Chris obtained his PPL in 1976, flying on and off for a few years before taking a break. “I had aspirations of a CPL and heading to the airlines, but basically did not fly for a couple of decades due to life events – university, family, mortgage etc.” he says. After life settled down, Chris returned to aviation mostly flying a Cessna 172 and a Cherokee 6, having flown a Mooney, Cessna 182RG, Cessna 210, Beechcraft Debonair and a Decathalon in the past.
With a background in IT at Qantas, Chris had the opportunity to work with Qantas Holidays, and later, after leaving Qantas, with The Travel Corporation.Last year Chris flew a Grumman Tiger to Cape York, which inspired him to plan AOPA’s first big air safari.
“The Kimberley Air Safari will be the first one conducted under the AOPA banner,” he says. “I was astounded at the level of interest shown, receiving near 30 enquiries. So it would appear that AOPA members with access to aircraft have a genuine enthusiasm to visit remote and spectacular places in Australia.”
Chris met AOPA’s George Higgins at his local Sydney flying club. Due to his background in tourism, Chris naturally gravitated towards Flying Activities Coordinator. With George as Club Captain, the pair made a great team, and when the flying activities programme disbanded, they approached AOPA Australia about setting one up.
“Essentially my role is to create a yearly flying activities program, which consists of day and week end trips and one or two air safaris,” says Chris. ” The air safaris constitute the majority of this work in preparation. My annual intense flying hit happens when I go on the safari. I guess you would call me the safari lead in this context – my main role in the trip is trying to prevent hiccups or dealing with them if they occur. Generally I am in daily contact with George during the trip and rely on him to sort things out that are difficult to do on the fly.”
“The starting point is to pick a destination or region that you imagine a group would be interested in visiting,” says Chris. “Then it is a case of securing accommodation for about 30 people over a two week period. This process can be a bit of trial and error to create a sequence of places to stay. For example, Broome was an intended spot to visit but a clashed with the Broome Cup, which is why the safari is going to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. It also helped they had a very enthusiastic Tourism Manager onsite.
“Also, given that accommodation is very limited in central Australia it was decided to base at Drysdale River Station for three nights. From here it is feasible to conduct day flying trips to Mitchell Falls, Faraway Bay for King George Falls and Kalumburu. I am especially looking forward to the Kalumburu experience, possibly one of the remotest indigenous communities in Australia, as they are laying on the red carpet for our group.
“Travelling to the starting point Katherine, and returning home from Kununurra are mini safari experiences in themselves. Going to Katherine currently there will be four (three from NSW and one from VIC) aircraft overnighting at William Creek to be joined by another two aircraft coming in from Queensland at Barkly Wayside Inn. There are possible options to come along on these positioning trips.”
When asked about his dream air safari, Chris says, “I would like to do a circumference of Australia, possibly in a gyrocopter! On a recent visit to the USA I was disappointed my arrangements to go on a brief flight with an instructor fell through. There are several destinations I would like to go flying in the states, Santa Monica or Hawthorne airports which are in close proximity to Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge) and Anchorage (Snow Clad Landscapes). I met an Alaskan Airlines A320 pilot who just flew his Aeronaca Sedan into Cooper Landing for a $100 burger. He spotted a bear coming out of hibernation on the flight down – how good is that!”
While the Kimberley Air Safari is fully booked, there are limited places on AOPA’s Great Barrier Reef Safari. Register your interest here