Published on July 4th, 2015 | by Jim Lee


Avolon launches book ‘Pioneers and Aviators, a Century of Irish Aviation’ at spectacular event in Baldonnel

“Today, Ireland is the global centre for aviation finance. Look up at the skies from anywhere in the world, from Russia to the United States, from South Africa to the North Pole: more than two out of every five aircraft you will see in those skies are financially managed from Ireland, and that proportion is growing every year. Ireland is now home to 14 of the 15 top global aviation leasers, and 50% of the world’s leased commercial aircraft are owned or managed from Ireland. We are also the location of the International Registry of Financial Interests in Aircraft, established under the Cape Town Convention. This is an economically important industry, one that makes a very significant tax contribution, and employs over 1,200 people, most of them advanced graduates. Irish men and women lead enormous airlines and aviation financing organisations across the world. No other country in the world can claim anything remotely like this level of success” An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Avolon, established in 2010, is part of Ireland’s success story and is a leading, global aircraft leasing firm. It provides aircraft leasing and lease management services to airlines and aircraft investors worldwide. Avolon is led by an experienced and respected team with strong Irish connections and a proven track record in the industry. Its objective has been – and remains – to build the leading aircraft leasing platform in the industry, providing superior service to customers. Its growth and global platform is underpinned by a clear set of corporate values, which are the basis for how it runs its business. These five core values are transparency, respect, insightfulness, bravery and ebullience. This latter value encompasses, energy, optimism and pride, and it is that pride in our aviation heritage and unique aviation history, that has seen Avolon at the forefront of projects to showcase Ireland’s unique place on the global stage of aviation.

Avalon-Group (IMG4092 JL)

From left to right: Air Corps piper, Mr. Michael Lillis Chairman of Avolon’s, Latin American Advisory Board, Dómhnal Slattery Chief Executive Officer Avolon, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Eamonn Brennan, Chief Executive of the Irish Aviation Authority, Mick Hickey IHFF, John Higgins President and Chief Commercial Officer Avolon, and Brigadier General Paul Fry, General Officer Commanding, Air Corps.

Two years ago, Avolon started to create three projects, to be collectively known as ‘Pioneers and Aviators – One Hundred Years of Irish Aviation’.

The first was a TV documentary, commissioned by Avolon, and premiered in the Irish National Concert Hall, in the presence of Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins, in January 2014. The documentary was written and directed by Alan Gilsenan, an award winning Irish film-maker, writer and theatre director. It tells the story of the pioneering individuals whose vision, passion, successes and failures helped forge Ireland’s unique aviation landscape. The documentary charts Ireland’s aviation history, from its beginnings, with the first transatlantic flight landing in the west of Ireland, through to the present day and the role Ireland and the Irish play in the global aviation industry. It was broadcast on television by RTÉ, Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster, as a two part series in February 2014. For those of you who missed this absorbing documentary, shown in two parts, it can be seen here.

The score for the documentary was composed by the renowned composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the National University of Ireland, in 2005 for his contribution to music in Ireland, over the past thirty years. Micheál has also created an original overture which was performed at the event by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. This music, and a specially composed piece ‘Phoenix Rising’, is the second in the trilogy of projects. As performed by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra, it is a marvellous and unforgettable evocation of the ecstasy of flight.

The third project is a magnificent new collection of hundreds of re-mastered photographs edited by Mark Quinn and for which Michael Kennedy of the RIA is contributing editor. This very beautiful and carefully researched book tells both the official and the intensely human story of our romance with the skies and is introduced in a Foreword contributed by President Michael D. Higgins. As befitting such a prestigious work, the book was formally launched by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. at an event at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, Co. Dublin on 30th June. The book aims to illustrate and memorialise the story of Ireland’s role in shaping the global aviation industry over the last century. It is an extraordinary tale of circumstance, courage, bloody mindedness and, at times, grave misfortune. From the landing of the first non-stop (West-East) transatlantic flight in a bog in Clifden in 1919, the departure of the first (East-West) transatlantic flight from Baldonnel in 1928 right through to the development of Aer Lingus, GPA, Ryanair and a list of global players in the aircraft leasing sector today, Ireland truly has a unique place on the global stage of aviation.

Avalon-Book signing (IMG4041 JL)

Pictured at the launch of the book Pioneers and Aviators, a Century of Irish Aviation from left to right: John Higgins President and Chief Commercial Officer Avolon, Dómhnal Slattery Chief Executive Officer Avolon, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Brigadier General Paul Fry, General Officer Commanding, Air Corps.

