Navigating new horizons: Richard Thompson’s 30 years of shaping Radiola

From humble beginnings as an avionics engineer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, through to Executive Director of Radiola and head of its Aerospace division, it’s fair to say Richard Thompson has aviation in his blood.

It was during his time in the Air Force that Richard discovered that the flying side of aviation was his real passion. He retrained in the air electronics field and became a member of 5 Squadron operating the Orion aircraft.

After leaving the Air Force Richard joined Radiola in 1993, originally in a sales support role.

One year in and his background in aviation was called upon to head up a contract for the New Zealand Airforce installing instrument landing systems at RNZAF Whenuapai and Ohakea.

After completing the contract Richard pitched the idea to grow the navigation side of the business to then Managing Director, Brent Albiston.

Even back then, before she joined the company, Richard’s wife Carole was helping to drive this international expansion. The year was 1995 and Richard and Carole had spotted a gap in the market to maintain, inspect and certify systems – it was time to talk about flight inspection and make Carole’s role more official, 28 years later and she’s now Manager Flight Inspection Services.

At that time flight inspection services for New Zealand were coming from Australia – a costly exercise. Radiola was able to ease the financial burden by doing all the preparation work for RNZAF air bases in Ohakea and Whenuapai making it a much simpler process for the final inspections. It made sense to become civil certified through the CAA opening the door to expand into the Pacific.

For Richard expanding internationally wasn’t really a conscious decision it was more about being prepared to go anywhere. And anywhere is where Radiola has excelled, working all over the world in some of the most remote and challenging environments.

A business case for the Pacific Islands soon followed and although that didn’t pan out it was the springboard for expansion into many other countries (first Fiji and then Vanuatu) with the company now operating in 70 countries around the world.

It was at this stage that the company pioneered portable deployable solutions. “It was the only way to grow the business,” says Richard.

Subcontracting aircraft wherever they go and taking the portable systems with them means the company is agile and has the kind of reach others can only dream of.

Richard says the secret to success is protecting and nurturing existing clients and being prepared to go anywhere – current emerging markets in Africa are providing exciting opportunities for the company.

“The countries and cultures we work with are all really different and I never cease to be amazed at how neat the people we work with are.

“We specialise in working with developing and emerging countries and I often talk to the team about the immense satisfaction of working in a hard environment where we are tested physically and mentally. The sense of achievement at the end of a job is just really nice.”

Richard says Radiola customers love working with a team from little old New Zealand. “We get what it’s like to be a little country and the challenges that poses in the aviation world. We are a resourceful bunch who just like to get on with the job and get great results – it’s pretty simple really!”