It’s all about an evolutionary process. I started out as an aeronautical design draftsman and I ran a company that designed aircraft; my partner was an aeronautical engineer. We ran that company for about 25 years. I just love flying and have loved flying since I was a little boy, and I didn’t get to fly as much. Fifteen years ago I decided, ‘I think it’s time I went to go get my commercial license and do some flying as part of my retirement plan’ — not really retiring but doing something I really enjoyed.
How did you transition to becoming a guide?
That was a natural transition. I had these people as a captive audience in my helicopter — if I can give them a bit of history and engage with them then it makes the flight more of a conversational piece rather than ‘I’m the pilot and I’m going to get you from A to B.’ Becoming a guide was a natural transition in order to provide that unique experience. Some pilots turn the passengers off on the intercom so they don’t have to hear them, and I’m thinking, ‘that’s crazy.’ You get into aviation because you’re passionate about flying and sometimes that passion for flying takes over why you’re flying — you’re flying for these people.
How do you differentiate yourself from other chopper companies?
We’re not the Gold Coast, we’re not Ayers Rock, we’re just a regional city fairly close to Brisbane, so I hunted around for other companies in the area I could work with. I was born here and I didn’t know half the stuff you could do here in this town. Even though we’re not a designated wine region, there are 26 wineries within easy reach, so I thought, ‘no one’s doing wine tours, so why not do it by helicopter?’ We now engage with 48 other businesses in this region and we provide packages that are more than just a helicopter flight. That’s where our strategy came from, we’re more than a helicopter company, we provide experiences, and the helicopter is one of the tools we use in order to provide those experiences.
We had been doing winery tours for 18 months and I had a guy who said ‘I’m not really into wine but I like beer,’ and I said ‘how about a pub crawl?’ We’ve got a lot of uniquely Australian pubs that are out in the boondocks. Some of them have grown up from a tin shack, others the architecture is uniquely Australian, and all of them have great characters that run the pubs. So we get to have a beer in each of these pubs and have lunch at one, and we have a brewery in the centre of town that we visit. That just went viral, and that helped the wine tours take off as well. We’ll also do a low-level river run for half an hour, and we still do joy rides, $55 for five minutes, at events.
What’s the best part of your job?
I get to fly, and I get to be with people that are happy to be there. It’s my job to make them feel even more engaged. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Do you have any certifications?
I’m eco-tourism certified. As far as what we do, our eco footprint is very small. The only carbon emissions we emit is obviously the engine, but we put out more carbon just driving into town to pick up our groceries. Aircraft run fairly efficiently. But it’s all about how we interact with the environment when we’re on the ground … we don’t leave anything behind.
The most challenging and the single thing I can do absolutely nothing about – weather. The weather is changing; it’s becoming more difficult to predict in a particular period. We know between November and January is our wet season, we’re going to have rain and there are going to be thunderstorms in the afternoon, so you can warn people. But … we’re getting a lot of unseasonal weather events. Then we have to either reschedule or, if we can’t, if it’s a wedding or birthday or events that have to be on that particular day, if the weather’s bad then that revenue’s gone.
What in your opinion makes a good guide?
You need some knowledge, but being able to engage easily with your visitors so they feel after an hour that you’re one of their mates.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
My dream trip: there’s a tour in the States that takes in the aviation boneyard in Arizona, the Commemorative Air Force, the Smithsonian Institution, Cape Canaveral. I would love to do that — it’s all aviation type stuff. Where I’m really lucky is my wife loves that stuff too.
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