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Flying high

Hayley Cumming has always wanted to soar to dizzying heights and glide on currents of wind. So she became a pilot … and never settled for anything less than a life full of adventure.

It all started when she was just a little girl – always running outside to get a glimpse of the helicopter next door. She didn’t know it at the time, but it was like the aviation seeds were sowed each time she saw it take off or land.

“I remember bolting out onto the edge of our holiday home deck with my dad whenever we would hear the chopper next door. And sometimes, we would look at each other and joke … Hey, one day that’ll be us.”

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But, since the family business has always been real estate, Hayley Cumming never really considered aviation as a serious career path. Even though she didn’t really know what she wanted to do right away, Hayley just knew she didn’t want to work your average 9-5 job, so she started dabbling in property after graduating high school.

Luckily for her, what is meant for us, will find its way, right? And so, it wasn’t long before she very much stumbled into the aviation industry – right where she belongs.

“It happened almost accidentally as I had no plans to start my pilot training. In fact, I didn’t even consider it. I suppose it’s because I didn’t know any pilots or have any interaction with aviation. I was simply going to go into the family business.

“Until one random occasion led me to a flight in a helicopter in the most beautiful of places – the Drakensberg. And well, that’s where it all started – two weeks later I had signed up for pilot training. A huge privilege offered to me by my parents.”

It’s the scenic landscapes, the golden sunsets, and the immense sense of freedom that Hayley came to know and love. We mean, who wouldn’t want an office in the clouds?

After some years of getting their Pilot’s Licence, and overcoming their fair share of challenges, Hayley and her dad started Helivate Helicopter Services, with just one chopper.
Fast forward one decade and eight choppers later, Hayley and her team offer helicopter pilot training, unique flight experiences, charters, flying tours, aerial security, as well as drone training and services.

“I suppose being a female in such a male-dominated career will always have its challenges. Such as not always being taken seriously and having to prove oneself capable. But, I don’t feel I let it affect me negatively – actually, it’s rather motivating to further progress one’s skills and drive.”

Walking through her hangar door, the first thing you’ll see – you know, except for the multiple choppers – are the words ‘Do more of what makes you happy’ prominently mounted onto the main wall. And just that, is what Hayley is all about.

It goes without saying that for this down-to-earth pilot, happiness goes hand-in-hand with flying. And one of the highlights on her calendar will always be her dad’s brilliant brainchild, the Helivate HeliOlympics. The advanced hover skills event usually includes exciting challenges like bucket hoisting, egg drops, and skid beer bottle opening for trained pilots. And gosh, does Hayley love a challenge!

Speaking of such, this thrill-seeker likes to push her limits outside the helicopter too. She’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and cycled across England … two of the most daring adventures she’s ever taken on!

“I’ve just always loved the outdoors, the wild coast, beaches and, waterfalls. It’s just so breathtakingly beautiful, and I will never get enough of it.”

She also giggles at the thought of some embarrassing flight ventures. “As helicopter pilots, we end up landing in some of the most random and remote places. Often without a toilet … I’ll leave it at that, haha.”

Having already reached such impressive heights, what’s next for Hayley? Well, because of her admiration for all the untouched destinations along the coast, she hopes to expand her services by doubling up her business in the Cape soon.

When she isn’t 25 000 feet in the air, trail running with her dad, or soaking up nature, she simply enjoys getting home to her partner, kicking up her feet, and watching a good series. With wine and chocolate!

For Hayley it’s quite simple – when you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life. And, as she likes to say ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’.
Details: Follow @helivatehelicopterservices on Insta and Facebook.

A few quick tips if you want to become a pilot

• Know your value Don’t work for free, but recognise an opportunity and if it presents itself, take it with both hands. Hard work always pays off.
• Be flexible The first job is always the hardest to get and sometimes that means relocation, often far from home and families.
• Have a backup plan The journey to becoming a pilot isn´t a straight line and sometimes the dream doesn´t work out. There are plenty of factors that are out of our control – such as the global economy, pandemics, and so on.
• Be unique If possible, have a skill or an experience that makes you stand out from the crowd.

What makes a good pilot?

Being a successful pilot requires a combination of skills. Hayley shares the qualities she believes every pilot worth their salt should have.
• Clear communication – While clear communication skills help in almost any job, it really matters for pilots. In fact, incorrect or incomplete pilot-controller communication is a factor in almost 80 percent of situations that could’ve been avoided.
• Situational awareness – This means appreciating everything that is going on throughout flying, controlling and maintaining an aircraft. Pilots must learn to have a mental picture of the location, flight conditions and energy state of their aircraft — as well as any other factors that could affect its safety.
• Decisiveness and quick-thinking skills – Time and resource constraints, as well as other pressure-adding factors like turbulence, can make decision-making challenging for pilots. They have to always keep a cool head despite knowing that making the wrong decision can result in a fatal outcome.
• Leadership – It’s both an inherent personal quality and a learned set of skills. Pilots must understand both the elements of effective leadership and the consequences of poor leadership.
• The ability to understand technical information – Pilots need to understand how their aircraft works. There are a set of typical procedures and technical tasks that pilots carry out.
• Mathematics and creative skills combined – Many people might be surprised to hear that a pilot can’t be just a ‘numbers person’ or a ‘creative person’. Flying requires critical thinking in both realms.

Text: ALANICKA LOTRIET. • Photographer: JACO BOTHMA. • Make-up and hair: ELAINE BOSHOFF

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