Monday, April 16, 2012

Aviation discipline brings business rewards

BALANCE: Volcanic Air Safaris' Phill Barclay is all about balance - in business and in life more generally. 

HIGH ACHIEVER: Phill Barclay, managing director of Volcanic Air Safaris 

 To be a good pilot, you need to be disciplined and Volcanic Air Safaris managing director Phill Barclay says the same is true in business.

"If you have a good year, don't go out and have a good spend up. A good year usually means the next bad year is getting closer."

Whether it's the bad weather, an economic downturn or a combination of both, Phill says good discipline and good planning can enable business owners to still be successful.

He also lists a reasonable mechanical understanding as a key skill for a pilot.

"You can tell when something is not quite right and can get it seen to before it becomes a major breakdown."

This, too, applies well to business - you don't need to know all the technical details about every aspect of your business, but the more you know, the easier it is to spot problems in their early stages.

Having grown up around aviation, it was inevitable Phill's career would be up in the air. He came to Rotorua in 1989 as a pilot for Geyserland Airways before becoming operations manager at Volcanic Air Safaris in 1992. He and his wife Dorien Vroom bought the business in 2002.

These days he spends less time flying and is focusing more on the business side of aviation.

"I spend more time thinking about business growth and expanding. I'm always looking for new opportunities."

Safety is obviously key in aviation and Phill is proud of Volcanic Air Safaris' platinum rating - being the only company in New Zealand to achieve this by operating for 25 years without an incident, while averaging 22,000 flights a year in the past five years.

In terms of tourism, he says it is important for Rotorua to pursue new markets such as China and India, but he strongly believes in continuing to invest in traditional markets such as the United Kingdom, Europe and North America. Visitors from these regions tend to stay longer and spend more than the shorter-stay visitors from Asia.

"The challenge is to continue to get good numbers out of those traditional markets, while entering different markets to keep up the growth. We need to have a good balance."

Balance is also something Phill strives for in his personal life. While he has spent his entire career in aviation and tourism, Phill makes a concerted effort to socialise with people outside those industries.

"It is important that you have balance in your social life and you won't get that if you work in tourism and only socialise with tourism people."

As well as avoiding the temptation to talk about work all the time, he says mixing with business owners from other sectors often gives him a new perspective on his own sector.

Making time for two rounds of golf a week and the odd beer also help him achieve that balance!


How has the poor summer weather affected Volcanic Air Safaris and the tourism sector in general?
Our records on days lost to weather go back to the 1990s. For March the average is two days, but this year it was eight.

From Boxing Day through to January 7 is usually the best two weeks of the year and ... well, you remember what it was like. We were probably about 15 per cent down on the same period last year.

The problem with our type of business is that it is so weather dependent. Even if it is safe to fly, you cannot take people up to show them something on a day when they won't see anything.

We had a good Easter, but we had so many visitors asking why everything was shut. When it comes to Easter trading laws, it is time Rotorua stood up and said "Enough! We are going to open regardless."

The whole country needs to do that to highlight the issue. Let people have the choice.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

I was a labourer at a batten mill owned by former Maori All Black Mac McCallion in Waiuku. He was a hardest boss I ever worked for, but he put in just as much work as everybody else.

Geothermal Airways was my first full-time flying job, with John and Raewyn Burns. I still regard John as being ahead of his time in terms of looking after and maintaining aircraft.

How would you like to see Rotorua's Lakefront developed from an operator's perspective?

The last thing I want to see is a 200m jetty into the lake. Every pier like that in the world has ended up being a financial disaster. Why would we copy that?

I also don't want one big building for all the operators. We need to individualise a bit more and spread things out a bit more.

We could make the Lakefront a lot nicer without spending excessive amounts of money. We need a range of quality restaurants and cafes and good public facilities.

What is the difference between being a good pilot and being a good pilot instructor?

The best trainers are not always the smoothest pilots. A person who is a good instructor has the ability not just to say "that was a rubbish landing", but to be able to track the landing back to the approach and help the person understand where it started going wrong.

You need to be constructive about it. You also have to be able to put the person you are teaching at ease so they are not too nervous to focus on learning.

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