Former airport owner leaves lasting legacy
FORMER owner of Flametree's Whitsunday Airport, Jeffrey Ruddell, is still flying high, but his grand plans since selling the airport last month are now focussed on spending more time with his feet on the ground.
Mr Ruddell, a Whitsunday local for more than 50 years who bought the airport in 2001, said he was looking forward to working on his 1000-acre sugar cane farm and enjoying the ocean from his new 45-ft boat.
He said had always been a fan of aviation, learning to fly when he was 16, and the purchase of the airport 16 years ago was an extension of his love of all things flight-related.
"When I bought the airport, it was a little dirt airstrip and then and I grew it into something that now supports over 100 movements every day of aviation activity. There used to be 40-50 people working there, and now there's over 110," he said.
"It's a major hub for the Whitsundays now. And it's been a huge part of my life."
Mr Ruddell said he had slowly developed the airport since buying it, including the injection of $20 million to develop Australia's first air park on the site, providing people with the chance to buy their own blocks of land, and develop their own properties to include their own aircraft hangars. The flagship hangar-home community, or Whitsunday Aviation Village Estate (WAVE), includes commercial properties and residential lots.
"It took over a year to build and now attracts aviation fans from all over the world. When I first thought of the idea, a lot of people raised their eyebrows at me, but it's really come of age," he said.
"It's been a lot of hard work, but very rewarding."
Mr Ruddell, who has flown around the Australian coastline twice in his helicopter, said he was now looking forward to semi-retirement.
"I'm going to do some more fishing and slow down a bit. I used to be a scuba diving instructor, so I'm going to get back into the water and do some diving, and a lot more boating and travelling," he said.
Mr Ruddell said he wished the new owners of the airport well.