Nine students of a helicopter flight school with operations at Mesa’s Williams Gateway Airport have sued the school and its owner, claiming they were defrauded.
Silver State Helicopters LLC, which leases hangar and runway space at Williams, was named in a lawsuit filed Oct. 20 in U.S. District Court. Silver State also held flight training classes at Glendale Municipal Airport.
The plaintiffs claim Silver State owner Jerry Airola told students they would get helicopter pilot licenses within 18 months, but then failed to provide the helicopters or instructors to fulfill the promise. They are suing Airola and Silver State to recover their tuition, plus an additional $5 million in punitive damages.
“It’s based on several different counts, one of which is fraud,” said Randall Stone, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “They started a school and then took on more students than they could have.”
Airola started Las Vegasbased Silver State in 1999, and today the company operates more than 20 separate flight schools in 12 states. He also is running for sheriff of Clark County, Nev.
Liz Trosper, a spokeswoman for Airola, said she was unaware of the suit and later didn’t return multiple phone calls.
Airola held a presentation to kick off the new flight training program in July 2003 at Williams. Plaintiffs claim he was flanked by several helicopters and promised students that they would finish the $47,000-program within 18 months of diligent study. Airola also promised to hire most of the program graduates, according to the suit.
However, when the program started, there was only one helicopter and one instructor for 119 students, who each needed to complete 175 flight hours to graduate. The plaintiffs claim it would have been mathematically impossible for all of them to graduate, given the limited resources.
“Under these circumstances, the equipment provided by Silver State was wholly inadequate to fulfill the promises and representations made to even a small percentage of students,” the suit states.
The plaintiffs also claim that the actual cost of the training program was far more than the stated tuition, after some students realized they were paying interest exceeding $10 per day through a Silver State financing program.