The CEO of Systematic Aviation Services Group (SAS) on the joys of being able to combine work and passion, and where she will fly to once the skies open up for leisure travel again.
Options: Tell us what it’s like working in such a niche industry and under such challenging times.
Ida Adora Ismail: It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking. Exciting because not everyone can get into this multi-million industry as it is very costly for those wanting to start up. You get to work with a variety of planes and helicopters and it is a very well-regulated industry where creative thinking is key. You need to think outside the box on how to be unique without going against set guidelines and regulations.
Yes, a lot of commercial airlines have been heavily impacted as a result of the pandemic but for the general aviation industry, a sub-category in aviation, things have not entirely slowed down. SAS is quite diversified in what we do so we have been able to navigate the pandemic as smoothly as possible — but that comes with a lot of brainstorming and sleepless nights.
The bottom line boils down to how badly you want to stay in the game. Growth might not be the goal at such a time compared to survival. My part is to ensure my staff and their wellbeing are taken care of during these trying times, making sure salaries are intact, without any retrenchment.
Your late father Ismail Asha’ari founded SAS. What have been the most important pieces of advice he has shared with you?
In order to run the company, you have to be part of the company and start from the bottom. I worked my way up, albeit at a faster pace as my father fell sick and passed away shortly after. He taught me that the staff are the company’s main assets, not the aircraft or hangars and so on. I am nothing without my team.
What have been some of the highlights of your five years with the company?
For so many years, I only heard my late father saying how much he loved his job. Even though it can be very challenging, he never gave up on it. During the last five years, I got to experience so much with him and I came to love the work as much as he did. I was abroad for most of my life, so being able to spend time with him before he passed away, doing something we both love, would be the key highlight of my years in SAS so far.
I now continue to fulfil his vision. I also love meeting new people each day and appreciate how the team is like family. People in the industry have also been very kind. I am still a junior in comparison but I appreciate knowing I have a large pool of knowledgeable and experienced people I can refer to. And, being in aviation, travel is a definite highlight.
Every time I fly, I always look out for waterfalls or rivers and I cannot stress enough how beautiful Malaysia really is. We once flew to Kuching and it took us seven flying hours to get there. We flew over the beautiful islands of Indonesia and remote Sarawakian villages. You’d see the locals washing dishes high up in the mountains and when you fly by, they’d wave at you from their kitchen window.
What have been the most important lessons the pandemic has taught you?
Everything happens for a reason. We can’t give up, so chin up and keep going. There is always a solution to every problem.
What have been some of your most favourite flights?
Every flight is unique in its own way but my favourite would be flying around Sarawak with my family where we visited the longhouse of Pa’dalih, staying overnight. We have always been very close to the people there. On our return flight, we flew over Mulu Caves and saw the Pinnacles. We stopped in so many different places, each so unique and memorable, with the people always so welcoming. I remember the helicopter filled to the brim with fruit, vegetables and rice — all gifts from the people.
What are your five in-flight essentials?
My Bose headphones so I can listen to music, my pre-downloaded Spotify playlist, something to drink, a fully-charged phone so I can take photos and videos, and my cap.
Do you have a preferred aircraft, though?
I do not. I enjoy each and every one of them as they are all built for different specifications. But I do fly in our Bell 407Gx helicopter the most. They are the workhorses of the company, designed for multiple uses, from VIP flights to underslung work.
Do you fly yourself?
It has always been on my to-do-list but I haven’t gotten around to doing it. I was supposed to while in Australia, but came back to help my father with business instead. I’d definitely want to learn to fly one day, once the company is well-organised. It has been only over a year since my father’s passing and there is still lots to do.
Where are you flying to once the borders open again?
To Sabah and Sarawak to meet my team there. It has been so challenging not being able to see them and being so far away from them. Secondly, I’d like to go to Australia to visit my sisters and friends. I have not been back for more than three years now and I’m missing them so much. We are lucky with technology as you can FaceTime or Zoom, but it’s not the same.
Which book has impacted your life the most and why?
To Kill a Mockingbird. I remember studying the book in school but fell in love with it again later. It speaks of a heroic father and teaches us about tolerance and to decry prejudice. Even as the years pass, I can still pick it up and read it again and again, enjoying it as much as I did the first time.
Describe a perfect KL weekend for you.
Staying home with the family and cooking. I enjoy cooking and baking so I spend my days off trying new recipes. We’d set the table according to the theme of the cuisine. I also love photography so, combined with my love for cooking, the ensuing result would be lots of food posts on my social media accounts.
This article first appeared on Jul 26, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.