Seair's Caravans find a Lovely Lady in Australia
Based at Gold Coast Airport in
Coolangatta, Queensland, Australia, Seair owns and operates a fleet of four
Cessna Caravans. The company uses its Caravans to connect Queensland's thriving Gold
Coast with Seair's exclusive resort operation on Lady Elliot Island, the only Great Barrier
island with an airstrip. In addition, Seair conducts five Caravan flights a
week between Brisbane, Australia and a gold mining operation in the interior.
While growing the business of Seair
over the past couple of decades, Managing Director and Chief Pilot Peter Gash
has earned the distinction of being Australia's recognized authority on Caravan
operations, as he knows a Sure Thing when he sees one.
It was a Sure Thing when, as a young
professional motocross rider for Team Yamaha, Gash was snorkeling on one of the
Great Barrier reefs and happened to notice a girl scuba diver below. As he took
a deep breath and plunged down for a closer encounter, the young lady named
Julie offered him the mouthpiece from her breathing tank. Julie, it turned out,
would later become his wife.
Likewise, it was nearly love at first
sight some years later when Gash had an opportunity to take controls of an
amphibious Caravan Amphibian. After retiring from Team Yamaha and realizing his
boyhood dream of learning to fly, he began commercial piloting in 1985 for
Seair Pacific, previously called Southport Floatplanes, which operated from the
Broadwater on Queensland's Gold Coast. It was during that time that a visiting
American offered him a ride in a Caravan on amphibious floats. "That was
it for me," Gash said. "I was hooked. I just knew that if I ever
could get an opportunity, I would have a Caravan.”
"Dream of a
Caravan becomes a bet on a business future”
A few years later after Peter and Julie
Gash took over the business and were struggling to make ends meet, there came
an opportunity to buy one of the first Cessna Caravans to operate in Australia.
Sure thing, they took the chance, and still own and operate their first
Caravan, in addition to three others, in a thriving air charter and tourism
"No doubt a lot of people probably
were laughing when we mortgaged just about everything we owned at the time to
buy the Caravan," Gash said. "You see, up until then nobody in
Australia had ever paid that much for a single-engine propeller aircraft, and
there was much expectation that we'd go bankrupt. But I knew what the Caravan
could do, and our success has given others the confidence to buy Cessna
Since Gash had been flying a Cessna
Model 206 on floats for several years and had become widely regarded as a
proficient and accomplished pilot, the government of
Malaysia asked him to come north and help them operate their amphibious
"I'd go up there for a week or so
at a time and fly the airplane for them," Gash said. "Before I knew
it, I was flying the Malaysian prime minister around the country. It got to be
too much for me being gone for that length of time from the family, so instead
of bidding me farewell they offered to lease me the airplane."
The deal - a six-month repayment plan -
literally was just a handshake. It occurred so quickly that Gash soon began
second-guessing himself over the venture; in particular, he was concerned
whether his small business could ever generate enough revenue to support the
repayment and operation of the Caravan.
"Buying that first Caravan was the
toughest decision of my life," Gash said.
"Before I signed the deal, I travelled to Canada and the western
U.S. to determine if another type of aircraft might suit our needs. I tried
very hard to find a reason to not buy the Caravan, but I couldn't come up with
any. I knew I wanted the airplane, but at the time borrowing that much money
was just a huge step for Julie and me."
At first, Gash determined that he
needed to fill five passenger seats in the Model 208 short Caravan in order to
make a profit. This resulted in having to refuse some trips because there weren't
enough paying passengers. Then he was offered a job to haul cargo for a set
more a Caravan flies, the less it costs
"All of a sudden, the light bulb
went on in my mind," Gash said. "It didn't matter how many seats were
filled, all I needed was so much an hour, and the more hours I flew, the less
the Caravan cost me. The Caravan proves it categorically that the more you fly
the airplane, the less it costs you; absolutely, there's no question about
Gash's original Caravan has flown
11,000 hours during 11 years. While the Model 208 Caravan originally was
configured for amphibious operation, Seair's maintenance facility at Gold Coast
Airport has the capability of converting the airplane from floats to wheeled
gear in a matter of hours.
"So our Caravans have got to work,
and they just keep going; that was my business model from the start, and it
still is today," Gash said. "The Caravan has taken our business to a
level we could never have imagined. We appreciate the airplane as a beautiful
piece of machinery that we've built a business around."
enthusiasm tends to be contagious
In growing Seair from a couple of
Cessna single-engine aircraft on floats to a thriving charter and tourism
operation with a fleet of Caravans, Gash has inspired more and more
"believers" in the Cessna Caravan.
