Trying to grow local pilots

Barrett Daligdig, manager and flight instructor at Mauna Loa Helicopters, is enthused because of the pending arrival of students from as far away as India and the U.S. Mainland.

But what he really wants to do is train Kaua’i residents to fly.

When owners and operators of local tour-helicopter companies have openings for pilots, they don’t bother advertising locally, because there aren’t too many helicopter pilots who are Kaua’i residents, he said.

On the Internet, there are “tons of Kaua’i pilot jobs,” he said.

He is trying to change that, one flight at a time.

Daligdig says he has 10 Kaua’i students now, one of whom will likely replace him as the Mauna Loa Helicopters flight instructor.

“One of my students is going to take my place, soon,” he said.

“We’re producing local pilots now. Now, Kaua’i is starting to produce local pilots, finally,” said Daligdig.

“Local companies are hungry for local pilots,” he added.

“I’m a flight school, basically,” said Daligdig, adding that it takes between eight months to a year for a full-time student to gain his or her first license, a private certificate.

And that’s flying five days a week. At a more leisurely pace, it can take two to three years. But you can’t make money off a private-pilot license, because you’re only able to make flights for personal reasons.

An instrument rating — being able to fly using only cockpit instruments — follows in a logical progression, then the coveted commercial endorsement, which allows pilots to fly commercially. An instructor-level license is also offered, said Daligdig, who has been flying for three years.

According to “The Official Hawaiian Telcom Yellow Pages” for Kaua’i, Mauna Loa Helicopters is the only helicopter flight school on the island.

Daligdig, a Kapa’a High graduate who was born and raised on Kaua’i, was bitten by the flying bug at an early age when, while working with his uncle who owns a vehicle-towing company, first flew in a helicopter in order to facilitate recovery of a vehicle, he said.

“I was always fascinated with helicopters,” he said.

He is the lone flight instructor, teaching those interested in learning how to fly in one of the most beautiful spots in the world.

“It should be getting really busy soon,” with the arrival of the off-island students, he said.

Some of the graduates want to get their commercial licenses, and others want the license for firefighting or police work, he explained.

“We basically lay a foundation,” teaching students how to carry sling loads, how to safely retrieve vehicles, and firefighting techniques, he said.

In addition, he helps pilots he trains get jobs, he said.

About the pending end of his tenure as an instructor, Daligdig says, “instructor isn’t really a career. It’s for experience.”

He hires a full 70 percent of his students to be instructors, and after they have enough flight hours, they get their commercial licenses, and become marketable to owners and operators of tour companies, he said.

In addition to instruction, he offers charters and photo tours in the two-seat, Robinson R-22 helicopter, which is the most common, reliable and cost-efficient craft available for civilian flight instruction, he said.

“On the first flight, I’ll actually let you fly the helicopter,” and sometimes land on beaches or by waterfalls, he said.

Ben Fouts, president of Mauna Loa Helicopters, started the company on the Big Island in 1995. The Kaua’i operation was established in 2003.

He has three locations on Kaua’i, the Big Island and O’ahu, and around two dozen aircraft, said Daligdig, who is trying to encourage Fouts to get a fleet of helicopters for Kaua’i.

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