopters says the company's demise is blamed on the recent downturn in US credit markets. Essentially because markets were going down, fewer students could obtain loans, and the number of students able to attend the school went down dramatically. The students who were attending classes plan to file complaints with the attorney general's office.

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