Q&A with Paradise Helicopters Charter Pilot, Justin Haley:
Where are you from?
I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I lived there until I was 12 years old then I moved to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere by the name of Young, Arizona. It was a town of only 900 people and it was 2 hours from anything, including grocery stores and medical care. I spent time working on a large cattle ranch and I loved it! I later moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho when I was 16.
How did you end up in Hawai’i?
I was working at the Grand Canyon South Rim, and I was also a new father to a young boy and had a second boy on the way. We lived in the mountains near Flagstaff, Arizona at an elevation of 7300 feet. I took a job working in Central Western Africa doing search and rescue work. It caused me to have to be away from home a lot and my wife said she didn’t want to have to shovel 4 feet of snow anymore, so we packed our bags and flew to Kona. 7 days later we bought the tiniest home we could find in Kona and moved our family here. It’s been one of the best choices we have ever made.
Why did you become a pilot?
Flight Simulator for Windows 95! When I was a kid, my friend and I would fly airplanes on the flight simulator for hours. We were extremely competitive and would try to outperform each other on all the different maneuvers. I later fell in love with helicopters when I learned about how helicopters didn’t simply fall out of the sky if something happened to the engine, but instead had the capability to autorotate and land in places that airplanes could not.
What’s your background in flight experience? Where did you get the bulk of your hours?
I joined the United States Army in 2005 right after I turned 21 years old to become a helicopter mechanic on the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. I was sent to South Korea where I worked on aircraft and also flew as a crewmember in the back seats. I went to flight school shortly after becoming a mechanic and ultimately ended up as a Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) Pilot, and a Maintenance Pilot for the remainder of my military career. I flew all over the United States doing training and was deployed to Iraq, and Afghanistan while in the military.
After the military, I went to the Grand Canyon to work as a Maintenance Pilot. Essentially my job was to fly aircraft after they went through maintenance work and make sure it was safe for passengers.
After the Grand Canyon, I took a civilian job working for a company as a search and rescue/MEDEVAC pilot in Central Western Africa, and in Afghanistan flying other civilian contractors around from base to base. AFter doing that for 5 years, my family and I wanted me to be home more since our kids were getting older. I left the contracting world and found my place within the Paradise Helicopters family! It’s been a wonderful journey working here!
What is your favorite tour to fly and why?
All of them! Honestly, It really depends on the guest and how they are responding. I love making someone’s day! It’s more about what the guest wants to get out of it and how they react to the tour. Some guests are blown away from all the volcanic activity on the south side of the island and other guests really love the valleys and the waterfalls.
What’s your favorite place to eat on the Big Island?
Chillin on the Bay in Kona is one of my favorites. It’s not fancy, but I really like the vibe! I used to live 3 minute walk from it. It sits right on Kailua Bay and they have these little cheap pork tacos that are made and ready to eat within minutes of arriving. They also serve one of my favorite beers (Lavaman) that I often can’t find at other restaurants. I used to walk out my front door, have lunch and be back home in 20 minutes or so.
Is there a flight you’ve done that sticks out to you as a favorite?
I have many favorite flights, but the one that recently comes to mind is a flight I did the day after mothers day this year. I had 7 ladies show up to do a private charter. I found out throughout the day that it was a mother, her three daughters, and each of their daughters. The mother had recently lost her husband and the daughters took her on a trip to Hawaii for mothers day. The group was so fun, kind, and loving. The grandmother was so raw and full of life and really made my day special even though it was me who was trying to make hers special.