Sebastián Almagro, shown above
Aviation is in Gustavo de Almagro Morales’ blood. His father was the famous Spanish aerobatic pilot, Sebastián Almagro, renowned for his breathtaking daredevil antics in the sky.
“I loved flying with my father when I was a child, it was always a thrill,” says Gustavo.
Although an issue with his eyesight meant Gustavo has never obtained his pilot’s licence, he still pursued a career within the aviation industry. He used his passion in aviation to study engineering and aircraft maintenance before joining the family business – Pegasus Aero Group – in 1980. He currently serves as vice-president.
Established more than 50 years ago by Gustavo’s father, Pegasus Aero Group (formerly known as Fumigacion Aerea Andaluza, SA or FAASA), specialises in firefighting as well as aerial search and rescue and humanitarian work including life-saving missions. It incorporates a number of different branches including Pegasus Aviation, Pegasus Offshore, Pegasus South America, Elitellina, Seilaf and the Sebastián Almagro Foundation. With its headquarters in the Spanish city of Palma del Rio, the company employs more than 500 staff, has around 100 aircraft in its fleet and manages up to 135 air bases in Spain, Italy, South America and Latin America.
Pegasus Aviation is the parent company of the group and its main activity is firefighting, as well as aircraft maintenance and training. Every year it transports the majority of its fleet of aircraft and helicopters used in firefighting missions from Spain to Chile and back again. During the European winter forest fires aren’t an issue whereas that’s the dry, summer season in South America when fires are more likely to occur and vice versa, so there’s no need to have a full fleet permanently based in each region. But whether it’s carrying out life-saving missions or transporting its fleet of aircraft across continents, safe, reliable and efficient fuelling is critical to Pegasus Aero’s operations around the world.
“Having access to reliable, high quality fuel is vital,” agrees Gustavo. “But working with Air BP we benefit from much more than that,” he adds. “We are located in the middle of nowhere and above and beyond providing fuel, Air BP offers additional support in terms of its expertise and refuelling infrastructure. That’s important for us as a business and we really appreciate that additional level of customer service.”
Explaining how it was his father’s love of flying that led to him starting up his own business Gustavo reveals:
“My father began his flying career in the military. He was an air force pilot and taught new recruits how to fly in gliders – one of his greatest loves.”
After leaving the military, Sebastián started working as a crop duster, which ultimately led to him starting his own crop-dusting company – FAASA.
“He had a fleet of around 16 Piper PA-25 Pawnees, but in the 80s following an economic crisis, farmers began seeking alternative, cheaper techniques so my father moved into the firefighting business using the same fleet of aircraft – for crop dusting in the winter and firefighting in the summer.”
It was during that time that Gustavo moved to Wichita in the US to study engineering. Having completed his studies and now married with a son, he returned to Spain to work for his father, Sebastián.
“By then the company had started to invest in helicopters in addition to its fixed wing fleet. We have slowly grown our helicopter fleet ever since with firefighting becoming the dominant area of our business.” Gustavo is quick to point out however that as a family-run business it was important to keep the crop-dusting side going until the last crop duster had retired. “Despite now employing more than 500 people, we try and maintain that sense of being a family-run business as much as we can. It was important to my father and it’s important to our staff and our business model.”
The business has been growing ever since and now offers an approved training facility to ensure that the next generation of firefighting pilots, engineers, maintenance and operations staff are ready to take over the reins. Seilaf (the training, simulation and research arm of the business) also offers the only firefighting simulator anywhere in the world.
“It enables us to provide pilots with the complete picture including what it’s like to fly in a fire, carrying water and what happens when you deposit the water on a fire.”
Although Sebastian died in 2006, his legacy still lives on within the Pegasus Aero Group.
“He was a larger than life character,” offers Gustavo. “Whether it was a glider, piper pawnee or an F-5, he belonged in the cockpit and seized any opportunity to demonstrate his aerobatics. He was one of a kind and renowned throughout pilot circles. He lived life to the full, right up to the end.”
Although Gustavo doesn’t have his pilot’s licence, he is a pilot of sorts. As a hobby he flies remote controlled planes. “I don’t fly big planes, I fly small ones,” he says laughing. “Every September I organise the Sebastian Almagro memorial in Palma del Rio in honour of my father.”
And when he’s not flying remote-controlled planes, Gustavo is also partial to riding motorbikes. It’s clear the thrill-seeking gene flies high in the Almagro family.
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