Former RAF helicopter pilot Simon Williams is director of civil aviation for the UK crown dependency and, among his duties, is responsible for the island’s fast-growing private and business aircraft registry.
What sparked your interest in aviation?
From an early age aircraft fired my imagination, particularly military aircraft. I followed the traditional route at school by joining the Air Training Corps. I proved beyond all reasonable doubt that I was awful at marching, but had my first flight in a de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk at 16 and enjoyed the experience enormously. Thereafter, post-university degree, I went on to join the Royal Air Force at the age of 22 and ultimately became a helicopter pilot. My initial aspiration was to fly fast jets. As a young man, I couldn’t imagine anything more exhilarating than flying at low-level at 450kt. During basic flying training at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, I was taught by a wonderful instructor on the BAC Jet Provost. I worked very hard, and my early flying training went very well. However, I found out halfway through the course that I was too tall to undertake advanced flying training in the Hawk. Thus I was offered a choice of multi-engine fixedwing, or helicopters; I chose the latter route. I recall being bitterly disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to pursue my dream of flying fast jets. Yet, a major disappointment turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I went on to experience some wonderfully exhilarating flying in challenging environments, and had the privilege to meet some truly remarkable people along the way.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Undoubtedly some of my recollections from search and rescue and latterly special operations helicopter flying will always stay strong in my memory. I think the most precious memories are the ones where we managed to really make a difference and save someone’s life. We didn’t always manage that and as a husband and father it was always profoundly upsetting when we weren’t able to save someone, particularly when a child was involved. Mostly we were successful and the memories are positive and sometimes extremely amusing. I recall rescuing a father and daughter who had been cut off by the tide at the base of some extremely large cliffs; they would probably have drowned. We were called to rescue them by the wife/mother who was standing 200ft above them at the cliff top; she hadn’t joined them on their walk. We winched father and daughter to safety, and they were helped out of the helicopter. Happy days, or so I thought. As I took off, I looked out and expected to see the family hugging in relieved joy. What I actually saw was a furious wife kicking and hitting her husband, whilst their daughter looked on in bemusement. Ah well, we did our bit! The single biggest highlight has been the people that I have been privileged to meet and work with in both the military and in civvy street.
Tell us about your current role
As director of civil aviation (DCA) for the Isle of Man, I am leading and managing a large multi-disciplinary internationally-based team and am directly responsible for a multi-millionpound budget. The breadth and depth of the DCA role is very significant and includes, but is not limited to: leading, managing and appropriately growing the world’s sixth largest international private/corporate business aviation registry; regulating aviation, airspace and airport activity on behalf of the Manx government; and facilitating the growth of the increasingly successful Isle of Man aviation industry.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
People. Without strong, capable people in a great team we have nothing. I am very fortunate to work with a great group who I value very highly, both collectively and individually. Beyond that, I enjoy the variety of the role. It is rare to know for certain what I will be dealing with on a daily basis.
What is your biggest challenge?
Time. I made the schoolboy error of believing that when I became DCA I would have greater control over my calendar. Another lesson learned!