As CEO and founder of Superior Air, the Athens-based company specialising in helicopter and aeroplane air taxi services as well as flight training, it’s no surprise that when I call Elias Sofianos he is about to board his helicopter to fly to Mykonos.
While most of his friends were out playing football, Sofianos admits “I was that 12-year-old, busy constructing model aeroplanes and flying gliders in Athens. I was always interested in flying and fixing things.”
Remarkably Sofianos took this talent for construction one stage further. “In 1988 I built my first full scale aircraft in the loft of my house. It was certified by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) so I was actually able to fly it. From that first moment I was hooked. I knew it was my vocation.” he says.
At 18 years old, Sofianos joined the Hellenic Air Force where he served as a fighter pilot, instructor and examiner, primarily flying F-104s.
“I stayed in the Air Force for 25 years before retiring as a Colonel and head of the Airforce Academy training. I then served as a commercial airline captain for Avionic Air Services for three years.”
Having already started up his flight school before retiring from the Air Force, Sofianos explains: “The focus originally was on students achieving their Private Pilot Licence for both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, but we soon realised that many of our students wanted to get their commercial pilot’s licence. And that’s where Superior Air’s Flight Academy really came to life. The academy currently has 120 students. Many of my students are sons of pilots who now fly for Gulf Air in Bahrain and themselves trained with Superior Air.”
In addition to training, Superior Air offers aerial taxis, aircraft maintenance and sales. As part of its aerial taxi service, a large part of the business is dedicated to flying passengers around the Greek Islands during the summer months. Superior Air’s fleet of helicopters for VIP passenger charters includes Agusta, Bell, Robinson and Airbus helicopters. The company also has Cessna and Tecnam twin and single engine fixed-wing aircraft in its fleet.
What many people might not realise is that Greece is made up of around three thousand islands. Helicopters have an advantage in that they can make journeys to difficult or remote locations without airports and to which ferry boats make infrequent trips. They can even fly in high winds.
“Take Patmos, one of the most northernmost of the Dodecanese islands. It’s hard to access and can take up to 10 hours to reach from Athens (if travelling by boat or a scheduled carrier because there is no direct service). But, hop in a helicopter and you can be there within an hour.”
What’s more, Sofianos underlines that some larger airports restrict small aircraft from landing when they’re busy, so the ability to rely on a safe, reliable refuelling service even at small airports and airfields is key.
“We really value the support we get from Air BP and that includes the supply of fuel to Superior Air’s own underground fuel tanks in Mykonos and Santorini.”
Although the company has more than 50 employees, including pilots, mechanics, sales and administration staff, Superior Air remains at its core a family-run business. What’s more Sofianos’ passion for flight clearly runs deep. His son is also a pilot with more than 7,000 hours flying experience and his four grandchildren are also showing a keen interest in flying. At the age of 11, his eldest grandson is already capable of flying helicopters and aeroplanes. And while his son and grandson are already following in his footsteps, Sofianos admits the aviation landscape was very different when he was growing up.
“It was unusual for a young boy to yearn to be a pilot, let alone be able to fly. Like many pilots I was hooked at an early age. It was always something I wanted to do. It’s deep rooted within me, but now I’ve passed that passion down through the generations that proceed me.”
While most people are born to walk, Sofianos believes he was born to fly. But he also concludes that his experience as a pilot is not for everyone. “You need to be a bit of a daredevil and totally passionate about what you do. But overall you need to be professional,” he says.
“We don’t decide how our future will play out,” he concludes. “I hope to be flying helicopters until the day I die. In the meantime I’m delighted that my grandchildren are following in my wings and that’s my legacy.”