The Australian Helicopter Academy is training a new generation of pilots for northern Australia. 

Story + Photo Nathan Dyer  

Before the Australian Helicopter Academy (AHA) was established at Kununurra, WA, in 2016, the nearest flight training facility in the state was in Perth, 3,200km away.

AHA chief flying instructor Nick Stielow has more than 4,000 flying hours under his belt and has headed up the academy, owned by HeliSpirit, for the past six years. Nick says that as one of the country’s largest employers of new helicopter pilots, HeliSpirit welcomes pilots from the academy trained to the high standards it requires.

“We found the average standard of pilots coming up here and applying for jobs wasn’t where we needed it to be for what we do up here,” he explains. “So, it became worthwhile for us to set the school up and be able to train people from scratch, with the aim of employing them afterwards.”

Students attend the academy from all over Australia, with initial flight training carried out in Robinson 22s, before progressing to Robinson 44s. AHA also offers training for the larger Robinson 66, and Bell JetRanger, LongRanger and AS350 Squirrel machines, once pilots have 2–3 years’ commercial experience. 

All 15 pilots trained so far have gained jobs, 10 of them with HeliSpirit itself, which operates more than 25 helicopters across WA and the NT, in places such as Katherine Gorge, Bullo River Station, Kununurra, El Questro, Purnululu National Park, Esperance and Karratha. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #143

Outback Magazine: June/July 2022