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In Phuket aviation business, the sky is not the limit



PHUKET: Do what you love and make money doing it – how’s that for a business plan?

That is exactly what Sky Club Asia co-owners Mark Silverberg and Paul Derstoff did when they turned their passion into a prospering business. Did their leap of faith pay off?

One of the things that Mark Silverberg brought with him when he moved to Thailand was passion – a passion for flying. He used to go paragliding in mountainous Mexico before getting licensed as a paramotor instructor in the United States. Once in Thailand, he continued flying in his free time… and making wings during working hours.

“For the first few years in Thailand I worked as a project manager for a factory making gliders,” he explains. “Through that, I connected myself to a lot of people in the world of paragliding.

“I met some people who fly and discovered that Thailand is really a flight friendly country. All certification processes, the licenses and the renewals that are required by the ultra lights do not filter down to paramotors.

“We do not bother anybody, we fly slow and local, and most of the guys who fly are pretty conservative and follow the few rules that we do have. So, it’s easy to build a community.”

And that is how it started. It was during his time operating a paramotor club in Hua Hin, at which Mark met his future business partner, Paul Derstoff. What was, at first, just a means of having fun and meeting other flying enthusiasts, quickly expanded into more.

“There was a point when I had a good club running – a great community – but I couldn’t make a living out of it,” remembers Mark. “I wanted to expand, use different engines, train a larger range of pilots and make sure that everybody flies with the latest and best gear.

“On top of that, I wanted to take up new projects that might not really make money, but were exciting. I needed a way to fund all this – and that’s why I decided to expand the club into a business.”

However, before this business venture could, quite literally, take off, Mark had to get rid of the ballast – his day job.

“I had to see myself ten years down the road and ask myself: do I want to put all my energy into building a community of pilots and growing a business? Or do I want to stick to a safer path of day-to-day work in a factory – also paramotor and paraglider related, but still an indoor job.

“They say that flying might be dangerous, but it’s the office job that will kill you,” he says, laughing.

A few years down the line, it’s obvious that Mark’s decision to follow his dreams was the right one. With branches in Hua Hin and Phuket, and an expanding array of services, it seems that the sky is the limit for Sky Club Thailand – or maybe it isn’t.

With a diverse variety of revenue sources ranging from fun, discovery flights, paramotor courses and equipment retail to banner advertising and aerial photography, the company has only one way to go – up.

However, when asked about potential further expansion, Mark had second thoughts.

“Phuket offers incredible views once you’re up 100 meters. You get this eye candy everyday. And then there is this incredible, beautifully maintained airfield which is probably one of the best-kept secrets in Southeast Asia. It’s a sensational field with a great community of pilots and a great variety of aircraft – it’s like a gallery of aviation here,” he says.

“Sometimes I wonder if expanding is always the best thing. If there is a great opportunity, where it stays in the family and we keep it under our guidance, okay. For now, I’m very happy to fly every day, and my goals are very focused on here and now.

“You quickly find out that aviation is all about guys who like flying. And here in Phuket, every day is fun.”

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— Maciek Klimowicz


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