"It seems to me that everyone who
flies Caravans believes in the airplane and they actively promote it,"
Gash said. "I can't think of anyone in this country, or anywhere else that
I know of, who flies Caravans who has been dissatisfied."
Gash's enthusiasm for the Caravan has
extended far beyond Australia, up north along the Pacific Rim.
"When we went into Indonesia, to
Bali, and helped them set up their Caravan flight program, there was a lot of
skepticism," Gash said. "I left one of my pilots with them for a year
and made believers out of them."
Elliot Island makes it a trio of Sure Things
After building their Seair success
story around the Cessna Caravan, Peter and Julie Gash recognized another Sure
Thing to build their future on - Lady Elliot Island. In operating Seair
Pacific, Gash initially began taking the amphibious Caravan on day flights to
the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island, the next coral island north of Lady Elliot
Island at the southern extreme of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Due to the limitations of tide and
winds, he could only land his floatplanes there on average 20 days each month.
Lady Elliot Island, on the other hand, had an airstrip where he could land 365
days of the year.
"I first saw Lady Elliot Island in
1979, when I came over by boat with some friends from my profession in
motorcycle racing," Gash said. "I had never seen such a beautiful
place, never seen coral before."
Nearly every day as Gash flew his
passengers to Lady Musgrave Island, he pondered the possibilities of operating
the resort there.
"I came over to Lady Elliot in
1993 and met the lessee, and discussed various options with him because by then
I had quite a lot of airplanes having moved to mainly land-based aircraft,"
“The lessee had a Nomad, an Australian
built twin-engine aircraft, which he was keen to sell and after due diligence I
got interested in that airplane, and I saw the pieces of the jigsaw coming
together." Gash subsequently made
an arrangement to buy the Nomad on the understanding that he could bring his
passengers to Lady Elliot, and in return, fly the lessee's guests to the island
in the Nomad.
for the Caravan seals the deal
"I also offered to use my Caravan,
as he needed more passenger capacity," Gash said. "He loved the
Caravan. He could see what a good machine it was, so that was the beginning of
The partnership lasted 10 years, during
which time the strategy of developing the resort at Lady Elliot became very
nearly a stroke of genius. Traditionally, visitors to Australia's Great Barrier
Reef had accessed the islands from northern Queensland, nearly a thousand miles
north. Meanwhile, Lady Elliot, the only Barrier Reef island with an airstrip,
was only an hour-long flight in the Caravan from the populous and prosperous
Gold Coast, including Brisbane, Australia's second-largest
When the lease on the island came up
for renewal in 2005, Gash invited business associates Gold Coast Attorney
Michael Kyle and former Australian Surf Life Saving Champion Grant Kenny to be
his partners in the Lady Elliot Island venture. The group became the successful
In addition to operating the resort on
Lady Elliot Island, Seair employs a total of seven mechanics in its hangar at Gold
Coast Airport. At the same location, the company conducts reservations,
financial control and purchasing; while also employing four island tour guides
fluent in Japanese - which make up nearly 80 percent of the island's clientele
- and 12 pilots. Seair's staff totals about 40 on the island, making a total
employee base of 70 to 90 people.
there's a run for the gold, at five flights a week
In 2006, Seair successfully negotiated
a new contract with Craco Mines, a gold mining operation in the interior of
Australia. This prompted the need to purchase a new Caravan. Seair runs five
trips on four days a week to the mine, a one-hour flight that takes six hours
to drive by vehicle. The regular schedule now makes up nearly a third of
Seair's business. Since Seair purchased its newest Caravan in late 2006, the
airplane has accumulated more than a thousand flight hours.
In the years since Peter and Julie Gash
bet nearly everything they owned at the time on the Cessna Caravan, the
business of Seair remains a family. Together with their two daughters,
15-year-old Amy and 10-year-old Chloe, the Gashes have converted their original
waterfront hangar into a spacious, one-of-a-kind home. The little inlet where
Gash once taxied up to the hangar in a Cessna Model 206 floats is now ringed by
"Amy has a plan to become a marine
biologist," Gash said. "Chloe, on the other hand, sat in my chair in
the office one day and announced that she intends to run the business. And she
took this a step farther by saying that after she takes over the business,
she's going to hire all girls."
And, based on what their parents have
proven, the Gash girls' statements can be considered a Sure Thing.