Aviation industry legend Bob Berry shows no signs of slowing down as he takes on a new advisory role with Oriens Aviation. Cub reporter Dave Spurdens Snr tries to keep up.
Octogenarians enthusiastically taking on a major challenge in life are thin on the ground in any walk of life and they are not exactly prolific in the air, either. But P1 has found one. An indefatigable, unique, ambitious, unrelenting character who does not see the ongoing years as an excuse to take things easy.
No, Bob Berry at the age of 80 is still out there doing what he has been doing for countless years. He is still a mover and shaker in the aviation industry he loves so much, selling and marketing a product he has unshakeable faith in.
Bob has recently been appointed by Edwin Brenninkmeyer to work in a part time, advisory capacity for Oriens Aviation, the newly appointed Pilatus Centre for the UK. Oriens Aviation is based at Biggin Hill airport and was founded by Edwin Brenninkmeyer the CEO of Oriens Advisors, a specialist consultancy that offers commercial advice and counsel across the complete spectrum of the entry level jet sector of aviation.
Bob Berry, a dedicated champion of Pilatus aircraft launched the UK Pilatus Centre at Bournemouth in 2005 and as a demonstration of his confidence signed an order for four PC-12s which were to be sold through a Piper aircraft distributor in Bournemouth. The expected sales did not materialise, the dealer went into receivership and Bob was left with US$14 million worth of PC-12s on his hands.
Typically, he turned disaster into accomplishment and formed the UK Pilatus Centre at Bournemouth Airport and not only sold the four PC-12s he had committed to, but bought another four and sold those within their inaugural year. The UK Pilatus Centre company was up and flying and by 2008 had sold 38 new PC-12s, had opened its own hangar, established a flight training school and provided engineering facilities for most of the aircraft they had sold.
It wasn’t the first time Bob had teetered precariously on the cliff edge of success or failure in the aviation business. Before his association with Pilatus, Bob was approached by British Aerospace to recommend potential aircraft for a new flight training school based in Prestwick. He ordered 51 single and twin-engined aircraft. The timing was disastrous as Piper beset by, troubles within the industry at that time, filed for bankruptcy. Not a man to throw in the towel if there was the chance he could still summon up just one last knock-out punch, Bob decided to fly to America and have talks with the judge handling the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
“The judge knew that the iconic Piper brand was in serious trouble and that US$150m could save the workforce that had just been made redundant. We needed to pay up front for every aircraft to keep the judge happy so we paid up front for the entire fleet in stages and eventually got the aircraft built and kept the workforce employed. The judge and I had an amazing working relationship that was in everyone’s long-term interest. Some thought it could not be done but the deal eventually paid off!”
As a result of Bob’s heroic efforts in administering economic resuscitation to Piper he was awarded a substantial contract to act as worldwide agent for the company he had saved from certain extinction.
Bob’s association with flying bizarrely began in a traffic jam when he saw a light aircraft fly above his log-jammed car to land in a field ahead of him which turned out to be Elstree Airfield. He booked his first flying lesson the same day.
“My wife thought I was quite mad but after that first lesson I was hooked and went on to log over 10,000 flying hours since 1961. Unfortunately now, because of a heart condition, I am grounded. I have never considered myself to have a problem with my heart before or after my examination – but the CAA does [laughs]. I miss flying but I respect that at my age with heart trouble I should never fly solo again.”
Once again it was “to hell with the pipe and slippers” and Bob has a new interest. His Princess 42 yacht, incidentally named ‘Pilatus’ has gone just a small way to assuaging his desire to take to the skies again.
“It was always going to be hard to replace my passion for flying and I don’t think any other interest could do that but I would describe the Princess 42 as a relaxing hobby that the family can share. From Poole harbour we go on frequent trips to the Channel Islands and France. I bet I have the best equipped boat with all the gizmos and I have enjoyed having the time to go on all the courses.”
Bob logged over 2,380 hours in his PC-12 and sincerely believes the plane represents the best value and safety options in its class.
“You can fly the PC-12 like a light aircraft VFR at 2000ft or enjoy it like an airliner at 28,000ft. Its key is its short field performance and exceptional useful load with a 1500nm non-stop range.”
In June of 2012 Bob decided to sell UK Pilatus Centre for an undisclosed sum to Julian Jones, the founder of the Drilling Systems Group, which included several aviation interests including DS Worldwide Aviation (civil) Ltd and DS Aviation (Military) Ltd. It became Pilatus (BIS) Ltd.
