From cricket to flying to CEO – there’s no stopping the wings on Boeta Dippenaar

On the first birthday of the intensive care medical service, Rocket HEMS, Henley Air announced it’s new CEO, Boeta Dippenaar.

Boeta Dippenaar, chief pilot of Henley Air, as well as Rocket HEMS, will now move into the formal role of chief executive officer of this fast-growing aeronautical company in South Africa.

Staying calm in stressful situations, studying hard, perseverance and a belief in a bigger purpose, are just some of the attributes which catapulted him from the cricket field into an executive role.  

The company lives by the values of excellence, reliability, safety, care and  sustainability.

“Specifically with Rocket HEMS, I want to focus on human interaction, which is so important in our line of work. Life is precious and your health is your biggest asset. We flew an injured patient out of De Aar recently. Tom Watson, one of our paramedics, is very good with human interaction. He saw how worried the mom was. He told the one paramedic to continue treatment of the daughter, took the mother’s number and he kept her updated the whole flight. On landing in Vereeniging, he video-called her so that she could see her daughter. That is unheard of. Those are elements we want to bring home.”

Rocket HEMS is a first world intensive care medical service, operating in a third world country. With five “Air wolf” helicopters (Bell 222), three more Bell 230’s waiting in the wings to be converted to air ambulances and a crew of more than 25, the Rocket HEMS air ambulance service is now, after only one year, a forceful instrument to help save lives.

Boeta says this rapid on call emergency transport (Rocket) service relied on “faith” and a “firm belief in our own crew and resources” when it first lifted off in the middle of a hard lockdown in South Africa one year ago.

This approach seemed to work. One year later, Rocket HEMS has established itself as a big player, providing first world health care in a third world environment – and even navigated the Covid-pandemic by retaining and empowering all their staff members.

“Ignorance is sometimes a blessing,” laughs Boeta, when asked about all the technical hoops they had to jump through before they could take to the sky.

He was the first pilot to fly the Rocket helicopter a year ago and says one of the ingredients for success is the company’s commitment to support their staff and crew. “To take ownership of their talents and unlock their full potential for the benefit of the country, the company, their families and themselves. It’s actually quite amazing.

“I am very excited and look forward to the future. I am in awe of the shoes I have to fill but I will continue to build on a completely amazing platform.”

He refers to André Coetzee, the executive chairman of the Henley Air Group of companies. Coetzee laughs when asked about the “big shoes” Boeta has to fill but admits humbly that yes, he does have a PHD in aviation management, an MBA, is a professional engineer, a pilot with more than 15 000 flying hours, an aircraft maintenance engineer, a designated flight examiner for CAA and holds a B.Eng. Mechanical. As if that’s not enough to scare any businessman following in his footsteps, he is also a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in England.

Coetzee says he thought of the name Rocket (rapid on call emergency transport) in the shower. “It has a nice ring to it. We conceived the idea of our own air ambulance in 2011 but never gained the traction we envisaged – and required – to make it come to fruition.”

The company lost a major HEMS contract in 2019/2020, so they had to rely on adversity and faith to launch an air ambulance service slap-bang in the middle of lockdown.

“The Covid pandemic has been particularly difficult to navigate, and posed serious operational and logistical challenges to the new system. It has also forced us to think differently with regards to suitable funding models and actually putting the patient first through all our endeavours,” says André.

He now wants to focus on other avenues. “I have been abundantly blessed with opportunities throughout my entire life. The aviation industry has been good to me and I hence feel that I owe the system. The constant integration of the various facets within the aviation and medical sphere is demanding and seemingly perpetual. I have a very hands-on approach and have been involved with this since 1995. The team around me is exceptionally strong and knowledgeable, which makes the world of difference.”

And Boeta? “Stress is not always negative,” he laughs. “If you focus on the task at hand, the stress can be harnessed and used as a motivating factor to successfully complete the mission.”

And that’s exactly what he is going to do. 

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