The 1985 Oscar-winning film ‘Out of Africa’ has an iconic scene where Denys Finch-Hatton takes Karen flying for the first time. Karen described flying over Africa as the greatest, most transporting pleasure of her life, which opened up a whole new world – the freedom of all three dimensions.
In Africa roads are scarce and the wilderness is vast and aviation opens infinite possibilities to explore and experience the continent. While traditional ground-based safaris offer opportunities for game viewing, air safaris expand the adventure upward into the African skies; where flying is not merely a mode of transportation, it becomes an experience.
Out of the Blue Air Safaris, based at Lanseria International Airport, offers its clients tailor-made air safari packages.
Out of the Blue Air Safaris is well established as one of the market leaders in both air safaris and corporate charter. The company operates a turbine powered and pressurised Beechcraft King Air, two Cessna Caravans, a Cessna 210, and 206 and the beautiful Cessna 402C – which is featured on this month’s cover.
With more than 50 charters flown in an average month, the company has built its reputation on customer service and safety and offers its clientele the flexibility to create their own timetable which can be easily changed, knowing that the aircraft and crew are always ready. The experience is much like owning your own aircraft without the attendant operating and ownership issues.
Out of the Blue Air Safaris offers the corporate traveller a point-to-point service at whatever time suits the client, and since it operates out of Lanseria International, travelling time and delays both to and from the airports is minimised. Many companies aim at minimising costs; and chartering an aircraft is an effective way not only to reduce costs, but also to save on travelling time.
Stan Nel, General Manager of Out of the Blue Air Safaris, quotes the example of one of their busy routes, a trip to Sishen; “If a company director drove to the mine in Sishen, it would take around six hours, whereas a charter flight is there and back in just over four hours. So an overnight trip turns into a daytrip with time to spare.”
Adding to the cost effectiveness, with the optimum number of people to match the aircraft capacity, private charter not only saves money and time, but is also convenient, without traffic queues, parking delays, crowded check-in lines or terminal chaos.
Another added benefit of charter is privacy. The client gets to travel with people they choose, conduct meetings, discuss business strategies or simply relax while flying. And flying is the safest mode of transport.
Out of the Blue Air Safaris had its roots in 1981 when Stan Nel turned his back on his plumbing business and started his flying career on a Cessna 150. After qualifying as a commercial pilot, he began flying for a conservation company which set up a charter company called Aardvark Airlines. The fledgling charter company soon changed its name to Out of the Blue Air Safaris. Stan took advantage of an opportunity to buy Out of the Blue Air Safaris and he has subsequently built it to one of today’s preferred air charter companies. With more than 11,000 flying hours, he fulfils the role of its chief pilot.
Out of the Blue Air Safaris is now in the GemAir stable of companies. The Aircraft Maintenance Organisation (AMO) that at the time was performing maintenance on the aircraft from Out of the Blue Air Safaris employed a young apprentice named Andries Venter, who later became the go-to-guy for all of Stan’s aircraft when they required routine maintenance. Eventually, Andries qualified and started his own AMO, called GemAir, which was also conveniently based at Lanseria International Airport.
As Stan and Andries had already built a solid working relationship, Stan moved his maintenance operations to the new GemAir AMO, and in 2007 Stan sold Out of the Blue Air Safaris to GemAir.
As the Chief Pilot of a charter company Stan could fill a book with stories about passengers and fascinating experiences, and he shared two such ‘interesting moments’ with us.
The first was when he had just started corporate flying and also still owned his plumbing business. Stan had been called out on a plumbing job and arrived at the client’s home. The client, who happened to be one of South African Brewery’s senior managers turned up as one of Stan’s passengers on a charter the following day. Stan was the pilot in command of the charter and recalls that the look on the senior manager’s face was unforgettable, when he realised that his charter pilot was also his plumber from the day before.
Another of Stan’s favourite recollections is the time when he got Mark Getty to push-start his plumbing truck. Stan had to fly Mark Getty to Phinda Game Lodge when the lodge was still being built, and a few days later they returned to Johannesburg. Mark did not have a lift back to his Sandton hotel, and like any good charter pilot who is always practicing outstanding customer service, Stan offered Mark a lift. Unfortunately his truck, which he also used for his plumbing business had a flat battery. Unfazed, Getty, the billionaire without hesitation leapt out and pushed the truck back to life.
That wasn’t the end of the fiasco. Upon arrival at the hotel, Stan was promptly waived off to the tradesman’s entrance by the hotel concierge who thought that the billionaire and his pilot were there to fix the plumbing.
As Stan says, “There’s never a dull moment in the charter business.”