Sea World Helicopters: Helping Tourism Bounce Back

March 7, 2021

For Ash Jenkinson, Chief Pilot and Head of Operations at Sea World Helicopters, Queensland is the place where everyone wants to be. It’s the slice of Australia that saw 2.8 million international visitors in 2018 – a record number for the state. 

Before COVID-19, It was not uncommon for the team at Sea WorldHelicopters to transport more than 600 customers a day, and numbers each month were progressively increasing according to Ash. Since starting with Sea World Helicopters in August 2019, he says it’s been “a bit of a rollercoaster.” 

For almost 40 years, Sea World Helicopters has operated at Sea World on the Gold Coast - a huge tourist destination, with more than 5 million visitors a year. 

To keep up with demand, Sea World Helicopters opened a brand-new multimillion-dollar terminal in November 2019, which overlooks the Gold Coasts Broadwater. Today, Sea World Helicopters boasts Australia’s Largest privately owned heliport.

Their services are predominantly scenic tours, with the standard scenic ranging from a 5-minute introductory flight through to the 30 minute Hinterland waterfalls and coastal beaches experience. 

“The Gold Coast is so well known for its golden sands and beach lifestyle, you forget that only a five-minute flight inland you have all these beautiful Hinterland rainforests and massive flyable waterfalls. It’s something our guests will remember for a lifetime and one of my favourite locations in Australia.” 

It’s high praise coming from Ash, who has flown helicopters for over 15 years around some of the most beautiful parts of Australia, from the rolling red dunes of the Pilbara in Western Australia, stretching from the deserts of Central Australia to the coastal Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and through snowy Highlands of Tasmania. Ash’s experiences see his flying operations cover bushfires, powerlines, aerial crane, search and rescue, instructing, film and media. 

For Ash, the “rollercoaster” he experienced in the early days joining Sea World Helicopters didn’t stop after those first few busy months. When COVID-19 hit, a restriction on international visitors led Sea World Helicopters to one option: diversify. 

Having once relied on the global market, Sea World Helicopters, like all tourism operations, has shifted their focus to the domestic market, which Ash says was always on the cards, though a progressional change would have been preferred! 

With diversifying came new offers, campaigns, and services tailored to match this expanded market. Family Packages and Mates Rates were also created to offer customers exclusive use of the helicopter opposed to sharing it with other passengers.

Winery tours and charter flights to locations such as Sirromet Winery, O’Reilly’s and Albert River just to name a few have become ever more popular with the Australian domestic market. “Day trips flying around to several wineries, who doesn’t want to do that?” exclaims Ash, “Have a great day out, fly between wineries, try different platters and cellar doors and enjoy the whole experience with your friends and family!”

After decades of flying, Ash says that Sea World Helicopters has an “impeccable safety record” due to their experienced pilots and meticulous maintenance regime. Even some of the ground control staff have over 30 years’ experience around helicopters. Adding to their safety record, Sea WorldHelicopters operates a fleet of AS350 Squirrels, known for their reliability and flying capabilities. 

On board their aircraft, you will also find Spidertracks, which was no surprise to Ash when he started. 

“Pretty much every company I’ve worked for has Spidertracks,” he says, “It’s an easy system to use and the monitoring system compared to everything else is very reliable and accurate.” 

With Spidertracks, Sea World Helicopters can keep tabs on flights without being on the aircraft. It gives Ash confidence that if something other than the norm were to happen, the team would know about it instantly - even without cellular coverage. 

It’s the same reassurance that was important to him as an instructor also, where he even taught students how to use Spidertracks to increase monitoring and have students mark locations with a simple press of a button to let instructors know where they were, and that they had found pre-planned locations.

These days, Ash is sticking to flying around Sea World Helicopter's “own little area” of Australia, with Spidertracks always on the journey. 

Although there is nothing they can do about the international market at the moment, Ash is confident the industry will bounce back. Situated near a park with enough to keep a family busy for an entire day, his slice of the Gold Coast will always be a destination. 

The only way to really see the area though, is from above. 

“If you haven’t seen the Gold Coast from the air, you’re missing out. The simple flight up and down the coastline, flying past the tall buildings and above the sea, is something you can’t grasp from the ground,” says Ash. 

[Photos courtesy of Sea World 📸]


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