Pilatus (BIS) Ltd did not work out and Oriens Aviation was appointed as distributors earlier this year, and Edwin Brenninkmeyer sees a great future for the dealership.
“With our first new PC-12 sale behind us already, Single Engine Turbine commercial IFR around the corner and the PC-24 on the not too distant horizon, I am hugely excited by the future of Oriens Aviation. Pilatus is one of the few OEMs who are currently expanding aggressively. Even in the relatively short time since Oriens Aviation was appointed as distributors, the factory in Switzerland has seen huge expansion. This is so exciting and inspiring to watch.”
Bob, with his many years of selling the Pilatus brand, recognises that Oriens Aviation has a structure that will carry on where he felt he left off when he sold his Bournemouth based UK Pilatus Centre business just over three years ago.
“Edwin has a great attitude that will help expand the market place. I am delighted to be involved on a part-time advisory basis. He has the right perspective. Some people said when I had UK Pilatus Centre at Bournemouth that we cruised effortlessly to make selling PC-12s look like a stroll in the park. Nobody likes turbulence so why would we make it look hard. We just looked after potential customers like any other good sales operation should.”
Understandably, Brenninkmayer sees a rosy future for Orien’s
Pilatus distributorship on many fronts not least the expectation that EASA is likely to announce the finalisation of the rule permitting commercial single engine turbine operations in instrument meteorological conditions (SET-IMC) in the first half of next year. 670 single engine aircraft are used in commercial SEIFR operations in the USA where commercial single-engine operations have been authorised for decades like they have in Canada and Australia. Single turbine manufacturers have covetously eyed the potential for a commercial market in Europe and the SET-IMC ruling will open up a whole new vista of trading opportunities for Oriens Aviation, not least for cargo carriage, enabling access to remote regions that otherwise would not be served.
Additionally Edwin and Bob are sanguine that the Pilatus updates to the PC-12 will only strengthen the plane’s popularity.
Edwin explains: “Pilatus have just announced a series of updates for the PC-12 to give it a faster top speed and even greater performance, most noticeable will be a noise-reducing 5 bladed Hartzell propeller and improvements to avionics software. These updates on what is already an extremely well-built, rugged and reliable plane with a solid feel bode well for sales in the future.”
Bob Berry nods his head in agreement and reminds us that the Pilatus PC-24 will be entering the market place very soon and will seriously challenge other light jets in its class with many sensational facets that will make it competitive.
“I am really excited by the PC-24 or should I say, The Super Versatile Jet as Pilatus are billing it. It already has 87 orders with deposits. This plane has so much going for it. It’s a winner whichever way you look at it.”
Edwin exudes mutual enthusiasm for Bob’s every word. “As a former Citation Excel pilot I am convinced that the PC-24 will be a game-changer. It can do everything that competitors can do and operate on shorter and unimproved runways and costs less. I have no doubt the aircraft will prove more reliable than its competitors.
“It will have the PC-12 sized cargo door which will be unique in the industry for a business jet. The design of the flaps which not only give excellent STOL performance but also assist with the rough field capability by shielding the engine intakes from FOD. The avionics suite will be a very easy transition for PC-12 pilots. With some minor differences it is essentially the same as the PC-12 and will be very familiar to Gulfstream/Falcon pilots.”
Bob wholeheartedly agrees. “Yes, it will be simple for pilot conversions. I don’t believe that any other jet of its size will manage the short field and grass runways as the PC-24 will. This will give it a leading edge on the competition. Luxury and versatility combined. Just like the PC-12.”
There is something about Bob Berry and Edwin Brenninkmeyer that conveys the same aura of invincibility, the same dedication to making things work and the same strength of character that says the fat lady never gets to sing in their pursuit of achievable goals.
Edwin has the same passion for flying as Bob and has a Folland Gnat that he flies as a display pilot. Flying vintage biplanes at air shows is another display activity he enjoys.
“I have been flying aeroplanes since I was 14 years old and would have started sooner if I could. I have always been fascinated by aviation and have always wanted to fly. None of my family fly and I had no friends who flew so I have no idea where this passion came from. We live in a three dimensional world yet most people live in two dimensions. I just had to explore the third and this passion came from deep within me. I always just had to fly.”
And for Bob a position as an advisor to Oriens Aviation is OK for an 80 year old and you would think that third dimension has been well and truly realised. Not so.
“It’s great helping Edwin and remaining in touch with my friends at Pilatus but the thought of not having other challenges on my plate would be alien to me. I have various building projects underway and I am on the board of three companies.”
Life begins at 80, it seems.