The recently established training base of an international aviation group – and the arrival and commissioning of Africa’s most advanced helicopter instrument flight simulator – have given a major boost to Mossel Bay’s aviation tourism sector.
“With a committed aero club and a well maintained airfield that boasts a paved, 1,100 metre runway, aviation has been a small but important niche for tourism here for many years now,” said Mossel Bay Tourism’s CEO, Marcia Holm.
“The Mossel Bay Aero Club – and companies like Skydive Mossel Bay (which offers sports and tandem skydiving), Air Show and Events (which offers charters and professionally organised air events), and Route 62 (which offers aircraft maintenance) – have been active at the airfield and in the tourism space for some time, and they’ve helped to position the town – and in fact the entire region – as a desirable flying destination.
“But Mossel Bay really came into its own when Starlite Aviation opened its International Training Academy here in June 2011.”
Starlite Aviation’s Mossel Bay base manager Ryan O’Malley said that the company offers private and commercial pilot’s licence training and night, instrument, turbine, and instructor ratings, as well as recurrent training and license renewals for students and pilots from the corporate, security, and private sectors.
“We have up to about fifty contract students, and about six private students in training in Mossel Bay.”
He said that students from contracted clients – like the South African Air Force, the Kenyan Air Force, the Kenyan Army, Kenya’s Police Air Wing, Namibia’s Police Air Wing, Botswana’s Police Air Wing, Botswana’s Department of Tertiary Education, and Botswana’s Defence Force – spend eighteen months or more undergoing intense, full-time training at the base.
The company also provides accommodation for its students.
The recent acquisition of a Swiss-made Elite Evolution S723T helicopter simulator has placed Starlite Aviation in the forefront of helicopter pilot training in South Africa: it means that pilots coming out of Mossel Bay will be fully conversant with operating the complex navigational equipment found in large, twin engined machines that fly routinely in bad weather conditions and at night.
“It’s based on the Eurocopter AS-355 twin engine helicopter (a French machine that’s more commonly known as the ‘Twin Squirrel’), which is used a lot in Europe and the USA,” said Starlite’s chief flying instructor in Mossel Bay, Matt Hayes.
He said that the simulator was chosen because it’s certified in Europe – to the very high standards set down by the European aviation authorities – and because it has a full suite of instruments and high resolution graphics which put students in “a very advanced environment.”
The machine was also certified by South Africa’s CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) before it went into use.
“Compared to other simulators, this one is a quantum leap in realism and sophistication,” which enables Starlite Aviation to produce pilots of the highest calibre, said Mr. Hayes.
“The CAA’s designated flight examiners are consistently impressed by the instrument flying knowledge and ability of our students.”
Starlite Aviation – which was established in South Africa in 1999, but which moved its head office to Ireland in 2008 – runs and manages helicopter services around the world. Besides training, these services include emergency relief work, support for the oil and gas industries, passenger and cargo transport, aircraft maintenance, charters, and sales.
Mr. Hayes said that Starlite chose to establish its training centre in Mossel Bay (“Which we can safely say is the biggest helicopter training centre in South Africa”) because local conditions are almost ideal. “It’s got a good airfield, the weather is generally stable, and it’s close to George Airport – so the students get experience in flying in controlled airspace.
“But it’s also quiet, so we can get on with the business of training.”
He said that the safe environment of the town was also a consideration. “It’s not all about flying when the students are here, and we encourage them to see and take part in what Mossel Bay has to offer,” he said.
With plans to upgrade its fleet of helicopters, and to start flight training on fixed-winged aircraft, 2014 is looking very promising for Starlite Aviation’s Mossel Bay base.
AEROBATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS AT THE DIAS FESTIVAL
Mossel Bay Aero Club chairman Hans Potgieter said that the club will once again host the Western Cape Aerobatic Competition during this year’s Dias Festival (30 January to 2 February). The club will also present the Standard Bank Dias Festival Airshow – which will be organised and managed by Air Show and Events – during that weekend.
“The aerobatic competition will take place at the airfield, while the Standard Bank Airshow will be presented over Santos Beach – so everyone in Mossel Bay will have the opportunity to see some of the country’s top pilots in action,” he said.
“And the Equestra Harvards – under the leadership of South African flying legend Scully Levin – will return to the Dias Festival this year as one of the highlights of the show.”
- Starlite Aviation: www.starliteaviation.com
- Mossel Bay Aero Club: www.mosselbayaero.com
- Skydive Mossel Bay: www.skydivemosselbay.com
- Dias Festival: www.diasfees.co.za
- Mossel Bay Tourism: www.visitmosselbay.co.za
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