Firm’s new boss

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Confident it's safe: Glenorchy Air owner James Stokes with his wife Kirstin and a GA8 Airvan

Long-established Queenstown flightseeing company Glenorchy Air has a new owner.

Janet Rutherford, who founded and ran the company with her late husband, Robert, for more than 25 years, has sold the business to its senior pilot, James Stokes.

Janet says she’s “not getting any younger”, and decided to focus her energy on her family, including grandchildren in Dunedin and visiting the three of her four children who live overseas.

She was pleased to sell to Stokes, who “knows the ins and outs of the business”, she says.

Stokes, 29, who’s been flying for the company since 2015, says he had been talking to Janet and Robert about buying them out before Robert’s death last October.

“I’ve always wanted to run my own aviation business, rather than go to the airlines.

“We were talking about it before Robert passed away, but that made the decision easier for Janet in the end, I think.”

One of two independently-owned aviation sightseeing companies operating from the resort, the company celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017.

Employing 11 staff, it operates five aircraft for scenic flights, charters and tours throughout the lower half of the South Island, including its staple Milford Sound business.

Stokes, a former Aucklander who’s lived in Queenstown since 2013, has bought the business with financial backing from his father, Richard.

He’s keeping the name, but is considering some strategic changes, including expanding its flight offerings in the Mount Cook area.

He says it’s exciting and daunting to own a business in the notoriously fickle aviation industry.

A case in point is the ongoing dispute between flight operators and the Department of Conservation (DoC) over landing charges at Milford Sound Airport.

“Aviation businesses often get treated as a bit of a cash cow by a lot of organisations – DoC in particular.

“Because it costs $500-plus to go to Milford, they think we must be making lots of money, but unfortunately that’s not the case.”

A new aircraft can cost between $1 million and $2.5m.

“It’s an expensive business, with big overheads.”

However, Stokes says he has a great team behind him – “I’m very, very lucky to have them” – and wants to build on the Rutherfords’ legacy.

“They created an incredible company, and I want to continue their legacy as well as bring my own slant to the way the company’s run.”

guy.williams@scene.co.nz