Elite Aviation Soars High
In 2012, Alaena Theresa Hill (nee Williams) had a firsthand experience of the need for a helicopter when she was trapped in horrendous floods that devastated the area she lived in Raviravi, Ba. She called a helicopter operator for a charter, only to be told the price had increased 350% due to the natural disaster. From that point on the idea to start her own helicopter business began and some six years later, Elite Aviation was born with Hill as its chief executive officer. “With two years of extensive market research and the assistance of a key team of best of breed experts we set out to bring transformation and innovation in the aviation industry. “We wanted to bring change, particularly in the areas of price, capabilities, the range of aircraft and the way in which helicopter transfer operations are undertaken. It’s taken six long years to be an overnight success.” To close gaps in the business, Hill and her team looked at the tourism market and how operators had historically delivered small parties to and from various destinations in Fiji using light helicopters. The team had to identify areas in which it felt it could do things differently. “By placing our focus on potential end customers at the centre of our business universe, we then worked outwards to ensure the key areas were addressed,” Hill said. “That allowed the best selection of aircraft the Bell 212 and 412 aircrafts, world known for their safety and ability to carry a large number of passengers.” Hill said that as a start up, Elite Aviation has a small, effective team of specialists in Fiji and some offshore consultants who work to deliver her vision. Because the company was the first in Fiji to use the type of aircraft they have, it had to use offshore experts also to give local specialists the necessary skills. There are eight aircraft in Elite Aviation’s fleet: two have arrived and a surprise is on its way shortly. Each aircraft has a back-to-back pilot and engineer and a local trainee with capabilities in transferring up to 13 passengers at a time, mercy flights, search and rescue and industrial uses. To have a woman as the CEO of any company is still rare. To have one in a male dominated field is even rarer. It is an achievement that is not without its challenges.
“While initially it has been a tougher pathway than expected and I have certainly met some parties who were difficult, and yes I had to jump through some more hoops than the average bear, but frankly I don’t have time for others’ insecurities,” Hill said. “There are already some very strong women in Fiji and even in the aviation industry there are some amazing women achieving great things.” Hill was born and raised a “susu madrai” (an urban person) of Suva. She attended Saint Anne’s Primary School and Saint Joseph’s Secondary School. She also did a year at the Fiji National University’s catering school as a culinary chef. “That I didn’t complete as I went for attachment and the workaholic in me took over and I’ve never looked back since.” “A majority of the people in the industry I have met have been supportive of what my company is seeking to achieve and I’m not sure whether being a female or male would change that support. “But as a woman I have always been one to believe anything can be accomplished if you put in the work.” As CEO, Hill says she likes to look at people’s strengths and make sure they perform well above what their roles dictate. “My style is transformational, I certainly try to motivate my team by leading from the front and I do try and inspire my staff to work for a higher goal than simply good enough. “We are called Elite for a reason and I work closely with my team to guide innovation and enhancement to achieve what some would call lofty goals.” Hill says she’s far from dictatorial in her management style though, and firmly believes every CEO has his /her own style. “I for sure don’t have a problem being on the ground and helping out every now and then, which gives my team and I a better understanding of each other. I think my team would consider me firm but fair. “I expect no less than excellence as we are in an industry where safety is key, but that’s pretty easy when you start with world class people.” While Hill has achieved great things in life – she got married just recently – and in her profession, she said she never forgets what brought her to the top – her parents and her upbringing. “Circumstances and situations build character, most of which I owe to my parents. No matter the hardship they didn’t let it define them. To some extent I’ve got the same mentality. “It’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about getting up every time and trying again and staying hungry for wanting better for myself and my family. “Due to her work commitments, Hill admits she is guilty of not having much of a social life. “Adulting sucks LOL…I can’t deny it’s not easy trying to find a happy balance between family and work because its time that you’re in constant battle with. “I’m of the view I can buy time with work, whether it be postponing a meeting or waiting a bit longer to reply to an email or text. I can’t do the same for family so prioritising and planning are key essentials to a happy balance.” To unwind from her hectic schedule, the high achiever likes to occasionally calm her nerves with good wine. “A good glass of pinot noir helps. Quiet time, good food and some good rest is enough of a recharge I need to be mentality, physically and psychologically locked in to be productive.” Her advice to iTaukeis and women (who are perceived as often lagging behind in commerce) who plan to set up their own businesses, is to think ‘smart investment’. “Also planning and believing in yourself, staying hungry and not letting your situation or circumstance define who you are and what you’re capable of doing. Work hard and surprise yourself and achieve your goal or better it.” Hill has high hopes of taking Elite Aviation to greater heights in the immediate future. “With a fleet of eight helicopters and the first heliport being set up to international standards at Denerau, we are moving quickly,” she said. “We have a huge number of major operators approaching us daily and we are working closely with some major names. When announced down the track I am sure people won’t be surprised.” Elite Aviation is cautiously optimistic about the commercial opportunities available to the company “We certainly see some areas of growth, however the industry needs to gain back clients’ trust and that requires us to keep our focus on cost efficiency and above all, safety,” Hill said. “Our objective for Elite Aviation in 2018 is to drive toward profitability for the company without compromising our customers’ experience or that of the end user. “Asked about her secret to success, Hill said: “It is truly hard work, solid planning and hunger for better, but failure was my greatest motivation.”
(L-R) Matthew Hill,Captain John Slater of CAAF,Alaena Hill and Hunter Hill on the day the company received its Air Operator’s Certificate.
Sky is the limit…Elite Aviation CEO Alaena Hill.
The boss in the cockpit.
Hill inside one of Elite Aviation’s helicopters.