The seed to start a flying club in Waterford actually started when I met my good friend Chris Hennessy at the Kilkenny Flying Club which I joined soon after I came to Ireland to live in Tramore, Co Waterford after moving from England in the early seventies. Chris had returned from England about the same time as me to settle in Waterford (his birth place) with his wife and children after living for many years in Heartfordshire, not far from Luton where he obtained his licences.
Chris and I cemented our friendship from that time onwards. We shared many hours of flying together in the clubs Rally aircraft – especially in EI-BBI (which we both had shares in). I clearly remember the day when we were relaxing, sipping a lovely glass of beer on a hot sunny May afternoon on the terrace of the “Hotel De France” in Jersey, where we were staying for the weekend having flown to jersey from Kilkenny to compete in the Jersey air Rally in EI-BBI. There we started to talk of the possibility to start our own flying club somewhere in Waterford, especially as we had almost an hour drive getting to Kilkenny to go flying. Chris came up with the idea to visit a Mr. Westcott Pitt in Dunmore East, who was a pilot and used to have a grass strip and hangar in Dunmore East. I believe he was known to have done joy flights from Tramore beach.
Shortly after our return from Jersey, Chris arranged a meeting with Mr Pitt at his house in Dunmore East. On our arrival and formal introductions complete Mr Pitt kindly ushered us both into his spacious lounge and sat us both down in two comfortable leather armchairs. In front of a glowing open fire, soon making us feel relaxed, he gave myself a tot of Irish whiskey and Chris a glass of red wine, we then started to talk about flying in general till eventually we got round to inquire if he would consider renting us his field and hanger for us to form a flying club in Waterford. It was two very disappointed pilots when he told us that as much as he would have liked to rent his field to us it was not possible to do so as the field was leased to a local farmer and the hanger was full of machinery, so rather sadly we bid our host farewell.
Strangely enough, soon after meeting Mr Pitt I was approached by a gentleman (a German national living in Co.Waterford) who proceeded to show me a copy of his plans that he had applied to the Waterford County council for a proposed airport development in the area of Portlaw. It certainly was ambitious (the plans of which I still have) and I was in no way financially able to join him in the project which was his purpose of meeting me, however I heard that the plans were rejected by the W.C.C. This may well have been due to the fact that Waterford Corporation had plans of their own submitted for the present airport.
I received a call from Chris that the Waterford Corporation wished to meet him to speak with him in an advisory capacity about their plans for the proposed development of a Municipal airport at Killowen. It was great news that we were going to have an airport in Waterford and its progress up to completion was watched regularly. I was often plied with all sorts of questions from my friends (who knew of my involvement with flying) – what type of aircraft would be flying out of the aerodrome; would it be big enough for Jumbo jets, etc. etc.
The Waterford municipal airport was eventually completed and the official opening was on the 10/08/1981. Chris was subsequently appointed the airport manager in 1982 (which he managed very successfully for over 7 years) and helped to make the airport what it is today.
It was just after Chris became manager that he arranged a meeting in Dooley’s Hotel in Waterford between myself and Peter Brophy (R.I.P.). We also invited john Duggan from Wexford to join us (in a advisory capacity) the purpose of the meeting was to talk about hopefully starting a flying club at the airport. It was agreed at the meeting that Chris would apply to the Waterford Corporation for permission to lease us a site to erect a club house and have use of the airport to operate a flying club.
The forming of Waterford Aero Club, Chris and I agreed that the first thing we should do would be to form a Limited company in order to protect ourselves against 3rd party litigation. I remember we asked other parties to come in with us to be Directors but they all declined to accept the risk, so it was left to Chris and I to form the company Waterford Aero Club Ltd, which I did on the 9th February 1982, with a share liability of £100, splitting the shares 50/50 between Chris and me.
Now it’s all very well having the responsibility of forming a flying club but what do you do when you have no plane or clubhouse? Once again Chris came to the rescue by approaching IONA in Dublin airport and we took the responsibility of leasing a Cessna 150 from them for training purposes, we were also given temporary permission to use the Porto cabin for a operations room until we built our own club house. The members all co-operated and we soon had a small club house built on the site leased from the Corporation.
Once we got operational, the club (to coin a phrase) took off immediately, and our membership grew and grew very quickly, we also leased a beech skipper EI-BHU from Avair to cope with the demand for persons wanting to fly. Chris became our CFI and instructor. We then took Peter Tawse on board to be an assistant instructor to Chris. Chris gave hours and hours of his time outside his responsibility of being the airport manager including every weekend, high days and holidays with hardly a break in between…
Myself and the committee members also put in many hours of our spare time in the early days in order to keep the club going we organised a number of flying competitions throughout the year. This was easy to do in the early days as there was very little commercial flying going on. You could almost say we had the airport to ourselves! We used to have great Christmas parties and I would sponsor a cup for pilot of the year. Unfortunately with the new drinking laws, the support for the Christmas festivities dwindled and died out.
