HAI International Tuesday: Starlite Aviation Group - Ireland, South Africa, and Beyond

Paul Smith Top Story

Starlite Aviation Group is a diverse aviation company offering a wide range of helicopter and fixed-wing services. The company’s portfolio is impressive, having operated in 25 countries on five continents in some of the harshest environments in aviation. Starlite prides itself as experts at taking on complex assignments in remote locations, focusing on fast deployment to provide quality solutions to client-specific requirements safely, which is the company’s core priority in all its operations without exception or compromise.

Starlite Aviation Group specializes in multitask configurations for:

  •  Medevac, air ambulance, and HEMS services
  •  Rescue and relief
  •  Passenger and cargo transport
  •  Night Vision Systems
  •  Offshore/onshore, oil and gas, and mining
  •  Anti-poaching and surveillance
  •  Powerline inspection and survey
  •  Firefighting
  •  Marine salvage

The Starlite Aviation Group, co-founded by CEO Slade Thomas and Vice Chairman Karl Kebert, began its journey at Virginia Airport about 19 years ago with a vision to “rule the African Skies.” The company expanded rapidly with a goal of being a globally significant player in the international aviation industry.

In 1999, the company procured a hangar at the Virginia Airport in Durban, South Africa, establishing a pilot training school that has since grown to global status. The dream did not stop at training. In 2000, Starlite Aviation Group was awarded its first contract in support of the massive flood relief operation during the devastating Mozambique floods. Starlite operated three Puma aircraft, providing helicopter transport for survivors, helicopter air ambulance support, and delivering of medical supplies and food parcels to remote and inaccessible areas. The company collaborated with the British Government, UK Department for International Development, the UN World Food Program, Doctors Without Borders, and the US Army Air Services, bringing relief to the stricken area.

Training grew beyond the borders of South Africa and the global demand for operation contract work increased, which called for diversity in the company, as did its fleet of aircraft and personnel. A second AMO, Starlite Maintenance Johannesburg, was established in Heidelberg, Johannesburg, providing maintenance and logistics to the medium- and heavy-lift helicopter fleet of Puma, Bell, Sikorsky, and Leonardo (then Agusta Westland) aircraft.

Further expansion at Virginia Airport took place with additional offices and a second hangar constructed to house Starlite Maintenance Durban, responsible for maintaining the expanding fleet of aircraft. Today, this division is a successful AMO that maintains the company’s training fleet and has expanded its offering to third-party maintenance.

In 2001, Starlite successfully ventured into offshore/onshore oil and gas, salvage, firefighting and helicopter air ambulance support/CASEVAC. In 2005, Starlite mobilized an entire fleet of air, ground, and maintenance crew in just a few days in support of the World Food Program, assisting in relief operations for the victims of the tsunami in Indonesia and Sumatra.

In 2008, the company’s European head office was established in Dublin, Ireland, and so began the process of aircraft being certified on the Irish register, opening the door to the building of a fully-fledged base in Kosovo, a key position for providing mission-ready aircraft for air ambulance, NVG and FLIR operations.

In June 2010, Starlite purchased a Sikorsky S92, the first of its kind on the African continent and made history when landing on the Geowave Master. This aircraft opened the door for the company to compete in the Oil and Gas industry.

Further expansion at Virginia Airport included the establishment of Starlite Aero Sales, which has proved to be a thriving business, specializing in the sale of helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft.  Starlite Training continued its expansion, and in 2012, opened its doors in a state-of-the-art pilot training school facility on Mossel Bay Airfield, Starlite Aviation Training Academy, offering helicopter and fixed-wing pilot training. Yet another AMO was established to provide maintenance support to the academy’s extensive fleet of Robinson, Guimbal, and other training aircraft.

Starlite’s vision for the future is, “To be the globally significant player in the international aviation industry.” Forging ahead into Africa, Europe, and the East and establishing AOC’s in strategic areas has opened doors for new business globally.

Looking ahead, despite having already established itself as a reputable humanitarian provider and a supplier of aviation services, Starlite will further bolster its presence through expanded operations and training, increase its reach even further, providing medevac standby and passenger and cargo transportation to the most remote, inaccessible, and hostile areas. Ultimately, they company’s goal is to become the service provider of choice to government and corporate clients, providing support in unstable and unpredictable environments globally.

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