New platform offers affordable sight-seeing flight around Brighton
Fancy heading for a day trip to the Isle of Wight, popping for a lunch date in France or taking an afternoon stroll in Bruges '“ all on your own private plane?
Now you can, thanks to new start-up Wingly, which connects private pilots at Shoreham Airport and passengers to share the cost of flying in small planes.
Reporter Isabella Cipirska went for a spin in the sunny Sussex skies to find out more....
Kit Maharajh is a man with many strings to his bow, running a health and safety consultancy from his home in Worthing and developing his own line of peanut chutney on the side, but flying has always been his real passion.
The 55-year-old said it all began when he bought a trial flying lesson at an Ideal Home Exhibition in 1982. “I went for the lesson and absolutely loved it,” he said.
He should have bought a house, he joked, but instead he paid for a course in flying, gaining all of the qualifications required to become a pilot.
For someone who walked out of school with very few qualifications, Kit said it was a real achievement – though he insists that flying is something ‘anyone can do’.
In the 35 years since he got his wings, Kit has flown to Venice and Croatia and even did a short stint as a commercial pilot on an American license in Yugolsavia, until he was forced to stop because of the war.
For Kit, the freedom of flying ‘opens up the world’ and he said: “When you’re up there, it’s a totally different world. Your mind is totally focused on flying.
“Everything else in your mind has to go. That’s the buzz for me.”
Since he signed up to Wingly a few months ago, Kit has been sharing that buzz with members with the public.
He said part of the appeal of the platform was financial: pilots do not make any profit from flights through Wingly, but they share the cost of flying with the passengers they take on board.
Thanks to recent changes in cost-sharing regulations put forward by the Civil Aviation Authority, pilots can pay a nominal contribution, which Kit said makes flying ‘much more affordable’.
But it’s not too costly for the public, either – prices range from £80 for a sightseeing flight to Portsmouth to £133 for a journey to Guernsey.
While Kit used to fly an average of once a month, recently he has been flying up to three times a week.
But a big part of the draw for Kit is passing on his love of flying and he enjoys giving nervous passengers – including his wife – the chance to become more comfortable in the air.
“I use it to have a bit of fun,” he said. “I enjoy sharing my skills with other people.”
Kit offers a range of flights through Wingly to destinations including Haverfordwest, Deauville or Le Touquet in France, Gloucester and even to Goodwood.
One of his most popular trips is a 30 minute spin around the i360 in Brighton, going as far as the marina before looping back to Shoreham Airport, and it’s this trip that he invited me along on.
We meet at the airport’s iconic terminal building on a bright Thursday morning.
I’m told the weather conditions are looking good as Kit takes me through a hangar for a first glimpse our plane for the day: a rented four-seater Piper Archer.
It’s quite a lot more smaller than I had expected and the absurdity of being launched 1,000 feet into the air in it suddenly strikes nerves into my stomach.
But there’s no time for dithering as, after Kit carries out all the necessary checks, we clamber up onto the wing and fold ourselves in behind the controls.
We tax around the runway until a radio signaller gives us the green light and we’re off: gently lifting off into what turns out to be a gloriously smooth and exhilarating glide.
We soar up above Brighton & Hove Albion’s training ground, watching the neat rows of houses shrink as we reach the sparkling sea and follow the white strip of beach towards Brighton.
Kit keeps up a steady commentary, pointing out landmarks as we swoop inland, watching the trains pull out of Brighton station and waving at my house below us in Seven Dials.
We circle above the marina and see speed boats sketching white trails into the blue next to the pier, crammed full with colourful rides, before returning over parched-looking fields to follow the winding River Adur back to the runway.
It’s an amazing and strange experience viewing a landscape you know so well from the air at such close quarters and all the more exciting to explore the skies from the freedom of a small and nimble plane.
Kit’s passion for flying is infectious and he enthuses about more members of the public taking it up as a hobby.
I’m more than happy in the passenger seat for now but with a newfound confidence I wouldn’t need much convincing to get back into the air... Lunch on the continent, anyone?