Lawsuits Build Against Silver State Helicopters Founder Airola, Lenders

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Lawyers from across the country are busily rallying former students of Nevada-based Silver State Helicopters, which abruptly went out of business and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection two weeks ago.

As many as 2,700 students paid about $70,000 each for the proposed 18-month training program, which many never completed. Peter C. Lown, an aviation attorney from Jonesboro, Ga., told AVweb that last weekend he met with about 150 potential plaintiffs in Arizona and plans to meet with a similar group in Georgia this weekend. He plans to file suits against Silver State’s founder Jerry Airola and, possibly, the banks that lent students money. "One of the problems is that many of these people don’t know what kind of loan they have," Lown said. As of Wednesday afternoon, Student Loan XPress, the primary originator of student loans to Silver State students, had not filed a claim with the bankruptcy court and did not respond to repeated requests by AVweb for information about the number and type of outstanding loans made to Silver State students. It is not known how many of the loans were private loans and how many, if any, were federally guaranteed, but Lown told AVweb that some of the people he’s spoken with were paying 17 percent interest or more.

While the bankruptcy trustee spends the coming months poring through thousands of claims (it has a special hotline established just for this case), former students and employees are posting to message boards and telling AVweb that signs of the company’s impending demise began to surface in October 2007.

Jimmie "Tri" Evans was the first student enrolled at the Houston location when it opened in 2006. He told AVweb that around the time that he earned his instructor’s certificate last fall, rumors began to spread internally that the company was in trouble. "Some people had started to get the indication that it might be occurring, then we were sent e-mails that it was just a rumor, and not to worry," he said. Evans said that at one point the Houston school had 60 students and just one helicopter that had to be ferried 130 miles away to Silver State’s New Braunfels, Texas, location for maintenance. "We couldn’t fit everybody into the helicopters we had. I remember flying until midnight or at four in the morning because that’s when they had a helicopter," Evans said.