I met George Cormack at his airport at Cumbernauld where he was kind enough to share his thoughts in an interview. The big question for me was "How to you get to own your own airport and airline?"
I found George to be a quiet and modest man, really not what I had expected to be honest. He did not like the idea of being recorded, or having his photograph taken which is no bad thing, but unusual in my experience for a business owner. His answer to my burning question:
"I started off as a boy, I cycled in to wash aircraft at half six in the morning before they flew the newspapers to Stornoway, it just grew from there."
"I have been working on Islanders since 1967 and became the Chief Engineer at Loganair."
I have heard George described as "Mr Islander" by others and it seems that there is nothing he does not know about them. His company "Cormack Air Services", based at Cumbernauld is a maintenance facility for the Britten Norman Islander, servicing clients worldwide. He recently supplied the aircraft for James Bond's latest adventure movie "Spectre."
"I got them the aircraft for the flying stunts and the ones they destroyed in the crash scenes, never a word in the credits though."
Cormack Air Services, refurbish and maintain aircraft all over the world, mostly for small operators from the Caribbean to the Pacific.
In 1995 George expanded into the airline business with Hebridean Air, providing subsidised passenger flights to Oban, Tiree, coll, Colonsay and Islay, twice per day, two days per week.
At weekends they fly kids home from school on the mainland, previously they needed to board for much longer and were only able to get home during the holidays, so were away from home three months at a time.
"The service keeps people on the islands and saves families."
Nurses, medical staff, health workers and even organs for transplant are frequent flyers with Hebridean who also provide charter flights to 42 locations around Scotland. The Islander is an incredibly versatile aircraft with a very short take off and landing roll combined with a robust construction so that it can get into places most other aircraft could never contemplate.
George still flies regularly, especially Islanders on air tests, although he employs three pilots to do the daily business now. He has hundreds of hours logged as captain on his ATPL, he is a qualified flying instructor including for seaplane ratings and flies a Super Cub for fun. I asked him about his favourite locations to fly to, that took a bit of thinking but he replied;
"Solas or Barra on North Uist, onto a beach."
On the future of aviation in Scotland George seems keen to do his bit against the odds.
"There are not enough young people doing it, we had three through a training scheme 3 years ago. The system is very cumbersome but I'd like to see it pick up with more government subsidy. The French and Norwegians do it and there are plenty of routes to be exploited. We would like to do Oban to Barra and Oban to Glasgow.
I like to give people a start through the tower and ops onto the airlines. We had someone go on to be a 737 pilot recently and we have had more than six go on to Loganair."
"We give people the basics on ATC systems, aerodrome operations, airspace regulations and how aircraft are operated..."
"I hope to be able to install a GPS approach system at the airport here to attract business traffic, but the procedures take ages."
George currently has no plans to give up and retire so I think the future is bright and the opportunities will continue. I wish him the very best of luck, although that is very much in second place to planning and perseverance. One of his employees told me later that,
"George is an engineer all the way through, everything has to be exactly right or nothing flies."
The island hopper trip from Oban is on my to do list. Thanks George, not just from me, but from all the communities you serve.