Together these three projects now make a unique collector’s treasure. Unfortunately ‘Pioneers and Aviators, A Century of Irish Aviation’ is not available to purchase, but is being distributed throughout the world by Avolon and through our Embassies. However, copies of the book have been donated to a selection of national libraries and Universities in Ireland.

Pioneers and Aviators, a Century of Irish Aviation – the launch

The launch event was attended by a wide range of aviation interests from government, the military, civil service, airlines and of course the aircraft leasing and lease management industry and various support services to the industry. Pride of place must go to Dómhnal Slattery, the Chief Executive Officer of Avolon a veteran of Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA) and GECAS with 26 years’ experience in the aircraft leasing industry. His drive and support for this initiative was clearly evident at the event, as was that of many of the company’s senior management, who were also present. It was also clear that this was not just an ordinary event, but is part of Avolon’s vision of social responsibility and clear pride in its history and heritage. That corporate social responsibility strategy, challenges its team to introduce fresh ideas and develop new skills, and supports staff-led philanthropic projects. Elsewhere thought its CARE Initiative, it is collaborating with local and global partners to promote innovation, education and change in the communities, where they work and live.

Avalon-reception (IMG4136 JL)

The launch event was attended by a wide range of aviation interests from government, the military, civil service, airlines and of course the aircraft leasing and lease management industry.

There were certainly new ideas and innovation at the event, for not only was there the book launch and a live performance by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, but also the inaugural flight of the Irish Historic Flight Foundation. This is an new initiative for Ireland’s aviation industry organised by the Irish Aviation Authority. An attractive ground display highlighted the Air Corps past and present, with three of its museum collection of aircraft, Avro 631 Cadet ‘C7’, Fouga CM170 Magister ‘219’ and SIAI-Marchetti SF260W ‘231’, on display. Also on the ramp was Learjet 45 ‘258’, Agusta Westland AW139 ‘279’, Eurocopter EC135P2 ‘271’,CASA CN-235 ‘253’, Reims Cessna FR172H ‘203’ both Garda Air Support Unit (GASU) Eurocopter EC135T2 helicopters ‘256’ and ‘272’, as well as a number of Pilatus PC-9Ms (‘260’, ‘262’, ‘263’, ‘264’, and ‘266’). One of these was on static display (‘264’) while the other four took part in a fly past.

Avalon-formation break Taoiseach & Mick Hickey (IMG4073B JL)

An Taoiseach & Mick Hickey, Chairman of the IHFF, watch the Air Corps PC-9M display

Avolon has brought that same philosophy to this project as John Higgins, it’s President and Chief Commercial Officer, told Flying in Ireland. “We, at Avolon, are extremely proud of our Irish heritage and specifically Ireland’s role in the global aviation industry. We set out on this project, not as a commercial endeavour, but simply as a way to memorialise and share what we believe is a fascinating story. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to all those who have made this project a reality, and have helped showcase Ireland’s unique aviation history.” “Today is a memorable occasion for all those involved in the making of both the book and the documentary. We were delighted to be joined by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D to formally launch the photographic book which aims to capture Ireland’s unique aviation history” he added.

Mr. Michael Lillis Chairman of Avolon’s, Latin American Advisory Board, in his presentation to the guests assembled in Hangar 5, spoke of the many Irish people who now are in leadership and managements positions throughout the industry. Many had come through GPA and he noted that Tony Ryan would have been proud to see this celebration of Ireland’s Aviation heritage. Many ordinary people have also contributed to this heritage and he paid tribute to Airman Michael Whelan’s contribution, as curator and custodian, of the Air Corps present museum collection.

Avalon-Michael Lillis (IMG4104 JL)

Mr. Michael Lillis Chairman of Avolon’s, Latin American Advisory Board, paid tribute to Airman Michael Whelan’s contribution, as curator and custodian, of the Air Corps present museum collection

Brigadier General Fry, General Officer Commending the Air Corps, welcomed all those present to Baldonnel. He too was proud of the contribution that the Air Corps had made to the history of aviation in Ireland and he looked forward to their continued role in preserving our aviation heritage.

