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Q&A: Interview with an Entrepreneur

Aaron’s magnificent men in their flying machines

Ever since man stood up on two feet he has had a desire to fly. Mad men tried all sorts of contraptions to ape birds. Many had dreadful falls–even mythology and the bible recount many flights by humans which were either horrid failures like Icarus’ or gilded successes like the angels’ flight and Elijah’s chariot.

Flying remained a sought-after dream for many and many centuries. Then an enterprising soul managed to conquer the way man can fly–aided by machines, jet propulsion and aerodynamics. But fly he–and she–did. And now flying has become a common, indispensable and easy mode of transport. Today more than ever the joy of flying has become an important part of many people’s life. Aaron Micallef who heads Sky People Aviation Training Ltd is a man who gives others the joy not just of being in planes but of actually flying them. He truly embraces the spirit of flight - he is one of those magnificent men (and women) in their flying machines. The Executive meets up with him and learns all about his dreams, his vision and his plans.

HOW DID IT ALL START?
AARON MICALLEF: Strangely - or luckily - I chose an aeroplane for my quċċija (the Maltese custom of giving children a few objects to choose from on their first birthday. The one they pick is supposed to indicate what line the child will eventually take). It must have been indicative as, from the age of 17, I have always dreamt of going into aviation.

WERE YOU ENCOURAGED?
AM: Not really - though I can’t really blame anyone. I waited till I was 20 and went on training courses in Malta followed by further studies in the UK where I qualified for my licence as a certified ground instructor. To start with, I worked in the family business but I never lost sight of this dream and always wished to set up my own company.

AND WAS THE MOVE FROM EMPLOYEE TO ENTREPRENEUR EASY?
AM: Actually it was frighteningly shocking at first. I didn’t know what hit me. At first, getting an intake of students was hard and though today, with proper hindsight, I realise it was to be expected as all new ventures take time, when your investment sits there shining away in idleness it does not feel good. I persevered and now our intake of students doing their licence is very encouraging.

HOW MANY PLANES DO YOU OWN?
AM: We have two planes fully owned by us and one will be bought next year. One of our planes is equipped to fly in very low visibility so training on it will give the students very good experience.

WHAT IS THE MAIN ATTRACTION FOR STUDENTS?
AM: Whether as a career or as a hobby, it is becoming more and more attractive to learn how to fly and go to somewhere like Lampedusa or Reggio Calabria.

Quite a few people nowadays own their own aircraft or rent one and use it for short flights or even to go for weekend breaks. The freedom and the exhilaration of flying your own plane is hard to describe or appreciate down on the ground.

ARE THERE ANY LIMITATIONS?
AM: The main limitation is that in Malta there is only one airport so all schools have a limit to their flying times and slots. With not enough leeway and time to fly our planes we are rather curtailed.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION? IT’S NOT AS IF WE HAVE LOADS OF SPACE AVAILABLE.
AM: A Gozo airstrip would make it all happen and aviation - which can grow exponentially - would become a true success story. We do not require another airport, just an airstrip. The planes would then hop over from one island to the other.

WOULDN’T THAT CREATE A NUMBER OF ISSUES, ESPECIALLY ENVIRONMENTAL?
AM: Not necessarily. A grass strip is all you would need and noise would not be a problem as only small aircraft would land and take off there. Then you start the Sicily trips. It all sounds so easy but there has to be commitment and now it seems the government seems to be working on the idea of the airstrip in Gozo. So there is hope.

WHAT WOULD THIS MEAN TO MALTA IN RELATION TO AVIATION SUCCESS?
AM: We could become a European hub for training. We have great weather most of the time so you are almost always assured of good flying conditions. We also offer good service at good prices and operating out of a first-class airport does have its advantages of course. Transport Malta is quite vigilant and its service has improved over the last three years. I believe wholeheartedly that we can enjoy even further advancement with a stronger will and in collaboration with all the ones involved in the flying schools.

DO YOU JUST OFFER PILOT TRAINING?
AM: We are also offering cabin crew and ground crew training. We have teamed up with Oyster Training Group and now offer an airline cabin crew course which is fully accredited by NCFE, UK. The intake of locals and even some foreigners has been very promising. We even go beyond training, helping students find jobs. This is a course which also gives you the best grounding to undergo interviews to join airlines. Quite a few of our students are already in employment.
So far we haven’t started marketing this course abroad but I am confident that when we do the intake will be very encouraging. Malta offers several of advantages and we are quite well-known for the reliable training we offer.

IS IT EASY TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH ALL RULES AND REGULATIONS?
AM: In this line you have to be constantly updated. We have an employee whose function is to keep everyone, from management to staff, updated with all regulations and their implementation.

WHAT IS YOUR STYLE OF MANAGEMENT?
AM: Very open and close to all my colleagues. In fact my office is not separate from the other offices, we all share an open space. We discuss and communicate continually and make sure all of us reach optimal work methods. Personally I’m very hands-on and share a lot with the rest of the employees. Our company has gone places solely because the team works well together. Our aim is to make people enjoy their flying or their cabin crew work. And we also want all employees to enjoy their work.

WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
AM: I would like to see the fleet expand and to start training for commercial flying. Obviously that would mean another aircraft which will have to be multi-engine. We would have to set up training manuals and we would need to employ a chief flying instructor. I hope to see all this happening in the very near future. And my other pipedream is to be engaged by an airline to train their pilots. Dreams do come true–just as I am living my childhood dream of going into aviation.

Aaron’s learning box

1.    Follow your dream through, whatever the obstacles.

2.    Don’t let others plan your life for you - keep following     your dream. Aaron’s wish to go into aviation and run         his own school beat all the odds.

3.    Beginnings are tough but one must persevere and the results will follow.

4.    Belief in our country, in what we can reach and achieve is crucial to our survival.

5.    It’s important for any successful entrepreneur to be seen as part of the team.

6. All is possible and no ambition should be discarded. Aaron believes that all leaders are primarily dreamers.

Last modified onThursday, 26 December 2013 22:30
Victor Calleja

Victor Calleja has been involved in publishing, marketing, and anything concerning the written word, for over thirty years. He is now a part-time but very opinionated journalist who delves deeply into a number of subjects.

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