More Than Just a Group of Enthusiasts – Central Coast Aero Club
In 1973 when a small group of aviation enthusiasts on the Central Coast decided to start the Not For Profit (NFP) Central Coast Aero Club (CCAC), I am sure they would never have dreamt of the impact their passion would have on the Central Coast.
From farm land, to airport, to purchasing the Central Coast Flight School and the “turbulent” journey of running a business, CCAC, fuelled by their passion for flying and assisting the community in aviation, know firsthand that success is not a solo flight. They have taken opportunities for growth and development when they have arisen and they have bunkered down and navigated through the highs and lows of business.
During WW2 the Central Coast was home to at least 3 airstrips that serviced air force planes for repairs or refuelling. However from the 1950’s, all airstrips were converted into either farming land or land for housing, leaving the Central Coast with no airstrip.
Making Changes to the Central Coast Aero Club
The 8 founding members of the CCAC, initially started the NFP to establish an aviation base on the Central Coast and draw in aviators from further afield. The land for the Aero Club was sourced from a local farmer in Warnervale in the early 1970’s. The club founders worked in conjunction with the then, Wyong Council, to clear enough land for a runway strip. This was the beginning of the Warnervale Airport in 1973.
Around the same time the as the CCAC, a Flying School – Warnervale Air – was also being established at Warnervale airport. The Flying School and Aero Club always worked closely with one another, but remained separate entities until very recently. In April 2015 an opportunity to help support the NFP Aero Club arose, when the previous owner of the Flying School decided to retire and needed to sell the business.
The intention of the purchase was to primarily help support the NFP arm of the business, while also making it possible to operate a commercial business that works in conjunction with the Aero Club. Essentially marrying two sectors which share the same passion.
It was a clever decision to combine the two aviation groups as one organisation. Once this sale was finalised, the Aero Club owned and had complete control over the operations at the Warnervale airport.
What could possibly go wrong?
Perhaps this is the best place to introduce Andrew Smith, CEO of Warnervale Air and President of the CCAC, and begin his enduring love story for the success and growth of the business. Like all good love stories there is passion and heartache, but with dedication and good advice, the story ends well, or in this case to be continued.
Not long after purchasing the flight school Andrew realised the aero club had paid too much. The flight school had not been running as well as expected. There was no marketing being done for the business and people from the Central Coast were travelling to Bankstown to learn how to fly as they were unaware a flight school existed under their noses. The debt for the purchase as well as no income coming in from the flight school saw the business face its first challenge – the prospect of bankruptcy. It literally became a “fight or flight” situation. Figure out a way to make it work or lose it all.
Fight or flight
Andrew was determined. As the saying goes, the optimist builds a plane, the pessimist invents a parachute. With expert help and assistance by the 8 other CCAC board members and fantastic staff, he turned his efforts to marketing the flight school in every way he could. It worked. After the first month of tireless effort the business took off. Three years in and there has been a 100% increase in students and it continues to soar. The Aero Club also operates a very successful aviation maintenance facility. Shortly after being appointed to manage both businesses, Andrew brought in a well-known, highly regarded maintenance manager to push the engineering side of the business and it is now operating at capacity, with business being turned away due to lack of space to grow. Andrew sees the high tech world of aerospace engineering and maintenance as possibly one of the biggest opportunities for the future of skilled labour on the Central Coast.
They faced a problem, they figured out how to fix it and they all lived happily ever after.
End of story, right? Wrong!
Despite the flight school doubling their revenue, staff and tuition hours flown in the last 4 years, the business is currently facing one of its biggest challenges. A steady set of more and more restrictive council requirements, coupled with council altering the runway, are making it incredibly difficult for the flight school to operate to its full potential. As with all business the benefits come when you are able to work on your business more than in your business. A big challenge for Andrew in regards to the challenges he faces with council, has been having to divert his attention away from what he does best, flying and training, and concentrate on learning new ways to overcome issues he is unfamiliar with. The CCAC and Council are still engaged in ongoing discussions over the proposed airport restrictions.
Fuelled by increasing demand
When I asked Andrew was there currently a demand for pilots, it is clear to see how important the airport is to him and the community. “At the moment there is no better time to become a pilot”, Andrew said “Boeing has predicted over the next 20 years there will be 800,000 pilots needed worldwide over and above current supply rates”. Keeping the flight school on the Central Coast means people will stay on the Coast to train rather than revert back to people having to travel to Bankstown or Newcastle.
Diversifying into scenic flights has helped with revenue for the Central Coast Aero Club
Although the Central Coast Aero Club has diversified and offers scenic flights and aerobatics as well as expanding their maintenance business, the flight school still makes up the majority of the clubs revenue, with only 15-20% coming from other areas. The flight school allows people to train from ab-initio through to commercial Pilots Licence as well as a number of flight activity endorsements such as aerobatics, spinning and formation flying.
The value of good marketing
Andrews’s advice to other business owners is obvious once you’ve read the journey that the Central Coast Aero Club has been on. “When things get tough always look at the bigger picture, and don’t get bogged down by the details, find a way through. Utilise modern marketing methods. Use Facebook advertising to propel your business for an affordable price”. And not forgetting the humble beginnings of the NFP, I asked Andrew what advice he would give to anyone considering starting a Not For Profit. Simply put, “get advice from a specialist (such as Bishop Collins) in order to fully utilise the advantages and niche aspects that a NFP provides”. As specialists in the not for profit industry we wholeheartedly agree with this advice. And in regards to marketing your business we concur, the effort you put in to highlight people’s awareness of your business will never be futile.
Although there have been times when the eject button was almost pushed, the parachute is still in the bag, intact and Andrew and the team at Central Coast Aero Club are soaring higher than ever.
Want to book a flight?
To get in touch with Andrew or make enquiries about flying with the Central Coast Aero Club you can visit their website https://www.ccac.com.au/
All photos in this story were captured by the talented Andrew Smith who can be found on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andysmith.photography/
Central Coast Flight School at Warnervale airport