By Mike Mangano
Interview: Red Bull Pilot Matt Hall on Expanding into Charter Flying
There are pilots, and then there are pilots. Of the latter, Matt Hall is one. Perhaps best known as Australia’s first Red Bull Air Race pilot, winning the championship in 2019, he stands out as a crowd favorite at air shows across the world. For Hall, captivating audiences with high-G maneuvers and breath-taking aerobatics is just another chapter in a remarkable flying career, having spent many hours at the controls of the F/A-18 Hornet and F-15 Strike Eagle as a combat pilot beforehand.
In this part one interview, AirlineGeeks was privileged to catch up with this incredible aviator. While most would love to relish in his storied past (this can be found in his book), it is another chapter – far more recent – that this writer chose to discuss, and it centers around a certain Piaggio Avanti.
It should come as no surprise to the reader that an aviator seldom leaves his profession, and Matt Hall is no exception. In fact, despite his decades of flying, Hall has ventured off toward new horizons. While continuing his career in aerobatics and aerial displays, he has added a less-expected branch to his ever-growing business and career – that of charter flying – and we wanted to know more.
AG: What has led you to the charter business?
MH: It’s something that’s been developing for about six or seven years now with all of the aircraft that I own. I bought them for a personal reason – I had a number of aircraft – and I’ve got to get around Australia to do things. The busier we got, the more I realized I needed a dedicated aircraft for me to fly around in, not just using one of the race planes or the Extra or supercar or whatever. So I bought a twin-engine Piper Comanche, and when I wasn’t using it, we thought it might produce a charter there and then it became busy with this activity, so we bought another plane – a King Air – so that I could fly in and that became busy with the charter, too. So we keep buying a plane so I can use it personally and then it gets used for the charter so I get another one.
AG: Australia is far vaster than most people realize. Do you see your charter business using this to your advantage?
Yeah, definitely. I think Australia is pretty unique in the FI-FO type thing – fly in and fly out stuff – and we did dabble in that; it’s huge in Western Australia. We built demand for us to take our King Air over West Australia to do some of that, but that’s not the industry I want to get into personally. I think where charter really sells, so to speak, is in America because there are lots of 200-mile legs where you can just jump between towns really, really quickly and that’s great for charter. Anything more than about 200 to 300 miles, it starts to become a little bit cost prohibitive for most people, so it’s going up down the East Coast of Australia where there are a lot of charters because the business between towns is so great that they can do this.
So, that’s the normal thing we’ll be doing. But that said, there are still people who want us to fly them to Perth and have done that before. But those ones are few and far between because in Australia, you’re looking at a $30,000 bill to go out there and back for an aircraft that’s only carrying 7 or 8 people and has to stop along the way. So that’s where the Australian charter side of things is.
AG: Are you flying when you operate on those charters or do you have someone else?
MH: I do maybe one a month in all the different aircraft. With all the aircraft here, it’s it gets a bit challenging to be flying them all and staying current enough so I have another pilot and I just jump in when the mood strikes me.
AG: When I think charter, I’m sure a lot of people think of Caravans, King Airs, and so forth. Why the Piaggio Avanti? What made you choose that? It seems like a bit of a unicorn among other planes.
MH: It’s a different aircraft but again, I’ve always operated unique aircraft from a race plane to the P-51 that we’ve got. You know, we’ve got a counter-rotating Twin Comanche which is pretty rare, and the Cessna 303 Crusader which is very rare. I guess there’s something about looking after little orphans and keeping them flying. That said, the Piaggio is an amazing aircraft actually. They’ve probably got a bit of a bad rep for no real reason of their own. They had some maintenance support issues a number of years ago and it has had a reputation of being loud on the runway and all these things, but they’re actually none of those things. The plane’s low noise – it’s quieter than the King Air – it’s just a different noise. It’s a noise that’s not pleasant when you are used to normal aircraft propellers – this has got a completely different noise – but the actual dB is less.
They’re not a runway hog. We’ve got a runway here that’s only 880 meters, and it gets in and out with no problems at all. It’s a good aircraft for doing everything but speed is what attracts me. It’s a fast turbo-prop, more than 100 knots faster than King Air – quite impressive – and the cabin is much larger as well, which is also attractive. I’m not a short person but I can stand up straight up in a cabin, compared to a King Air where I have to bend over to walk through the cabin.
AG: So functionality and Italian design – can’t go wrong with that. Just a bit further on that; from a maintenance perspective, has it improved more recently than perhaps in past times?
MH: We actually paid for one of the factory pilots to come over to Australia and train us on the aircraft for a month. So we’ve actually got a reasonable relationship now with the factory, and they are good with parts and to send them out. Part of the problem was that a company in America bought a whole heap to start an aerial taxi service, so they bought a whole heap of parts. Then that company fell over and, somehow, that was blamed on Piaggio. Piaggio did actually become bankrupt through another venture, but it wasn’t because of the Avanti. They are still propped up by the Italian government and still producing parts, still making orders with the aircraft. They just had a bad reputation from the turmoil that occurred.
It would be easy to believe that a man who spends so much of his time in the air has little time for those on the below, but that is simply not the case. Easy to talk to, well-grounded, and ever the insightful aviator, Matt Hall was not done yet with AirlineGeeks.
How do you plan for something new? A story this writer once heard from the space shuttle teaches that you ask the operators of that new thing; a pilot’s perspective is worth their weight in gold (if it could be weighed, that is).
Next week, find out Matt Hall’s perspective on the future of aviation, and why Australia may have something to learn from the FAA.