By Michael Doran
Lilydale Airport was established to serve the needs of the Yarra Valley and the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and this year is celebrating 50 years of continuous operations
Opened in 1968 by entrepreneur and motor racing identity, Bib StilIwell, the business was taken over by Neroli and Roger Merridew in 1982. “It was going broke and Roger, who was a keen flyer, wanted to find a way to keep it going,” Neroli Merridew said. “When we took it over it was really just a small flying school and not much else.”
“Since then a lot has changed and we now have five businesses operating here. We have the flying school, air charters, vintage airways, skydiving and archery club here.”
“The flying school has got a lot bigger and is now the main business of the airport. There is a growing interest from people coming in wanting to get their private pilot licence and this is a perfect place to do that.”
Its location in Yering gives pilots quick access into the air with no tarmac delays. “An hour flying here is all in the air, not wasted on the ground.”
“We get a lot of people who want to learn at their own pace, who may not want to be professional pilots but just want to go solo,” she said.
“They generally fall into one of three categories. There are the young ones still at school who think they want to get a career in aviation and start here to see how they like it.”
“Then there are the young, successful business types who have always had an interest in flying and now have the resources to pursue it. This is about 50 percent of our students.”
“And thirdly are the over-50s who have always thought about learning to fly but never had the time or money, but now they do.”
Over the years she has tried to foster women with an interest in aviation by running a Women in Aviation group and encouraging students to join the Australian Women Pilots’ Association.
“With the current shortage of pilots there has never been a better time for women or young girls to get involved in aviation,” she said.
“It has been very satisfying to see this business develop in the way that it has,” she said. “It’s also been wonderful to take people on airtours to some of the most beautiful and remote places in Australia.”
“Yarra Valley Aviation, our air charter service, can fly anywhere in Australia at anytime. We have Pilatus PC-12 aircraft that can fly eight passengers to Sydney in just 90 minutes and go anywhere in Australia with just 1 stop,” Jonathan Merridew, Operations Manager, said.
For those looking for a personalised experience, Yarra Valley Aviation has put together ten of its most popular adventure packages. These include the Feel the G-force aerobatic experience for thrill seekers, wine tasting and lunch at Brown Brothers, King Island indulgences or a mountain bike trek from Mt Beauty to Mount Hotham.
The service extends to tailoring personal experiences to take people anywhere they want to go, to an event they don’t want to miss or a place they just have to see.