Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer - Michael Kendrick
Mike’s roots are in marketing and PR which is where he discovered the power of aerial advertising. This led him to form Lighter Than Air Ltd. where he produced numerous TV programs on a local, national and international level to commercialise the potential of hot air balloons and airships.
In 1988, in partnership with Sir Richard Branson, Mike formed the Virgin Airship and Balloon Company. VABC would quickly grow to become the world’s largest aerial advertising agency, operating over 70 aircraft in 30 countries, for blue-chip clients like Goodyear, Budweiser, Met Life and Sanyo.
As Project Director for all of Sir Richard’s high-profile world record attempts, Mike was responsible for flight operations, safety, technical assessment and media management. He was also a director and founding shareholder of several other Virgin companies including Virgin Projects, Vintage Airlines, and Virgin Blockbuster.
In 1999, Mike founded The Mineseeker Foundation to raise awareness for landmine victims and to seek technological solutions for clearing mines. He personally recruited eminent patrons including Nelson Mandela, Queen Noor of Jordan, Sir Richard Branson, and Lord Attenborough.
Mike has held a commercial pilot’s license and several aviation world records.
Mike has recently been inducted as a Living Legend of Aviation.
Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer - Mark Dorey
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Mark is an experienced commercial director. He has held senior international positions at a variety of service industry companies including PepsiCo and trained as a Chartered Accountant with Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers).
On leaving PepsiCo he joined the Virgin Group, where he worked with Mike Kendrick for almost 10 years in the aerial advertising and marketing services division.
As COO of The Lightship Group, he also managed the largest fleet of commercial airships ever operated with responsibility for business strategy and planning.
He negotiated numerous of multi-million dollar service contracts with blue-chip clients like Goodyear and Sanyo and established businesses in Brazil, Singapore, South Africa, Asia and the USA.
He was also responsible for corporate structuring, mergers, acquisitions and partnerships.
Mark held the position as Responsible Officer in respect of the Civil Aviation Authority for UK operations and was also a director of the Virgin Airship and Balloon Company and Richard Branson’s round the world balloon attempt.
Subsequently, Mark acted as Managing Director of a number of companies in media, marketing and events sectors before joining up with Mike again as a shareholder and director of Mineseeker before co-founding Straightline Aviation.
Director of Flight Operations - James Dexter
Jim Dexter is an extremely experienced lighter than air commercial operations executive having held senior positions with all the major airship operating companies over an aviation career spanning 30 years.
A highly qualified pilot, he has been licensed by the FAA, CAA and LBA, and has a total of over 12,000 hours, including 500 as test pilot on several airship development programs.
Jim was recruited by The Virgin Group as Director of Operations of its US-based subsidiary, The Lightship Group, and was instrumental in obtaining a FAA Part 135 Operating Certificate, the first and only ever issued to an airship operator in the United States. During this time he also obtained operating certificates in the UK, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Jim has written several operations manuals for airship operations and was a member of the FAA Rule Making Committee from 2000-03. He has also set up training programs and audit and inspection programs for airship operations ensuring the highest levels of operational safety.
From 2011 Jim worked as Engineering Test Pilot for Northrop Grumman and was Co-pilot on the LEMV hybrid aircraft flight for the US Army
Director of Flight Planning - Kevin Stass
Kevin’s 40 year career in airline Flight Operations started in 1976 when he joined Dan-Air after leaving college. He worked his way up to run the Route Planning Department.
During his time at Dan-Air he gained a private pilot’s licence to fly hot air balloons.
After Dan-Air’s, he joined Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1993 and soon took over the management of the Flight Technical Services department, which he ran for over 20 years. It was shortly after this that he was invited to a meeting with Sir Richard Branson to discuss the planning of his forthcoming round-the-world balloon attempt. He joined the operational team for these flights, directed by Mike Kendrick.
Kevin was subsequently asked to join the operational team for Steve Fossett’s solo round-the-world balloon attempts culminating in the first successful solo circumnavigation of the earth in 2002.
In 2005 & 2006, Kevin was the Mission Control Director for both of Steve Fossett’s first solo piloted aircraft circumnavigation of the earth and the longest solo piloted aircraft flight in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer.
Kevin has also worked with the British adventurer Sir David Hempleman-Adams on his transatlantic balloon flights.
He was awarded The Royal Aero Club Bronze Medal in 2005 and The Royal Institute of Navigation Certificate of Achievement in 2006.
Director of Logistics and Operational Support - Ron Hyde
Ron has over 35 years of experience in managing logistics throughout Alaska and the Pacific Rim.
In 2002, Ron founded PRL Logistics, Inc. PRL specializes in “the last tactical mile” providing comprehensive support for extremely complicated, remote projects with limited infrastructure. Ron led his team to support all concepts of remote sustainment, workforce logistics and training, and material logistics on major projects in Oil & Gas, Mining, U.S. Defence Projects, and Government Programs. This work included comprehensive project logistics feasibility studies, concept of operations, modelling, optimization strategies and execution plans designed by PRL.
