Disaster, War, Oil -- Commercial Heli Pilots In Demand

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Offshore oil companies along the Gulf Coast are facing a critical shortage of helicopter pilots, the Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, La., reported on Sunday. Pay for pilots is going up, but many face long hours and mandatory overtime. Michael Suldo, whose company provides offshore aviation services, said 20 of his pilots have been deployed to Iraq. At the same time, the large cohort of Vietnam-era helicopter pilots is getting to an age where many are retiring or losing their medicals. Post-hurricane reconstruction work has created more jobs. Suldo has partnered with a local flight school with an old plan -- to train pilots from the ground up, then offer them jobs after a stint building time as instructors. Training hasn't gotten any cheaper, but for over 70 students now enrolled, school owner Joe Sheeran says there are more than enough jobs to go around. If graduates don't find a job, "they're not looking," he told the Advertiser. Students must dedicate at least a year and about $50,000 to the training, then spend another year building time until they accumulate 500 to 1,000 hours.