23/01/2007 - 22:00

Sky's the limit for Stokes' Minovation dream

23/01/2007 - 22:00

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Establishing a flight training business in Perth 10 years ago was easy, according to pilot Min Stokes, but no-one could have prepared her for the bumpy ride that followed.

Sky's the limit for Stokes' Minovation dream

Establishing a flight training business in Perth 10 years ago was easy, according to pilot Min Stokes, but no-one could have prepared her for the bumpy ride that followed.

Arriving in Australia in 1993 from the UK, the flight instructor with big dreams was surprised to find some Australians had a very narrow outlook when it came to imagining the possibilities for air tourism.

But Ms Stokes powered ahead, working as a contractor to flying schools at Jandakot and around Perth before investing a total of $6,000 with her pilot husband, Karl Valentin, in a flying school at Jandakot in 1997, called Minovation.

Through what she describes as clever financing, the pair quickly moved from borrowing other people’s planes to borrowing money to buy their own, and by its third year, Minovation had a fleet of four Piper aircraft.

“Air tourism was really in its infancy then and I thought the plane hire industry was a big untapped market,” Ms Stokes said.

“We mainly train for the leisure market, because so many people want to fly for fun. It’s the freedom of flying to somewhere like Broome and exploring the outback by plane for two weeks that gets people in. They love seeing the landscapes.”

By 2001, Minovation was taking off and its fleet of planes expanding, but the attack on the World Trade Center in New York that September was to affect the business in unexpected ways.

European and British pilots, who were the “bread and butter” of the operation up until then, faced delays in getting through security checks in the UK for permission to fly in Australian airspace.

Ms Stokes said that, for several months after September, many potential students gave up on Australia, finding it easier to train in America. And it’s a problem that remains.

“Business was lost to America and it’s still an issue we’re trying to overcome,” she said. “We want to re-establish what was a very good industry here. These people are not a threat, we need them to rebuild our tourism industry.”

Dealing with the cyclical nature of the flight training market has been another challenge, as has shouldering long working hours, increasing landing fees, occasional air traffic issues, airport privatisation, rent hikes, and the recent relocation debate enveloping Jandakot Airport.

Encouraging more women to train as pilots remains a constant focus for the aviation industry, as the demographic across flight school enrolments is weighted towards men under the age of 25 years.

For now, Minovation is concentrating on building up its hire services or ‘Air Safari’ division with a view to establishing a number of remote airport bases across Australia, and potentially employing agents oversees to promote the business.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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