Piloted by passion

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Even as a kid, he was already fascinated by airplanes. RAFAEL TABOY

Captain Jacob Singson Cusi is one young man who knows what he wants in life. He wants to fly, and he wants to help his country in his own small way.

Of course, he also wants to make sure that AirTrav, of which he is the president, does well.

AirTrav is a midget-sized air transportation company. It owns, maintains and operates a helicopter and a seaplane that serve travelers bound for Puerto Galera, the resort town in Oriental Mindoro, Clark Field in Pampanga and Busuanga in Palawan.

AirTrav is actually the brainchild of Jacob, although he insists his father, Alfonso Cusi, and he both thought of it. His father is the secretary of the Department of Energy.

As a young boy, Jacob was always fascinated by airplanes and, of course, flying. As a teenager, he flew remote-controlled airplanes and in his senior year in Ateneo, he enrolled in flying school.

“Every time anyone asks me why I became a pilot, it’s because I love flying. Anything in life has to come from one’s passion.” RAFAEL TABOY

That he was mentored by a grand-uncle was a plus point, because “he made sure to be strict with me,” shared Jacob with the Daily Tribune in an interview at the company hangar at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Good-looking and well-mannered, Jacob was, at the same time, jolly. No, he said, he had no plans of joining showbiz, and yes, he is very much single. That makes him one of the country’s most eligible bachelors, but unfortunately, he is very busy and finding a girl, right now, is not one of his priorities.

‘I am married to the seaplane and the helicopter,” he said, as he pointed at the two sleek aircrafts within our sight.

Jacob was very patient with us as he explained the advantages of the seaplane and helicopter for air transport especially for anyone who would want to take a break in one of the country’s top resorts.

My parents raised me well. Of course, I owe everything to God. RAFAEL TABOY

Below is the interview:

Daily Tribune: Why did you establish AirTrav? Who thought of this and how did this start?

Jacob Singson Cusi: AirTrav basically started with an idea on flying. It is intertwined with my childhood. As a kid, I was very much interested in and somewhat in love with flying. There was this magic with flying that I did not understand at that time, but it started when I was in grade one.

Parents would always ask their children, what do you want to become when you get old? So, it started with the idea that I wanted to become a pilot.

DT: So, how did AirTrav officially start? Did you tell your Dad, “Dad, I want a plane?”

JSC: No it did not start with that. It started with the helicopter. We used it for business. Our family business was shipping. Starlight Ferries.

DT: Where are those ships?

JSC: In Batangas, Calapan, the nautical highway. We pioneered the nautical highway during GMA’s time. That was the western nautical highway. So, starting with the helicopter, we complemented the ships since we always had to travel. The company purchased its helicopter mainly for work, to get in and out. But not just people, but also to transport equipment. It was really needed. The SLEX was not complete yet so it would really save a lot of time.

So, we first got the helicopter. It was 2012 when we got our AOC or Air Operator’s Certificate.

DT: Which would allow you to…

JSC: Which would allow us to use the helicopter for business, to charter it out. Since we were already in the transportation business, I said, why not use it also to charter out? Charters are basically anywhere your clients want you to be.

DT: Do you recall who your first passenger was?

JSC: My father. I could not forget that. I was both ecstatic and scared. But proud when we landed.

DT: Where did you go to school?

JSC: Elementary, high school and college were all in one school. It was Ateneo.

DT: Did you plan to become a pilot? What did you take up in college?

JSC: I took up Management and Communication. My course was Interdisciplinary Studies. It was basically a general course that required you to specialize in two tracks.

DT: Were you involved in extra-curricular activities all those years?

JSC: I played football. I play golf. Also, swimming. I also played with remote controlled cars, planes and helicopters. After college, though, I didn’t have enough time anymore.

DT: So, when did you learn how to fly and where?

JSC: When I was in high school, I consulted my grandfather’s cousin, Captain Meynard Halili, who then owned a flying school, Airworks Aviation. So, I told him, “Tito I want to learn how to fly, I want to become a pilot. What should I do?” I was with my Mom then. And he replied, “Finish school first. Get a degree. Any degree. Just finish school.” So, I followed his advice.

When I was in fourth year college, during the break between the first and second semesters, I was bored. That’s because I was graduating, we were almost done with all the required course work, so the load was light already. So, I went to him and I told him, “Cap, I am about to graduate already. Can I start flying school already?” He said, “Sige, okay.”

So, during the second semester, I drove to the airport after school almost twice a week to do the ground school. It was all theory in the classroom. Because that’s how it is. First, you need to do the ground school before you do the actual flying. So, I graduated in 2007, although I got my student license in 2006.

On my first day of flying school, Captain Meynard, said, “Jacob, you’re technically my apo (grandnephew). So I will be more strict with you. That was more pressure for me (laughs) so I had to perform.

“In order to run a company well, you need to know the different departments. I put myself in everyone’s shoes.” RAFAEL TABOY

In 2007, I got my private pilot license.

DT: Just to go back, why should one want to become a pilot?

JSC: It’s just your passion. Every time anyone asks me why I became a pilot, it’s because I love flying. Anything in life has to come from one’s passion.

DT: So, when did you officially establish AirTrav?

JSC: In 2009. I got my commercial license in 2007 and then we put up AirTrav. It took quite a time to be able to comply with all the requirements, which was about two years.

DT: Is the commercial license different from the private pilot license?

JSC: From private to commercial, you need flying time. A commercial license allows you to fly passengers. You need 50 hours to earn a private pilot license. If you want to go commercial, you need 100 hours.

DT: So, tell me about AirTrav. What services does it offer?

