Making the leap from managing buses to overseeing airplanes may seem like a jump too far for many people. But that’s exactly what Ismail Asha’ari of Systematic Aviation Services did.
SOMETIMES you just have to face up to reality and cut your losses when things are not going your way.
For Ismail Asha’ari, chief executive officer of Systematic Aviation Services, keeping it real has always been his philosophy in life. And it’s one of the reasons that he was able to make the jump from managing a fleet of buses to taking care of a fleet of airplanes.
Before starting his own aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company in 1993, Ismail was the managing director of a government-linked bus company involved mainly in inter-state travel.
He was 38 when he was charged with managing a fleet of over 1,000 buses from 1982 to 1985.
“I was a corporate man who believed in working hard and doing things in an orderly manner. However, when the company went through corporate restructuring in 1985, I left.
“I then took over five loss-making private bus companies,” he remembers.
Times were tough in the bus business because so many new bus permits were being issued that the competition was really fierce among the industry players. But Ismail soldiered on and managed the companies and their 35 buses.
In 1993, when the buses became too old and had to be replaced, he thought long and hard about the future of the business. In the end, he came to the conclusion that it was not viable to carry on anymore.
That same year, Ismail closed shop and started thinking, “What next?”
As someone whose father was an air force personnel and who flew planes as a hobby, Ismail thought wouldn’t it be great to run a business that serviced planes and helicopters used by flying clubs around the country?
Now this was a business he could really get behind. Mind made up, Ismail went about turning his idea into reality.
“I’m a trained accountant, not an engineer. I learn as I go. The first thing I learnt was that I needed an office in the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Subang,” he recalls.
But the DCA told them they did not have any vacant space to let out. The entrepreneur in Ismail was not taking no for an answer, though. After looking around, he found a toilet at the ground floor that not many people seemed to use. It measured about 200sq ft, but it would suffice as an office if they allowed him to convert it.
His persistence paid off, and Ismail got his working space.
“I didn’t need a fancy office as most of my team would be out doing maintenance in the field anyway,” he laughs.
It wasn’t the most auspicious of beginnings to have your office in what used to be a toilet, but sometimes, you just have take what you can get.
Ismail did his renovation, hired four workers and started to do maintenance work on aircraft that range from two-seaters to four-seaters for flying clubs in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
Subsequently, they started getting larger clients such as the DCA, police, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and a highway concessionairre.
As Systematic Avaiation gained a steadier footing, Ismail started to look at other ways to grow the business. He found there was a demand for private charter services, especially for tourists who wanted to visit the beautiful islands around Malaysia like Tioman (Pahang), Pangkor (Perak) and Redang (Terengganu).
And so in 2006, Ismail started his private charter service, using planes that he had acquired over the years.
“We don’t buy new as that’s costly. We buy mostly from flying enthusiasts who are bored with their plane,” he laughs, adding that their oldest plane is 42 years old.
This doesn’t concern him as being in the MRO business, he understands that a plane is able to continue flying as long as one adheres to strict maintenance schedules and keep it in good working order.
As their business progressed, they moved into their new office at the SAS Hangar at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang in 2007.
Today, with 17 aircraft and a staff of 90, Systematic Aviation operates up to the six private charter flights a day from just one in 2006.
Ismail says they are looking forward to buying newer planes for the private charter service business, whereas for the MRO business, they are working on getting wide-body aircraft operators as clients.