The airport was now developing very fast with operators such as Ryanair and Avair who were both operating services from Waterford. It was then we were told that we would have to move from our present site and go to the southern end of the aerodrome. After much haggling with the Corporation we eventually did a deal to lease the ground to where we are today.
So now we were left in another dilemma as to where was the money coming from to build a new clubhouse and hangar. An emergency meeting was called among the members as to how we could do this for all we had in the treasury was the surplus money that we had accrued from the flying which did not amount to much anyway as most of the profits had gone into the development of the club. It was then proposed that we ask members to voluntarily put up £1200 each and in return they would be given life membership. Several members agreed to this and so with some help from the bank we were able to build our club house and adjacent hangar.We acquired the services and expertise of our club member Willie Cullinane to do the construction of the club house and hanger and immediately the planning permission was approved. The work soon got underway – many of the members put in some of their time in whatever way was possible for them, to help keep some of the cost down, although the credit is due to Willie who did the work within our budget and way below what it would have cost had we had to call in a outside building contractor.
Now the new club house had been completed we were probably now one of the most successful clubs in Ireland. But it now left us with an added problem as to what to do with our original little club house as it now had to be removed and disposed of from where it was standing. We could not just tear it down as it had served us so well. We all decided we should give it a decent burial, so we cremated it. Soon after we had moved in to our newly finished club premises, we got news that Avair had ceased trading and that we were about to lose the use of the Skipper to the Liquidator.
Once again Chris came to our rescue. We only had a surplus of around £2000 in the kitty – certainly not enough to buy a plane that was being valued at between £15,000 and £20,000. The bank were not interested in loaning us the money, however, not to be daunted, Chris went to meet the Liquidator. There was another Skipper with the liquidator EI-BHT. This was the best of the two planes, so after a lot of haggling again by Chris he got an agreed price to buy the better plane EI-BHT for £10,000, but the money had to be up front there and then. So without hesitation, Chris gave over a cheque for the £10,000. I also know and I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning it, for as far as I know the balance came out of his own pocket which he was never reimbursed for.
At a committee meeting held in May 2000 it was agreed by Chris and myself to pass over the shares and control of the club to the club members at which time a board of directors was appointed with Chris Hennessy as our Chairman, Victor Young as our Secretary, and Michael Power as our Treasurer. Chris remained CFI and Brian Power assistant CFI. Also instructing was George Roche, Paul Hutchinson, and there have been other instructors at the club that have since left.
Over the past 29 years the club has gone from strength to strength to enable the club to add to its fleet two Warrior Cherokee’s and also to develop and extend considerable hangarage. The extra hangarage now houses 8 privately-owned aircraft.
In 2006, Sean Walsh became Chairman, Victor young remained Secretary-come-Treasurer with Michael Power as the Assistant Treasurer. Myself, Niel Marchant, Pat Bryne, and Tom Mackey were appointed to the board of directors.
The Club has since sold the Skipper, EI-BHT, and one of the Warriors EI-WRN, and replaced these with two new Sierra Tecnams. We had been considering for some time to invest in a more economical type of training aircraft that runs on Mogas to reduce flying costs. It was our Chairman Sean Walsh who researched the market for a safe, economical training plane that would be possible to purchase within our budget so he decided that the Italian-built Tecnam was the one we should go for. His proposal to purchase this plane was put to the board for approval, and the board readily agreed that Sean should go ahead with the order. It was also agreed that we put in an option to purchase a 2nd Tecnam. The day arrived when the first Tecnam was ready for delivery and Victor along with Tom Mackey flew out to the factory near Naples, Italy, and ferried home the first plane to Waterford. As soon as the second Tecnam came ready for delivery, Victor along with Chris ferried home the second Tecnam.
Since their arrival to the club, they have been in constant use – clocking up many flying hours. The club has now had its own fuel pumps installed which is also a credit to our Chairman who managed this operation from start to finish, which took many hours of his time.
The Waterford Aero Club is a credit to all of its members especially our Secretary-come-Treasurer Victor Young who spends endless hours of his own time keeping the books and finances under control and keeping the members up to date with events of the club.
I wish to pay tribute to Chris Hennessy who has devoted his life to the Waterford Aero Club and gave his time and services completely free over the 29 years. Chris resigned as our CFI in Dec 2008, and passed over the reins to Brian Power, but he still remains assistant CFI and still continues instructing at weekends and taking people for voucher flights.
I also wish to pay tribute to the past and present members who unselfishly gave the club £1200 to help build our club house and hangar. Their names are for all present members to see as they are listed as life members on the membership notice board. Sadly some of those members have either passed on or have left the club after retiring from flying.
I close my story detailing with the history of the club, the dates are as close as my memory will allow and if I omitted people who deservedly required to be mentioned it is not intentional and to those on behalf of myself and the club I say thank you most sincerely. To the younger generation and those who have the responsibility for the continuance and well-being of the club, I say it is a great club: it is your club so it is up to all to care for it.