Henry’s clear skies and turbulent conditions
After COVID-19 restrictions grounded his Hobart-based seaplane company, Above and Beyond Tasmania, Pilot Henry Ellis is ready to fly again.
Most pilots must choose – general aviation or commercial air transport. Pilot Henry Ellis has created his own high-altitude blend of flying Virgin 737s and captaining his Above & Beyond Tasmania Hobart-based seaplane.
Flying has been on Henry’s radar since the age of 16 when he acquired his restricted pilot’s licence. Most young boys growing up on the family farm aspire for a driver’s licence, eager to get behind the wheel of Dad’s ute. But Henry had bigger plans as his career took flight from the idyllic meadows of the Derwent Valley.
Progressing in his aviation career, Henry attained his private licence at 17, and commercial licence by 19. Beginning his career flying in Tasmania, he juggled air time with the completion of a degree in Tourism before setting off to the big island to fly Medivac jets around Australia, South East Asia and the Pacific. Come 2010, he was hired as a Virgin pilot flying Boeing 737s, which he continues to do today on a part time contract. He and his wife moved back to Tasmania in 2016.
“Up until about two years ago I was based in Sydney flying for Virgin,” explains Above and Beyond Tasmania Managing Director, Henry. “But Dad and I got talking over dinner one night and decided we’d love to launch a seaplane operation here in Tasmania. That was early 2016 and it took us two years before we flew our first passengers in 2018. It’s been an amazing ride to share with my father.”
Gerald Ellis, Henry’s father, is no stranger to innovation and new enterprise. The born and bred Tasmanian acquired a Rural Science degree at the University of New England in Armidale before moving back to Tasmania upon purchase of the Meadowbank property in 1976. His career has spanned grazing, viticulture, wine, tourism, civil engineering and he’s now Director of Above and Beyond Tasmania.
The father and son duo worked together from that first dinner table chat to locate an amphibious eight-seater de Havilland Beaver (one of the most famed seaplanes in the world) and chart their way through various industry regulations, setbacks, certifications and an investment of $1.5 million into the venture.
The Canadian-built Beaver can take off and touch down on water or land. This opens an opportunity for Above and Beyond Tasmania to access rare locations such as Pumphouse Point at Lake St Clair and even Meadowbank Farm and Vineyard where guests can land on pristine Lake Meadowbank and enjoy a wine tour and tasting on the Ellis family farm.
“People love that personal touch,” smiles Henry. “To be able to fly north west following the River Derwent out to our vineyard is pretty special. We provide set destinations but can also cater for custom and commercial charters too.”
Based at the Kings Pier Marina, Above & Beyond Tasmania are Tasmania’s only seaplane operation. From 30-minute City Scenic flights over Tassie’s capital to island-crossing ventures to Bathurst Harbour in the south west, the amphibious aircraft has capacity to reach rare locations. Popular for luxury transfers to the likes of Saffire Freycinet or Satellite Island, many seats on shorter flights are taken by tourists simply passing by.
“We get plenty of foot traffic along the pier,” explains Henry. “Also, with Macq 01 looking out over our seaplane, lots of hotel guests opt for a spontaneous flight with our Three Capes and Port Arthur experience being particularly popular.”
But as was unfortunately the case with many Tasmanian tourism-based businesses, COVID-19 restrictions forced Henry to put operations on hold.
“The initial physical distancing restrictions around the number of people allowed in an indoor space meant each of our flights could really only be one passenger and a pilot,” said Henry. “It wasn’t viable to run the aircraft with just two people on board every time.”
Through being able to minimise outgoing costs, maintaining and servicing the plane, keeping in touch with staff on JobKeeper and the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, Above and Beyond are now ready to fly again.
And as Tasmania’s begin to get out and about more and more on weekends, Henry is hopefully locals with take the opportunity to visit local attractions.
“In the current environment when people can’t go overseas, we’re hoping that [Tasmanians] may do some more local activities, and take advantage of the Government’s new travel and experience vouchers,” says Henry.
Henry admits he’s not sure how opening up the business again is going to go. More than half their regular flights come from ‘walk-ins’, with the rest being booked charter or scenic flights. With minimal foot traffic and bookings at 10 per cent of normal, Henry is putting his faith in the local market.
“It is really hard to forecast walk-ins in the current climate. We have got forward bookings but not a patch on what we had this time last year,” explains Henry.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go, but we have to give it a go and that’s what we are going to do.”
Find out more about Above and Beyond Tasmania.
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