JSC: AirTrav is a seaplane and helicopter service company. The seaplane has a scheduled service from Manila to Puerto Galera and back. And Clark to Busuanga. It goes there every day except Tuesdays because of the maintenance. Currently, we only have eight o’ clock and10 o’clock in the morning bound for Puerto Galera.

DT: Why did you think of a seaplane? Why not an ordinary plane?

JSC: The seaplane is like a helicopter. It can land almost anywhere. Since the Philippines is an archipelago, it could reach a lot of places with a body of water around it. And you know how the situation in Manila is. With congestion in the airport, we decided to have a seaplane that would land and take off in Manila Bay, which is what our seaplane does. There is no congestion in Manila Bay. If there is any congestion, it is the trash. (laughter)

DT: Does it affect the landing if there’s trash?

JSC: It affects the landing, so it needs to be avoided.

DT: So, how does a seaplane land on water?

JSC: Just like how a regular plane lands on land, but a seaplane lands on water. It’s like landing on the runway. But its landing is very short. A seaplane can land on 500 or 600 meters. That’s because the water stops it too. It’s like the speedboat. When you’re on a speedboat, you just stop the engine. So, it’s the same.

DT: What about when it’s taking off?

JSC: That’s different. You need a longer space. You need to get out of the water. There’s friction between the float and the water, so you need at least a thousand meters. Anyway, that’s toward the sea and not the shore.

DT: Who clears the area?

JSC: No one. The rule is we should be the ones to avoid anything that gets in the way of our path, including boats.

DT: So, that can be done?

JSC: Yes, because the seaplane has a rudder for steering. It’s like a boat.

DT: So, where does the passenger get off after the plane has landed?

JSC: We land on Friday’s in Puerto Galera. We have a pontoon, or a floating dock that we land on. A pontoon is about 20 feet and that is where the seaplane parks. The seaplane lands on Puerto Galera Bay and taxies toward Friday’s.

DT: So, if I am going to Puerto Galera, where do I go to get my plane?

JSC: You go to the Manila Bay. At the CCP.

DT: So, how were the initial years of the operation?

JSC: We started in 2009 but we got the permit in 2012. So, we’ve been in actual operation for like six years.

DT: So, do people really patronize it?

JSC: People ride it. It’s part luxury but at the same time, it serves a necessity, which is transportation, or movement from one place to another. You get to save time when travelling. If you take the car and the boat to Puerto Galera from Manila, that would take you half or almost a day. By the time you reach Puerto Galera, you’re tired already. But if you take off from Manila, that’s only 35 minutes. So, you can still enjoy the rest of the day. Sometimes, you can leave Manila at 10 in the morning, so that’s just right for checking in there.

DT: So, what’s your management style? You seem to be very busy.

JSC: I am really hands-on. It could be too much, I need to pass on certain things to others.
If I see something important that is not being done or is not getting the desired results, that’s when I micro-manage. I’ll do it just to get done and over with it.

DT: Like what aspect of management needs your attention?

JSC: it’s mostly compliance matters. This has to do with regulations. If something needs to be done, I do it myself. If I am not happy with an initial outcome, I myself do something about it. When maintenance issues happen, that’s when problems arise. Of course, things don’t work out all the time. It really does happen that sometimes there are problems.

DT: What makes you mad?

JSC: Tardiness.

DT: What’s your plus factor as a manager?

JSC: I always try to start from the bottom up. I always try to stand in the shoes of the others in the organization. In order to run a company well, you need to know the different departments.

DT: You turned out well. How did your parents raise you?

JSC: Really strict. With the right amount of love. Not really that strict, but you know that you’re not allowed to do anything inappropriate.

DT: How about Ateneo?

JSC: I like the fact that they were open to all kinds of ideas. They’re not bookish. Unlike other schools that do things by the book. Jesuits are very open. They really reach out to you. They’re like you are barkada (gangmates). I felt it most in high school.

DT: What do you miss most about your high school days?

JSC: My time.

DT: Do you have a personal cause? In what way are you a man for others?

JSC: I just do my part in helping out. My social responsibility is focused on people who are in need. Like when typhoon Yolanda struck, I was in Cebu. So, I would fly to Tacloban in the helicopter, bringing in goods, and bringing out people. The company sent out a boat full of Red Cross people and basic supplies. That was when the Starlight ferry was still with us. So, we sent one boat from Batangas to Tacloban.

DT: To what do you attribute your success?

JSC: My parents. They raised me properly. Of course, I owe everything to God.

DT: Why aren’t you in showbiz?

JSC: Why should I be in showbiz?

DT: You didn’t even try out for a play in Ateneo?

JSC: I tried once in elementary, but it wasn’t really for me. I didn’t like it at all.

DT: What’s your big dream for this country?

JSC: Aside from peace? Well, we could all grow as a country. I mean economic growth because everyone benefits from it. Right now, I can see that the country is growing and I want it to continue.

DT: How do you want to help your country?

JSC: Through little things. Like helping someone in need, someone you do not know. If all of you do it, that would make a big difference. Like my volunteer work with the Red Cross. I tend to help them out in a way that I can. We can always start with little things. Even just picking up the trash. Or not littering. Simple things, actually.

DT: What has been your greatest challenge?

I can see that the country is growing and I want it to continue. RAFAEL TABOY

JSC: When I flew over Tacloban after Typhoon Yolanda and I saw all the devastation, that became a challenge for me. How can I really help in my own way within my own limitations? If you saw what I saw, it would really move you. It wasn’t just about the sight, but also the smell. And when you saw the people, you really looked beyond yourself. It was, for me, the biggest challenge. I was asking myself what else I could do to help them.

DT: What is your Christmas wish?

JSC: I haven’t thought about that yet.

DT: What is your Christmas gift to yourself?

JSC: To get a good night’s rest.

DT: What is your New Year’s Resolution for 2019?

JSC: To be more patient.

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