Twenty two Army helicopter pilots have left in the past year for better pay and conditions in the oil and gas industries and at least 23 more are planning to leave.
The oil and gas industry will hire between 30 and 50 pilots for the growing North West Shelf project in 2013. It costs $2 million to train a military pilot who earns up to $100,000 and works long hours. Pilots flying to offshore oil and gas rigs earn twice that with fewer hours.
But it's not all about the money. Pilots have a serious complaint about safety as it becomes clear that the Army's new attack helicopters are a health hazard. Pilots refused to fly Tigers from the Darwin-based 1st Aviation Regiment last week when seven aircraft had a problem with toxic fumes in the cockpit.
There have been a string of near disasters as the fumes cause impaired judgement similar to being very drunk, and one two-person crew had no memory of landing their machine. The fumes displace oxygen and continued exposure could cause death. There have been 24 recorded fume incidents by the Tiger fleet.
The future of the Armed Forces looks bleak as the Labor government has cut defense spending to its lowest levels since WWII - 1.5 per cent of GDP and more cuts are expected as Treasurer Wayne Swan strives to keep his promise to produce a surplus.