A business taking off

Matthew Tormey – Ultraflight Flying Club

USUALLY men who dream about zooming around the sky in flying machines are not the practical sort but Matt Tormey has his feet firmly on terra firma.

Matt owns and runs the Ultraflight Flying Club based at Abbeyshrule Airport in County Longford, now possibly the biggest dedicated microlight flying school in Ireland.
As is the case with many businessmen he started flying as a hobby and only after that did he pursue the opportunities of the aviation industry.
A hands-on man his first practical experience came as a teenager helping out at his local blacksmith. “I spent most of my free evenings pumping a bellows in a blacksmith’s forge, trying to hammer horseshoes along with him,” he remembers.
It was at a blacksmiths that he first came into contact with aviation in that the late Sammy Bruton of Midland Aviation was a relation of the man Matt was working for. However, it was just a brush with flying because he couldn’t afford any lessons.
He did an apprenticeship in Hydraulic Engineering, got married and went off to work in England. He ended up in Ford’s gigantic factory in Dagenham in east London where he became a supervisor in a maintenance department.
Then he was offered a great job back in Ireland but when he got back here he found that the ‘great job’ had disappeared. He then had two options. “I could either starve or work for myself, because at that time in the mid-70s there was very few jobs,” he recalls.
“I started making gates and trail-ers, and anything and everything that you could possibly make in the line of engineering stuff. I worked in a barn at the side of the road at home.”
He designed his trailers himself starting a trait that would lead him to make airplanes later on. He doesn’t make any claims to originality in his trailers and he grounded his designs in a very practical philosophy.
“I did like all good designers – I went around and copied the good bits of everyone else’s trailers. Many designers don’t like to admit that but that’s what they do.”
By this time he was operating a small business, employing a couple of helpers and was turning out a trailer every two weeks, mainly to the agricultural market. He built a small workshop; he built a house; he reared a family; but still did not man-age to get flying.
Then farming hit a lean time and he again had to find an alternative for his engineering skills. He designed and built boats and he diversified into specialist welding of aluminium and stainless steel.
But still no cash to go flying.
“We were always fit to produce the goods but we were never fit to produce a profit. We just kept our heads above water.”

Why was this? The answer lies in Matt’s commitment to producing quality and to doing things the right way rather than the cheap way.
“The important thing to me was the quality of what you did rather than the amount of money you got for it at the end of the day,” he says.
“It may not seem a great philosophy for business but if you want to be successful, try and get the product right. Don’t chase the money – if you chase the money you just end up chasing the people – but if you get the product right and then you handle it properly after that, you should be able to get the money as well.”
He started making boats for a very basic reason – he wanted one himself and nobody was selling the type of boat that he needed. He ended up making 10 or 11 boats for the offshore sea-fishing and for res-cue. He says that it was a good idea but at the wrong time as the Celtic Tiger hadn’t started to roar yet.
But it earned him a reputation for aluminium and stainless steel fabrication, a specialist area of engineer-ing. Through a series of contacts he ended up producing components for Porsche and Audi in Germany. By this time he was making a few bob but still not enough to indulge his flying dream.
He was contacted by Sammy Bruton at Midland Aviation in Abbeyshrule to do some aluminium work on aircraft. And he and Midland came to arrangement: he would do the welding if Sammy took him up flying.

“He said ‘I have no money to pay you’ and I said ‘I ‘d love to go flying but I have no money to go flying’. So he brought me up and, of course, I was bitten by the bug,” says Matt.
While he was doing his training for a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) he decided to build his own plane to fly about when he qualified. He flew the plane (a Challenger II for you plane spotters) for a year or so and then decided he needed a better one. He was getting in deep in the flying business.
Someone wanted his airplane so he sold it to them and bought a new Jabiru airplane kit, which he then built himself. By this time he recognised that there was a market for quality small aircraft in Ireland.
He struck up a relationship with a Czech aircraft manufacturer and bought a Lambada, which he flew back to Ireland. He started selling Lambadas here and now there are sixteen of the type flying in Ireland.
He built a large hangar at Abbeyshrule Airport with the intention of setting up a flight training school, a maintenance facility and an assembly facility. All three objectives have been reached with the setting up of the Ultraflight Flying Club, which carries out its own maintenance. Three complete aircraft have also been built in the hangar although this work has had to stop due to lack of room.
He wants to restart aircraft build-ing – it’s that quality thing again. “When you do your own building, you are in complete control of the quality of the product,” says Matt.
“Labour costs would be more expensive in this country, but you could finish a real good quality product here. If you get the people together, you get exactly what you want.”
The flying school has six instructors at the moment and is, according to Matt: “the premier microlight training facility in Ireland.”
“Where we see the future in light aviation for sport is in microlight air-craft which will out-perform most of your Cessnas, Tomahawks and all those old training aircraft which are all catching up on their years.
“The operating costs are much, much cheaper; they are much more environmentally friendly – using unleaded fuel; they’re very quiet and won’t disturb the neighbours; and they have a very low touchdown speed so in the event of an accident they are very safe.”
Asked to recall some mistakes he makes an unusual assertion: “A com-mon mistake I would have would be in trusting people. But I think it’s still not a bad thing.
“You are going to get burned but the best you can do is to learn from it. And don’t let it put you off trust-ing other people else when someone comes along and says they have a great idea. Because an awful lot of the work that I have done over the years has been done on trust.
“There was very few contracts even with Porsche or Audi. You came up with an idea; you put it into prac-tice; you showed it to people; they agreed with it; you shook hands on it and you went off and did your work.”
That’s a practical approach from a practical man who still has his engi-neering business going as well.
Why doesn’t he give up one of them? “Failure is not an option,” he says.
Any other plans in aviation? “I want to get a pair of wings for myself.” He might just be the man to do it.