7 July 2019
Brisbane, AUSTRALIA: An icon of Brisbane Tongan aviation has come to an end with the closure of Gil Layt’s Flying School after 44 years of operation.
Gil Layt’s Flying School first opened its doors at Archerfield Aerodrome on Brisbane’s southside on 24 March 1975 and quickly became a booming centre for future pilots from throughout Queensland as well as the Asia Pacific.
Owned by Australian residents Gil and Susan Layt, the business has a celebrated legacy of training pilots from Japan, New Zealand, Macau, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
The Kingdom of Tonga was added to the mix when the Government of Tonga and the Australian Government signed an agreement for the training of the world’s first Tongan pilots for the Kingdom’s national carrier, Friendly Island Airways, which had been newly branded as Royal Tongan Airlines after its inauguration in 1986.
In 1992 through the Australian Government’s Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB) three Tongans were selected to travel to Brisbane, Australia to undertake training as commercial pilots at Gil Layt’s Flying School.
“We were thrilled to welcome the Tongans and did not know whether there were many Tongans in Brisbane back then until we looked up the phone book to find the Tongan Uniting Church at Highgate Hill and gave the Church Minister a call,” owner/operator Gil Layt said.
Mr Sione Tokotaha, Mr Soane Kolo and Miss Luseane Fetuani successfully completed their training and were awarded their wings in 1993. Luseane was the first female Tongan pilot and all pilots undertook work with Royal Tongan Airlines’ domestic network upon their return to the Kingdom.
“Over the years we had many different nationalities through the doors, including a range of Pacific Islanders and other Tongans,” Gil added.
Brisbane Tongan Community Treasurer, Mele Ngauamo, said, “we remember the pilots very well as it was so new and exciting at the time to think we would have our own people flying our aircraft back home.”
The choice to close down did not come easy for 75 year old Gil Layt and his wife, who are both suffering from ill health. A farewell party was held at their premises on Saturday, 29 June 2019.
When asked about plans to launch a Brisbane to Tonga direct flight, Gil said, “That’s fantastic if the local Tongan airline can re-establish international flights and that it would surely help Tonga’s tourism sector.”
Gil and Susan Layt are the parents of Tongan-Australian media personality, Sulieni Layt, who was the emcee for the 2019 Miss Heilala Pageant and the Fakaivia e talēniti ‘o e Tonga grand final on TV Tonga.
Gil and Susan have links to Tonga through the Tu‘akoi family of ‘Eua and their daughter-in- law, Toakase Layt (nee Finau) of Tofoa, Tongatapu and Foa, Ha‘apai.
At the time of its closure on 30 June 2019, Gil Layt’s Flying School was the longest running pilot training school at Archerfield Aerodrome and a well-recognised icon amongst the Brisbane Tongan Community.
The Brisbane Tongan Community wishes Gil and Susan all the best for their retirement and acknowledges their contribution and legacy to the Pacific and Tongan aviation industries.
Media Contact: Lehua Fā‘onevai via email on email@example.com or mobile on +61(0) 0473 935 414.