In a well thought out and impressive speech, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, recalled that in 1885, Charles Stewart Parnell said “no man has the right to fix the boundary of a nation”. A little over thirty years later, in 1916, a group of cultured visionaries and determined individuals set in motion a series of events that culminated in the establishment of this sovereign state. So between 1885 and 1925 – in one generation – people of vision and determination – patriots all changed forever our political landscape. “Likewise between 1975 and 2015 – again in the space of one generation – this country produced a cohort of entrepreneurs and visionaries that changed the world’s aviation leasing landscape. Led initially by a determined visionary, Tony Ryan, and assisted by many of you here today you have created a force in the world of aviation leasing that does justice to Parnell’s vision” he noted.

It is “a curiosity of history” that the English negotiators did not, in the extremely difficult Anglo-Irish negotiations of 1921, focus on the freedom of the skies and the air defences of the emerging Irish State. “We took full advantage of it!” An Taoiseach added.

Ireland also played a role completely disproportionate to our size in negotiating the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed by most countries in 1947. “In parallel negotiations with the United States we gained an extraordinary advantage: Ireland was recognised as the first destination for transatlantic air traffic from the United States to Europe. This was a result of the earlier development of both Foynes and Rineanna, as first stopovers for flying boats and later aircraft crossing the Atlantic from the US. In turn, the hub of industrial and tourist development of the Shannon development region emerged, including as everyone knows, the world’s first duty-free airport shopping centre. Contemporaneously Dublin airport opened for business”.

His speech went on to note the historical importance of Alcock and Brown’s first transatlantic flight from North America to Europe, which landed in a bog in Connemara and the first flight from Europe to North America by Commandant James Fitzmaurice of the Air Corps as co-pilot, with Captain Herman Kohl of the German Air Force and a German investor, Baron Ehrenfried von Hunefeld, in the ‘Bremen’, a Junker 33 aircraft, which set off from Baldonnel on 12th April 1928.

“I want every Irish schoolboy and schoolgirl to learn about Commandant James Fitzmaurice of the Irish Air Corps, a world hero. And I want them to learn of the huge role that Aer-Chór na hÉireann has played from its first days in securing our independence and in building our airlines and our airports, in developing our aviation regulatory system, in training our pilots and mechanics and in protecting our fisheries and rescuing those in peril on land and at sea” he added.

These words must surely have a special meaning for the many members of the Air Corps hearing them at their own base in Baldonnel, and in particular for Brigadier General Fry, their commanding officer flanked as he was by Lieutenant General Conor O’Boyle, the current Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, Deputy Chief Of Staff, Support and Chief of Staff designate and the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney.

Returning to today’s global world, the aviation industry, though uniquely dependent on international co-operation itself, uniquely depends on the sovereign prerogatives of independent states. Avolon has a unique relationship with the Irish state with an enterprising programme, involving temporary exchanges of senior staff between the company and the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade. This is the first collaboration of its kind between the Irish public and private sectors and one which An Taoiseach hopes will be followed by many other Irish firms and other Departments of the Government. It is perhaps no accident that Avolon recently completed the largest ever flotation of an Irish company on the New York Stock Exchange and on 6th May, it issued impressive 2015 First Quarter Results (see here).

“We are a people of imagination. In the fields of poetry, literature, music and dance we have created a unique culture that stands out with its brilliance. However when we apply that imagination to business – as you have done for the past generation – we equally can perform, for the good of this country and its people” An Taoiseach concluded.

The Irish Historic Flight Foundation

Earlier, aircraft from the newly formed Irish Historic Flight Foundation (IHFF), preformed a number of flights, giving many of the distinguished visitors, a first hand opportunity to experience flight in a vintage aircraft. The IHFF is an initiative that was established in December 2014 to promote the historical aspects of aviation in the State. It is a fantastic initiative for the aviation industry to celebrate Ireland’s rich aviation heritage. The Foundation has wide industry support from the likes of the Irish Air Corps, Department of Defence, Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Stobart Air, the Irish Aviation Authority and a team of dedicated volunteers.

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The three Chipmunks of the Irish Historic Flight Foundation

Initially, the aim of the Foundation is the restoration, maintenance and public flying of historic aircraft: The IHFF current fleet is three De Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk aircraft flying in Air Corps colours together with the historic DH 84 Dragon (the Aer Lingus ‘Iolar’), EI-ABI, which is registered to the Aer Lingus Charitable Foundation. Also present at the event was Boeing E75 Stearman, G-THEA, ex N1733B and currently registered to Mr. Sean Bennett.

Two of the three Chipmunks have been on the circuit for some time. The first, G-ARGG (C1/0247) was acquired by Captain Declan Curtis, who supported by Captain Frank Keegan, decided to restore it and repaint it in an accurate period colour scheme to represent an Irish Air Corps example ‘169’ (C1/0552), delivered to the Irish Corps on 31st January 1952. It was scrapped by 1983.

