June 25, 2018
Chartair operates a successful regional business across the top end of Australia. Despite challenging industry conditions, it has grown its operations over a number of years and remained profitable. A key component of its strategy is the recruitment and retention of skilled employees, including apprenticeship programs that draw on local indigenous talent.
Regional business challenges
Over the past five years, the general aviation sector has seen the largest exodus of businesses in the entire history of general aviation, according to Aviation Advertiser Chief Executive Benjamin Morgan*, with regional industries hardest hit. Smaller operators are the traditional skills base for piloting, training and maintenance across the whole industry, including providing skilled employees to the bigger airlines.
Proving successful in this environment, Chartair, founded by the Leach family in 1974, is Australia’s leading charter and scheduled services operator serving central Australia, the top end and far north Queensland. It operates 42 aircraft and employs 73 people with maintenance sites in Darwin and Alice Springs and bases in Katherine and Hooker Creek Airport at Lajamanu. The main stay of the business is government contracts, in particular, essential regional mail deliveries with a variety of other services from Fly In, Fly Out to aircraft recovery. They fly to many remote places and work to Regular Public Transport standard levels, the same as those required by larger airlines such as Rex or QantasLink.
Being an airline based in, and flying to, remote and rural areas, it is hard to find and keep key qualified people. The business’ number one challenge is the recruitment and retention of pilots and technical staff to maintain aircraft and facilities.
Chartair also has to deal with a number of climatic challenges due to different weather conditions across its operating regions. Alice Springs has a dry climate that causes little or no deterioration to aircraft but does have cold night time temperatures in winter. Conversely, the Darwin climate presents humidity challenges especially in the wet season, which can significantly affect avionics in particular. All planes are securely covered when not in use.
Meeting the challenge
In 2015, the family business was taken over by new owners, a group of Sydney investors well versed in the aviation sector. The strategy was to focus on expanding the business. The current CEO, Douglas Hendry, joined the business with the take over and has overseen a number of business improvements.
Chartair has since secured several new contracts which have provided growth opportunities, including its first operational base outside of the Northern Territory in Cairns. Obtaining the ‘Mail Plane’ contract for the Cairns region has also brought about further opportunities for Chartair to develop and grow charter business and to tender for future Queensland Government contracts.
While the organisation has been experiencing growth, the critical workforce development challenge remains the recruitment and retention of staff. While Chartair offers a wide range of benefits and incentives to employees to bring them to regional locations, it is not enough to solve this ongoing issue.
To tackle this challenge, a series of measures have been introduced including a deliberate strategy around local apprentice recruitment with a particular focus on employing people from indigenous backgrounds. To solve some of the immediate challenges, the company offers Fly In Fly Out opportunities for suitably qualified engineers around the country.
As Mr Hendry explained, “We see indigenous apprentices as crucial for the long-term viability of the business. They are our future engineers and we think it is great to be able to offer opportunities to people from the remote communities we serve.”
The business has partnered with Group Training Northern Territory, the NT’s largest employer of apprentices and trainees, in Alice Springs to offer a Certificate II in Aeroskills program that was set up by Aviation Australia in Cairns.
Chartair has been able to deliver a profit in the challenging regional aviation sector. It is in a position to keep seeking new growth opportunities to add value to its client base.
From an employee development perspective, Chartair has two indigenous apprentices in Darwin and is looking for another in Alice Springs. It is hoped the Certificate II program will bring future talent to the business and provide increased opportunities to the community as a whole.