Bird’s-eye view is a day in the office for SA’s only female chief pilot

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By Melissa Keogh

From barely-trodden tracks to hidden beaches and rugged coastlines,  South Australia’s only female chief pilot Felicity Brown experiences breathtaking views every day.

But ask the co-owner of Ceduna travel agency and air charter business Chinta Air about her favourite place in SA and there is only one.

“My favourite spot is in the pilot seat,” Felicity says.

“I’m not a good passenger, I don’t have a favourite aircraft to fly, I don’t have a favourite job to do, I just like to be in the left-hand seat and flying.”

Chinta Air chief pilot Felicity Brown.

Felicity and her husband Noel Schwarz run Chinta Air from Ceduna on the west coast of SA.

They launched the business with one aircraft in 2003 after discovering a love for flying.

Now the business is licensed to operate seven aircraft from three full-time bases and two part-time bases across the state, and has recently expanded onto Kangaroo Island.

The establishment of a base on KI marked the first time in a decade that scenic flights have been available on the island.

Aside from its headquarters in Ceduna, Chinta Air has a base at Rawnsley Park Station in the Flinders Ranges, at the Parafield Airport in Adelaide and, during the winter months, the Nullabor Roadhouse on the state’s far west coast.

 


Chinta Air’s scenic flights allow passengers to ‘sightsee’ from the air, whereas charter flights take passengers from A to B.

“During the winter our base at Nullabor operates scenic flights over the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, where the southern right whales gather to give birth, socialise and breed,” Felicity says.

“In 2017 there were 182 whales including 81 calves there – it’s the most significant nursery for southern right whales in the world.”

Felicity describes the charter flight service as the “Uber of the air”.

It allows passengers to access remote communities and regions that are otherwise only accessible by vehicle.

Chinta Air also undertakes survey work, aerial photography and tailored air safaris, which include trips than can span across days or weeks into different states and locations.

Felicity is originally from country Western Australia and met Noel, a wheat and sheep farmer from the Eyre Peninsula, in the ’90s.

She was still working and living in WA at the time, and first thought about flying when hearing about the Outback Air Race, a GPS-based navigational time trial across the Australian outback.

She had no knowledge of aviation and knew no one with a plane, but was stubborn and refused to live up to a suggestion that she couldn’t do it.

Thunderstorms over #laketorrens #flindersranges #outbacksa @southaustralia

A post shared by Chinta Air (@chintaair) on

As a single mother working part-time, she gained her pilot license and convinced two friends to fly with her in the race.

The trio decided to inject some fun into the flight by dressing in belly dancing costumes and naming themselves, The Delilah’s of the Desert.

“I can fly a plane but I can’t sew so my costume was superglued and stapled together,” Felicity says.

“We turned up at Alice Springs for the start of the air race and we walked into the room and looked around.

“Some of the guys had team names on their polo shirts and the really adventurous ones had it across their backs.

“And there we were in belly dancing costumes … I now know what a stunned silence is.

“We ended up finishing not quite last, but learnt a heap and fell in love with flying along the way.”

In 1999, Noel too learnt how to fly.

Chinta Air was born in Ceduna in 2003 and after a few years Felicity would gain qualifications to become SA’s only female chief pilot and one of five across Australia.

Every day in the air is different, she says.

“You can fly over the same piece of scenery every day for a week and every day there will be something different,” Felicity says.

“There’s always an opportunity to learn something new – learning to fly at night, upside down, low at 100ft above ground level, in cloud, and in different types of aircraft.

“It’s brilliant.”

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