G-ARGG was on the other hand was delivered to the RAF in January 1951 as WD305 and served in a number of Basic Flying Training Schools, and Reserve Flying Schools until struck off charge on 27th July 1960. It was registered G-ARGG on 19th October 1960. It went through several changes of ownership, until de-registered on 27th April 2015, prior to becoming EI-HFB on 8th May 2015 and registered to the Irish Historic Flight Foundation Ltd.

The Restoration of G-ARGG was so successful that a second Chipmunk, G-BDRJ (C1/0742) was acquired by Captain David Friel. It was restored, bearing the same Air Corps markings and represented as ‘170’ (C1/0724), delivered on 26th September 1952. Like the first example, this aircraft was initially delivered to the RAF in September 1952 as WP857. It served in the training role until 16th September 1975, when it was sold on the civilian market to JK Avis. It was registered as G-BDRJ on 12th February 1976 and went through four changes of ownership before like G-ARGG, it was de-registered on 28th April 2015, prior to becoming EI-HFC on 8th May 2015.

Initially these two Chipmunks carried out many superb and very well received displays at many air shows both in Ireland and in the UK. In the last two years the Chipmunks teamed up with De Havilland ‘Iolar’ and carried out first class displays at major air shows.

The third Chipmunk, ‘168’ (C1/0464), is an actual Air Corps example and was delivered new also on 31st January 1952. It has been part of the Air Corps museum collection for some time. It was disassembled at Baldonnel prior to relocation for it restoration which took place over the past year, (see here). This has now been completed and in time for the 2015 flight display season.

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The Aer Lingus Charitable Foundation DH-84 ‘Iolar’ made a number of flights during the event.

In his address, An Taoiseach said that it also gave him great pleasure to welcome the IHFF to the event “The IHFF has forged together the Irish Aviation Authority, the Air Corps, Department of Defence, Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Stobart Air and a team of volunteers to restore our aviation heritage” he said adding; “I want to compliment you on the restoration, maintenance and public flying of these historic aircraft – and this evening we can see their initial wonderful fleet; De Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk aircraft flying in Air Corps colours and the historic DH 84 Dragon”.

The IHFF now entering an exciting new phase

Now that the restoration work on a number of aircraft has been undertaken, the IHFF is now focused on the establishment of a dedicated ‘aviation experience’ facility, allowing the public to both view historic aircraft up close and gain an in-depth scientific understanding of aviation and flight. A suitable site has been identified at Baldonnel (Casement Aerodrome) and the Department of Defence have been very supportive (with engagement now underway between the Secretary General of the Department and the Chief Executive of the IAA, concerning the transfer of land to the Foundation). Funding has been identified from across the industry for the facility. The Foundation intends to submit a formal planning application by year-end with a view to having the facility in place in 2017.

An Taoiseach said he was aware of the great plans the IHFF has for the future and he looks “forward with eagerness when they come to fruition”. He pledged the support of the Department of Defence and the Air Corps to this venture.

Echoing these sentiments Eamonn Brennan, Chief Executive of the Irish Aviation Authority, said:

“Building on this wonderful chronicle ‘Pioneers and Aviators’ launched today, Irish Historic Flight Foundation is a fantastic initiative for the aviation industry to celebrate Ireland’s rich aviation heritage. Now we’re entering an exciting phase as we build a dedicated ‘Aviation Experience’ facility at Baldonnel. Visitors will be immersed in aviation as they’ll be able to view historic aircraft up close and gain an in-depth scientific understanding of aviation and flight. We’re looking forward to the opening of this state-of-the-art, interactive facility to the public in the coming years.”

An Taoiseach also commended the Irish Aviation Authority on the work it does, noting that Ireland continues to be recognised as having one of the best safety regulatory systems in the world. Every day over 1,800 flights operate through Irish airspace amounting to 90% of all air traffic between Europe and North America. Every day over 700 flights land and depart at airports across the State. The IAA also operates one of the most modern ATM systems in the world and safely manages over one million flights every year, carrying over 140 million passengers through Irish skies and at State airports. “Well done” he added.

It was indeed a day of celebration – magnificently marked by the publication of this great book, but also the promise of exciting things to come so the story of Irish aviation and its heritage is far from over. So in the words of An Taoiseach “Let us all be proud of that fact – it’s our history, your story and our children’s inheritance!”

For more information on Avolon see here.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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