Now is the time to spread your wings and take to the skies

One of the pilots at Bunbury Aero Club
One of the pilots at Bunbury Aero Club

If you are healthy enough to drive a car, you are healthy enough to fly a plane.

Catherine Forknall, Club Manager at the Bunbury Aero Club (BAC), says that seems to be reflected in an increased number of older people taking to the skies.

Established in 1963, BAC is one of the oldest aero clubs in Western Australia, so it seems appropriate that its members are not all young top guns looking to get into the air.

Among the significant numbers of older people who want to learn to fly is retired Process Engineering Technician with Worsley Alumina, Graham Evans.

The 66-year-old from Australind has been interested in flying since childhood and Graham says he is not alone.

“I know people who are approaching 80 years of age who are active pilots,” he says.

These are often people who flew in their younger days but are now getting back into it. 

Club members come from a wide range of backgrounds and include medical professionals, trades people, farmers, and business people.

Catherine says health concerns when it comes to pilot licences are pretty similar to those when it comes to driving a car.

“Medical standards now are a bit more flexible, even though you have to be fit and healthy, there are more options. For example, you might not be allowed to fly at night, but quite often people find if they do have a slight health concern they can quite often speak to a medical examiner about it and find a class of licence that still allows them to go out there and have fun.” 

As well as a focus on flying, Graham says the social element at the club is strong.

“The BAC is very welcoming with friendly staff and very experienced instructors. It’s a great place to catch up with like-minded people,” he says.

Club members often get together for beers on a Friday afternoon or will fly out to a club or winery to explore around the south west.

The BAC is very welcoming with friendly staff and very experienced instructors.

Graham’s own flying journey began at Midland Technical School’s Redcliffe Annex and he gained his restricted private licence at Jandakot in 1983. He moved to Bunbury in 1985 and joined the BAC, staying for a year or two and flying club aircraft before giving it away to concentrate on paying down his mortgage and consolidating finances.

He started flying again in 2015, when he had retired, had more time on his hands and had the money to pursue it, doing his navigation training at BAC.

Graham owns a kit-built Van’s RV7A, a two-seat aluminium plane with a cruise speed of 150 knots and safe endurance of four hours.

He flies for fun and to get around.

“In two-and-a-half years of ownership my wife and I fly for fun around the south west and have flown to the eastern states twice and as far north as Broome.”

He flies weekly and racks up about 120 hours in the air each year.

The club is a not-for-profit community-based organisation, which promotes and encourages all aspects of aviation as well as providing facilities for the community to enjoy.

It offers recreational and career pilot training courses for young and old, as well as a range of ratings and endorsements for the beginner and for the more experienced pilot.

For people wanting to learn to fly, but don’t know where to start, the Bunbury Aero Club offers free learn to fly seminars or a trial 30-minute introductory flight for $125, which allows participants to take the controls of the plane.

Catherine says it could almost be that a majority of newcomers to flying are people who are semi-retired or retired.

“They are people who have thought their whole life about wanting to do it but have had other commitments like work and kids that get in the way.

“Now they have more time and more cash they revisit the idea and go ahead and get their licence.

“There’s definitely more older people than we’ve seen previously.”

Catherine says part of the change may be down to flying becoming more affordable and flexible and people were looking for further training to add to their skills.

She says some of these people are also up for the idea of owning an aircraft because the way aviation is going it could be a bit more viable for them.

“People do it for a hobby, and we’ve seen a lot of that previously, but a lot of other people are finding ways to use it as a tool for their work as well and people with farming backgrounds use it as a method of keeping in touch and keeping close to people.”

Catherine says people can buy a light two-seater plane for around $40,000.

“Sometimes we see people driving cars that are more expensive than their planes,” she said.

Want to have a go? Call 9725 4377.

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Journalist and public relations specialist Allen Newton has worked across major media organisations in Western Australia and PR locally and internationally. He and wife Helen Ganska operate Newton Ganska Communications. Allen started his journalism career at the long defunct Sunday Independent and went on to become the founding editor for news website PerthNow, Managing Editor of The Sunday Times and PerthNow and then Editor-In-Chief of news website WAtoday. As well as news, he has been an editor of food and wine, real estate, TV and travel sections. He’s done everything from co-hosting a local ABC television pop show, to editing a pop music section called Breakout with Big Al, and publishing his own media and marketing magazine.