Monday, January 23, 2012

Blackpool Flight Academy: Come fly with us ...

Anthony Savage, the new Managing Director of Flight Academy flying school based at Blackpool Airport. Anthony in his company's hangar. 

Tony Savage set out to buy a yacht. He ended up buying a flying school.

It’s a bit of a leap – particularly for an ex-Royal Navy man – and Tony blames “the missus.”

Tony says he didn’t stand a chance of convincing his wife Trisha Maher to join him for a life on the ocean wave.

“She didn’t want to be parted from her family for too long,” he says.

No wife, no yacht, but Tony got hooked into something very different by one of those targeted “if you’re interested in yachts you may be interested in this” advertising links on the website concerned.

The link led to Blackpool Flight Academy. The price was considerably steeper than the yacht but Tony saw the potential – and the only way was up.

“I’ve never been the type to sit still for long and I really fancied seeing the world – this seemed the next best thing,” he admits. He wanted a change from website design so set off for a bit of groundwork alone – not even mentioning it to his other half.

It was only when he sat in a state of the art Cirrus SR20 – the top of the range Bentley of the private aeroplane world – he abandoned his water wings and set his sights higher.

“I went overboard for aeroplanes,” admits the new managing director of Blackpool Flight Academy who, for the record, cannot fly. He’s having lessons himself when time permits, joining the scores of other would be pilots there for pleasure, private, commercial or even aerobatic flights.

He broached it cautiously with Trisha. “What if...?”

“No” came the answer. Unequivocally.

Undeterred he let it rest for a week. Then he took her out for a surprise drive. “We often do that kind of thing so she didn’t suspect a thing,” he admits.

The mystery trip ended at Blackpool Airport. “Ooh, are we going away on a surprise holiday?” asked his wife.

“I told her I had something much better in mind.”

They pulled up outside the imposing hangar which houses the impressive flight academy fleet of nimble little Aquila, Cirrus, Piper, Garmi, Cessna and Slingsby aeroplanes – the Slingsby being a nippy little aerobatic two-seater piloted by a cheery chap who regularly takes it out for a spin...literally.

“You’ve not lived until you’ve dropped like a stone from 3-4000ft,” says Tony. “It’s a rite of passage.”

The penny dropped pretty quickly for Trisha. “Unlike many other women when Trisha goes quiet it usually means she’s interested,” says Tony. “We walked around the academy and she was quiet but asked some questions – the right sort of questions. And then she said, if you can make this work, let’s do it.”

Their two-year-old daughter Tia is just as enamoured of aviation. “She can’t wait for the chance to fly one herself,” Tony admits.

He admits he got a bit of a sinking feeling when head engineer Tim Skinner said: “if you want to get into aeroplanes dig a big hole, pour your money in it, and then forget it.” But Tim, 42, who works for Silverstar Engineering maintaining and servicing aircraft for the academy and other private and commercial pilots across Europe, says his dad, also in aero-engineering, said much the same of his and his son’s profession. “I was 12 when I started helping him.”

Academy trade is picking up nicely thanks to voucher sales, trial flights, lessons, allied courses, use of the facility by the air ambulance, and even the cafe underpinning the flying club-like ethos but open to all.

Tony says the voucher sales pay the bills. “We’re also the only flying school, I understand, which uses Aquila as learning aircraft.”

If the Cirrus SR20 is the gas guzzling Bentley of flight school the Aquila is the 60mpg bubble car – a nimble two seater with glass cockpit which, as fitter Alex Cross, 20, who works for Silverstar, says: “Means you can see from any angle, even upside down, not that I want anyone to fly that way.” He loves the Cirrus which has an emergency parachute system within the airframe. “Mechanics like to stay on the ground but if I flew anything it would be the Cirrus because it minimises risk of lethal crash and has the best of everything.” His dream is to work on a Spitfire or Lancaster – as head engineer Tim has.

The academy, which counts Craig Allardyce (football legend Sam’s son) among pilots, offers trial lessons, solo flights, private and commercial licences, and even instrument ratings via a Cessna simulator rated an aircraft proper by the Civil Aviation Authority which helps clock up the flying hours without breaking the bank.

Jack Porter, 74, who developed a taste for adventure in the Merchant Navy, has 20 hours under his belt since being treated to a trial lesson. “I could play golf but this is more of a challenge,” says Jack. “I want to keep my brain going. My instructor Dennis Barrow doesn’t flap, he says the only difference is younger people react faster, I tend to think through consequences of actions. I love it. I enjoy navigation rather than circuits, take offs and landings, particularly in the Aquila in crosswinds! You can be over Arnside or Sedbergh in no time, the Acquila can shift, 105 knots – around 115mph. My youngest son, an engineer, gave me the kick up the backside I needed to do this. Do it, dad, he said, if you don’t do it now you never will.”

Blackpool Flight Academy is based in Hangar Eight, call (01253) 349072, for more information visit

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