Helicopters of all shapes and sizes are working hard across the Darling Downs. They’re used by ambulance and emergency rescue services, by law enforcement agencies, mining companies, surveyors, the defence forces, farmers and tourism operators.

According to CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) Helicopter numbers in Australia have more than doubled in the past ten years to two thousand and sixty-one helicopters which puts Australia in sixth place for most helicopters in the world.

With demand for helicopter services continuing to grow West Australian company Heliwest Group opened its doors in Toowoomba three years ago – just in time to assist with the terrible floods of 2010.

Although Heliwest Group threw itself into supporting the community at that time, the main purpose of its Toowoomba office is pilot training.

Toowoomba Manager, Col Clarke said the school was currently teaching pilots for both private and commercial licences.

“We have two instructors and a very flexible training syllabus for our students who range in age from 19 to 55,” he said. “There are some formal classes in our lecture room and also many practical lessons with lots of actual flying time.

“Completing the qualification could take anywhere from six to 12 months – or longer depending on whether the student is full-time or part-time. A commercial pilot’s licence requires 125 flying hours which we are able to provide.

“There are also seven theory exams which cover topics such as engines, aerodynamics, meteorology, navigation, air law and so on.

“The cost for a commercial helicopter pilot licence is similar to a university degree but it can be achieved in a fraction of the time. Job prospects are excellent with pilots in demand all over the world.”

Col says more Darling Downs farmers are finding helicopters a vital addition to their properties.

“Farmers use helicopters for mustering, for crop spraying, for putting out fires and just for travelling long distances in a much shorter time,” he said. “We are training farmers from right across the Darling Downs here in Toowoomba.”

If anyone is interested in a career as a helicopter pilot or just if they just want to experience first-hand what it’s like to fly a helicopter, Col recommends they consider an initial trial lesson.

“There is no prior knowledge required or obligation beyond a trial flight so even if it’s just a one-off to tick an item off the bucket list or a surprise for a friend, Heliwest can accommodate you,” he said.

“A trial flight lesson includes 30 minute of instruction on the ground and 30 minutes of flying in the air – we guarantee the student will have the controls to themselves during this time – for $350.”

Heliwest Group is one of Australia’s largest helicopter companies with around 63 pilots including 12 instructors and a current fleet of 34 aircraft based around the nation.


Words by Ally Martell