Meet the Makers – Chinta Air
There are some fabulous small businesses on the Eyre Peninsula, many of which we proudly partner with. These partnerships allow us to offer travellers the most comprehensive bundle of experiences in the region. This month, we took five with one half of Chinta Air, Felicity Brown, who is also the only female Chief Pilot in South Australia.
Thanks for taking 5 with us Felicity. Your scenic flights take in some of the spectacular landscapes of the Eyre Peninsula and Great Australian Bight. What is it that you think makes this part of Australia so special?
Our scenic flights include the multi-coloured salt lakes of the inland, the Art Deco colours of Davenport Creek near Ceduna, endless white beaches and clear waters, and dramatic cliffs – both Cape Radstock near Baird Bay, and the Bunda Cliffs that rise so abruptly from the Southern Ocean. Australian travellers usually comment that there is much more to see than they expected, and international travellers cannot believe their eyes when they see the stunning scenery with such a complete lack of beachfront development in the form of high-rise hotels.
Where is your home base and why do you love it?
Chinta Air’s home base is Ceduna, the “Oyster Capital” of Australia and regional centre that lies on Highway #1, on the edge of the Nullarbor. We are fortunate to have the outback delights like bush camping by a crackling fire during winter and in summer are blessed with the coastal lifestyle – swimming, fishing, and surfing. We also love the energy of the locals. Having never relied on Government support, the isolation has meant that if anything is to be done, then the only way is to get on with it ourselves!
What is the history and story behind Chinta Air and how did you get into flying?
The spark for the business began when I learned to fly (for a bet), and competed as the pilot for a team named “Delilahs of the Desert” in the 1998 Mobil Outback Air Race. The Outback Air Race is a navigation trial for light aircraft, and is held every two years to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. At the time, I was working as a Community Resource Centre co-ordinator in regional Western Australia and a single mum.
At about this time, I met Noel Schwarz, a successful, innovative farmer at Ceduna who learnt to fly in 1999 for the fun of it. In 2000, despite living in different states, we bought an aircraft, and promptly realised that flying is a very expensive hobby! In 2002, I moved across the Nullarbor to Ceduna and the stark reality occurred that the dream of flying needed to be turned into an aviation business. We applied for an Air Operators Certificate, and a travel agency licence. This was the first time an air charter business had been established at Ceduna.
As a fourth-generation resident of Ceduna, and absolutely certain that anyone visiting the area would love it as much as he did, Noel’s driving ambition was to encourage visitors to the Far West Coast of South Australia and the Nullarbor so they could experience the region, spend some dollars, and benefit a variety of businesses.
What is your role at Chinta and what regions do you fly?
I am responsible for marketing, reservations, and since 2010 have been Chief Pilot and currently the only female Chief Pilot in South Australia. Over time the business has evolved and now has five aircraft at four bases, with five full time staff, and two casual staff.
We have a range of services from scenic flights to tailor-made tours around South Australia including the Flinders Ranges, Lake Eyre, Kangaroo Island, the Nullarbor, and Bunda Cliffs. We also offer an air taxi service. This provides direct flights between areas that regional airlines don’t fly, for example, we may fly direct to Kangaroo Island from Port Lincoln, or Adelaide to the Gawler Ranges or even direct from Coober Pedy to Uluru.
What can someone expect when they jump on board a flight?
What sets Chinta Air Tours apart is flights depart on demand – so you decide when and where you want to fly. The “Uber of the Air”. We fly at much lower heights than the airlines, so the view of the passing landscapes is superb. Every passenger gets a window seat, and a headset to hear the pilot’s entertaining and informative commentary.
Are many people nervous about the size of the aircraft? How do you overcome this?
A number of passengers are nervous about light aircraft. Part of it is the feeling of not knowing what is going on, so the pilot explains what is happening at all stages of the flight – for example, the pilot might say “In a minute, I am going to turn to the right so that the people on the right hand side will get a good view, or “in a minute, you will hear a clunking noise which is the wheels tucking up into the belly of the aircraft so we can fly faster”.
Knowing that something is going to happen seems to relieve the level of anxiety. We want people to enjoy the experience, so that when they travel to another part of Australia, they are keen to fly again!
What aspects of you job do you love the most?
Every day is different, and every passenger is different. I am so lucky that I have the opportunity to meet some absolutely incredible people. At the same time, the weather and the passengers mean that even flying over the same scenery makes every day different.
Why do you think should people should visit the Eyre Peninsula and the wild outback of the Great Australian Bight and Nullarbor?
I think the Eyre Peninsula and South Australia’s Far West Coast is full of surprises and offers so much more than expected. The scenery is consistently stunning and the experiences available are jaw-dropping. To stand on the Bunda Cliffs and watch the Southern Right Whales is mesmerising. They come so close to the shore that on a calm and clear day, you can hear them breathe.
What is one other thing people visiting the region should not miss?
The seafood, the stars, the scenery, the silence. I always say, on the Far West Coast of the Eyre Peninsula, there is room to breathe, to dream, and to grow.