A Barnsley-based business which is giving youngsters the chance to reach for the sky in their future careers is setting a course for expansion after securing support from a grant scheme created to improve business productivity across the region.
Launched in 2019 by former lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Rebecca Hutchinson and her business partner Andy Hyde, FlyMe is home to the UK’s only purpose built airport and flight simulator. Over the past two years, the entrepreneurial duo have successfully transformed a former industrial unit at Shortwood Business Park into a virtual airport, complete with departure lounge, air traffic control and Boeing 737-800 flight simulator and a real-life Boeing aircraft used as a training cabin.
Many of the features found at FlyMe have been acquired from existing airports across the UK and designed to give visitors a fully immersive experience, as close to visiting a real airport as possible. Since launching the business, the company has developed a range of tailored services, ranging from helping individuals overcome their fear of flying and the airport environment, to providing refresher courses and hands on training to existing and would be pilots.
Since their check-in gate first opened for business FlyMe has successfully forged collaborations with a number of schools and colleges across Barnsley and South Yorkshire, as well as running its own training courses and flight simulation experiences, aimed at aviation enthusiasts.
With big plans for the future of the business, including the addition of a second Boeing 737-300 simulator, FlyMe’s future looked bright. However, like many businesses, the company found itself grounded for much of 2020, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Determined to use the additional time on her hands to perfect and refine their business model, Rebecca decided to reach out to Enterprising Barnsley for advice in a bid to seize a new business opportunity.
Rebecca realised that as a result of air travel largely being suspended during 2020, holders of both commercial and private pilot licenses were at risk of having them revoked because they were unable to fulfil the mandatory numbers of flight hours required.
To help pilots keep their skills up-to-date, Rebecca realised the company needed to invest in its simulators to provide as immersive a training experience as possible. However, they also recognised this would require a significant investment.
After discussing their plans with key account manager Paul Johnson, the entrepreneurial duo discovered their business was eligible for support via the Business Productivity Programme, a match-funded grant scheme designed to help businesses across South Yorkshire to overcome barriers to growth.
The funds secured through the Business Productivity Grant has enabled FlyMe to upgrade its flight simulator by investing in a new, more true to life yoke system and rudder pedals, which have been successfully installed into the cockpit, as well as upgrading its IT systems, required to run an air traffic control simulator and virtual reality systems.
Since re-opening, the company has continued to invest in the centre, and work is already underway on the creation of second Boeing 737-300 simulator, which will see simulation equipment installed into the cockpit and hull of a retired aircraft. The company has also installed a new emergency evacuation slide which is used to help trainee cabin crew rescue and evacuate passengers, and take part in a wide range of scenarios.
Rebecca said: “FlyMe is a truly unique business – there isn’t another centre like ours anywhere else in the UK. We were inspired to launch the business when my son began showing an interest in becoming a pilot. However, at 16 we recognised that the path to becoming a pilot would mean a significant financial investment so we began looking at alternatives. Learning to fly is something that requires many hours of training and costs thousands of pounds, making it a career out of reach of many.
“We quickly realised that he wasn’t alone and there wasn’t anywhere for young people interested in building a career in the aviation industry with a chance to gain practical experience. So we decided to do something about it. FlyMe provides visitors with real-life scenarios, from helping cabin crew to deal with an injured passenger, to safely evacuating planes. We also deliver special courses aimed at helping people to overcome their fears of flying by using a technique called exposure therapy which can lead to improved confidence.
“With the help we’ve received from the Business Productivity Grant, we’ve been able to invest in new equipment and as a direct result, this has helped us to forge new opportunities for our business. For example, we quickly saw an increase in bookings from furloughed pilots who are legally required to keep their training up-to-date. We’re now investing in the creation of second flight simulator as well as introducing many new features into the business, which will not only help those wanting to build a career in the travel industry, but also lead to the creation of new jobs in our own business.”
Paul Johnson, key account manager, Enterprising Barnsley said: “FlyMe is a truly unique business. It’s one which isn’t just creating opportunities for people wanting to gain valuable experience of working in a highly competitive industry, but also offers an environment as close to a real airport as possible.
“The business has been a labour of love for Rebecca and Andy, everything inside has been carefully sourced directly from airports and retired aircraft and their knowledge and expertise is helping to give youngsters the chance to understand what it takes to build a career in the industry by combining theory with practical hands-on experience.
“As a result of the funds they’ve secured from The Business Productivity Programme, FlyMe has been able to upgrade the vital IT equipment needed to operate its powerful flight simulators, as well as helping it to successfully deliver refresher courses for pilots unable to fly due to Covid-19.”
The Business Productivity Programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and provides businesses with 50% grant funding up to a maximum of £12,499 and the other 50% must be provided by the business. The maximum project application is £24,999 and can include investment in new equipment or machinery and consultancy services to help them overcome barriers to growth. The scheme is delivered by Enterprising Barnsley, Business Sheffield, Business Doncaster and Rotherham Investment and Development Office (RiDO).
Any business based in Barnsley wishing to find out more about the grant funding available through the Business Productivity Programme should contact the Enterprising Barnsley team