By Susan E. Campbell
Adventurous young women often make their dreams take flight by starting their own businesses. For Heather Howley, taking flight literally means putting a 1,500-pound helicopter into the air every day.
Howley is chief pilot and CEO of Independent Helicopters, a flight services company she founded in 2008 at age 25.
Originally from Niskayuna and educated at Hudson Valley Community College, Howley was in California working in her field of study, biology, when she decided to follow up on a new-found interest in flying that unfolded while traveling through Europe.
She took a flying course at a community college in San Diego, where her female instructor and mentor suggested piloting helicopters rather than planes “because the industry is more stable than the airlines.”
But it was a free ride for the helicopter students that changed her life.
“I was hooked,” Howley said.
Only 20 months later, she was a certified helicopter flight instructor accepting a position at a flight services company in Newburgh, N.Y. About 14 months later, she had one leased helicopter and a brand new business in that city.
Independent Helicopters offers flight training, tours, transportation, aerial photography, and utility and transportation inspections. It is a male-dominated field, but "no" is not in Heather Howley's vocabulary.
By year six in business, she had acquired eight helicopters and a second location at the Saratoga County Airport. The decision to set up in Saratoga was both a return to her home territory and "a good fit for my business model." Now it feels like home, she said.
Howley said entrepreneurship takes "persistence and resilience" because it can be a struggle when resistance comes from the very ones looked to for approval. However, she did get support and continues to be encouraged by family and friends. She was encouraged to hire a business coach by a man who worked for Saratoga's Veterans Bureau.
Entrepreneurs start a business for a wide range of reasons. Howley said she is motivated by a passion for flying and the desire "to introduce more people to aviation and inspire them."
She wants the community to know her company cares about them, she said.
"My goal is to take on a nurturing, neighborly organization and do outreach," she said. "We focus on three charity events right now."
These three are Pilots for Leukemia and Lymphoma, veterans organizations and the Marius Ivasvu Aviation Foundation. Mr. Ivascu was Howley's late husband and the foundation she set up in his name offers scholarships to individuals age 17 to 33 with a passion for aviation flight or maintenance.
For information about rides, flight training and other services, as well as upcoming events like Helicopter Paintball, visit www.independenthelicopters.com.