Jonny Greenall was born to fly. He has been flying helicopters for over 16 years, but his first flying experience was with the Air Cadets in Chipmunks and Vigilant Gliders. Now, with 6,500 flying hours under his belt, he says there is no better time to obtain a helicopter pilot's licence.
"Like all businesses, we've had to adapt during the lockdown and there are lots of people here on the island who would love to obtain a pilot's licence but have never had the time. Well, now they still have until the State of Emergency is lifted and Balearic Helicopters is going to offering residents special rates once we can start training again early next month," he told the Bulletin last week.
Jonny has lived in Majorca since 1993 and learnt to fly the Robinson R22 & R44 with Sloane Helicopters Mallorca. He then went onto complete his Commercial Helicopter Licence and Instructor Rating with Sloane Helicopters (at Sywell and Majorca). Jonny also has his JAA Fixed wing licence. He has been flying in Majorca since 1999, as well as having made numerous trips around Europe and the UK. Jonny is also a Core Team Member of EHEST - the European Helicopter Safety Team - and last week he was able to take to the skies for the first time since lockdown began to carry out maintenance flights.
His wife, having read about Sloane Helicopters in the Bulletin, bought him a trial lesson for his birthday back in 1999. "I guess I’ve got the Bulletin to blame. I had been coming to Majorca since I was child with my parents on holiday. I spent my gap year here before going to university and then moved over to run a business in Alcudia. However, I always wanted to fly and my wife knew that, so she gave me the chance to have a go and the rest, as they say, is history."
After obtaining his licence he began working for Sloane Helicopters Mallorca in 2004 and was the Base Manager of Sloane Helicopters Mallorca from 2008 until 2015, which is when he took over the outfit and launched Balearic Helicopters, which has gone from strength to strength every year. "We were looking at another bumper year. It was a packed winter, which is the prime teaching period with students coming from all over Europe, but mostly northern Europe because apart from it being cheaper to train here, the weather guarantees more flying time, plus more attractive downtime.
"Students come for a week or longer at a time, some may have a second home or a yacht based here, and combine their training with pleasure. On successful completion of their training, students fly away with a European licence so they can operate anywhere in Europe, which is a major benefit. But apart from the training, which involves 45 flying hours and 100 hours on the ground in the classroom plus plenty of homework, it's something that certainly needs to be taken seriously and requires a lot of dedication. We charter helicopters, provide pilots with the facilities to maintain their flying hours and offer sightseeing flights, which are extremely popular during the summer.
"We also offer 'Heli dining'. We've teamed up with several of the island's most exclusive hotels and restaurants to offer a fantastic island helicopter tour and five-star lunch, not to mention organising corporate events and numerous other exciting activities for clients to enjoy.
"So, on the back of what was another good winter, which was sadly grounded abruptly due to the pandemic, we're now looking at an uncertain summer. We've currently got three helicopters at Son Bonet: two four-seaters and a luxury five-seater. That's our limousine chopper if you like, but amidst all the new rules, regulations and uncertainty, what I want to do once we can begin teaching again next month is try and generate some local activity.
"Like I said, obtaining a pilot's licence requires time and dedication and now is the perfect moment for busy business people who have always thought about or wanted to fly to come and learn or at least start the course. The European licence is for life and opens up a whole new world for likeminded people.
"I've had clients charter helicopters and fly down and tour Morocco, for example. I did that myself a few years ago and it was an amazing experience, but we're constantly flying round Europe, which in this current situation is frustrating. It is for all businesses, especially those which are heavily dependent on foreign clients like we are; hence why I'm reaching out to the local community. Now's the time to get off the sofa and come and fly.
"My team is fully up to speed with all the COVID-19 protocols, which will involve flying wearing masks and gloves and desanitising the helicopter pre- and post-flights; mind you, we tend to do that anyway. We'll also be taking clients' temperatures, every measure which is legally required and obviously all the flying schools at Son Bonet will be doing the same.
"Over the past few years, the airfield has become extremely busy, especially during the summer with more and more fixed wing planes and helicopters on the apron. Being so close to Palma and just off the motorway is a major advantage and the flying here is first class. Be it for training or sightseeing, it's a joy to fly over and around the island or island hop. The countryside and landscape are second to none and the weather conditions near perfect.
"I miss my British market, but Brexit took care of that. The slump in the value of the pound hit that, but training in the UK is not the same as here. Students could have flights booked only to have them cancelled by the weather or have to train in unsettled conditions. It's no way near as much fun as coming down and training here in Majorca.
"Brexit has other uncertainties. There are so many things yet to be decided upon, such as whether the UK will remain in the European Aviation Authority or not and go independent. Should the latter happen it's going to be a nightmare for our industry as a whole from the large airlines to operations like ours. If our planes and helicopters are currently registered in the UK, we'll have to reregister them in Europe and then there will be restrictions of us operating in UK airspace. So there are plenty of variables for us to keep an eye on at the moment while having to make the best of a very complicated and unfortunate situation.
"With regard to the current air travel situation, I personally believe that, providing it is carried out properly and sensibly and that all sectors are involved from the medical authorities to the airlines, etc., European airports should be allowed to open again. Brussels could devise a system similar to a traffic light with countries working their way up from red to green to go, to fly.
"Some countries are going to come out of the pandemic or lockdowns at different speeds. For example, the UK will obviously trail the likes of Spain because it went into lockdown at a later stage and therefore the pandemic curve will take longer to push down; it's simple maths. But some of those countries, which either went in to lockdown early or have managed to contain the spread of the virus better, should be given more space to manoeuvre. At the moment there seems to be a lack of clarity and it's only making matters worse for everyone."