Ron has extensive experience coordinating and implementing complex logistical projects at over 800 sites throughout Alaska and the Pacific Rim in extreme arctic, sub-arctic, and maritime conditions.
His background in logistics includes extensive knowledge in remote and urban transportation planning, procuring, risk management, insurance and managing the following: marine operations, air support, overland transportation, turnkey remote camp design, construction, operation and maintenance, radio and satellite communication, remote medical evacuation and safety and management of waste material transportation and disposal operations.
He has won numerous awards for his successful project execution and management including: Joseph Jacobs Master Builder Award - Jacobs Engineering, U.S. Vice President Al Gore Hammer Award – Aleutians Project/TERC the United States Corps of Engineers (USCOE) Commanders Award, Alaska Oil & Gas Association’s Contractor of the Year for Safety Performance, Outstanding Individual in Oil & Gas, and Outstanding Small Business of the Year.
CEO of MENA Region - Abdulrahman Alissa
Abdulrahman Alissa is the founder and managing director of Alpha United Company. In addition to his executive role at Alpha United Co., he serves on the board of a number of companies including SAFCORP Holdings, Shuwaikh National and Abu Halifa Real Estate and acts as an investment advisor to many of his family-owned businesses, with significant business interests across the MENA region.
Prior to this role Abdulrahman was a vice president at Wafra Investment Advisory Group in their Kuwait office, during which time he directed their client relations in the MENA region.
Abdulrahman started his career with Wafra’s sponsored investment and management training program in New York before taking on a role with their real estate division. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from San Diego State University.
Managing Director Asia Pacific - Francis Chiew
Francis is an experienced senior executive with more than 23 years of international experience in business development and operations management for both medium sized businesses and multi-national corporations in the Asia Pacific Region. With a proven track record successfully leading the launch of new technologies and developing operational, sales and marketing strategies resulting in positive profitable growth across the region.
Francis was at the forefront of airship development in the Asia-Pacific region, spearheading the launch of airship operations in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Australia, Malaysia and Japan.
He led, negotiated and launched China’s first aviation advertising company for aerial advertising programs and was responsible for negotiating significant contracts with blue-chip customers and multinational clients such as ANZ Bank, Volkswagen, Metlife, Vodafone, Starhub, and Djarum.
Prior to joining Virgin, Francis held senior positions as General Manager with Thakral Corporation in China and subsequently as a regional Director of the Volkswagen Group.
He has an MBA from Rutgers Business School and speaks English, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin and Hokkien.
VP Corporate Development and Business Planning - Laurence Kalinsky
Having started his career as a financial analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Laurence is a senior operating executive with over 18 years of domestic and international development and operations experience, he has advised both start-up and public companies on revenue and cost maximization strategies, with deep experience across multiple disciplines.
Prior to joining Straightline he was founder of several successful start-ups including Unicourt Inc., was a partner in technology incubator Radial Function, LLC and was also the MD & VP of Business Development and Strategy for WPT Enterprises, Inc., a NASDAQ US publicly traded entity.
In addition to his role with Straightline Laurence serves as a guest Instructor for the Department of Defence Transition Assistance Boots To Business Program, for the Institute of Veteran Military Families (IVMF) lecturing around the world on best practices in business and entrepreneurship.
He has also served as a visiting professor for the Academy of Business Leadership, a non-profit organization training high potential, low opportunity inner city students in Los Angeles, for which he received California State Commendations for outstanding community service.
Laurence currently works out of the Los Angeles office and his role is to support Executive Management with operations and business planning.
Laurence received his MBA Cum Laude from The University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
Co-Founder and President Straightline USA - David M. Tait OBE
David worked for the Thomson/Britannia group in Spain, Cyprus and Greece before moving to Toronto in 1975 to join charter airline WardAir.
He was recruited by Sir Freddie Laker as General Manager for Laker Airways Canada, then in 1979 Tait moved to Miami as VP, Marketing for the carrier’s revolutionary transatlantic ‘SkyTrain’ service.
Following Laker’s demise in 1982, Tait joined a Miami-based aviation consulting firm and, having been referred by Sir Freddie, it was there that he wrote the business plan for what would become Virgin Atlantic Airways.
In 1984, Tait moved to New York City to become Virgin Atlantic’s first US employee and as Executive Director and Executive Vice President, reporting to chairman Sir Richard Branson, Tait led every aspect of the airline’s North American operation, building it from scratch to a multi-billion-dollar company.
In 2001 at Buckingham Palace, David’s achievements were recognised when he was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of The British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to British aviation in the United States”.
Tait left Virgin in 2002 to serve as CEO for Avocet Aircraft and Spitfire Aviation Partners before returning to Canada as SVP Customer Service, for Air Canada.
In 2008 Tait returned to the US to form Consultait, a consulting firm focused on brand building, marketing and customer service for a variety of international clients. David joined the board of Straightline Aviation as a founder Director.
Director of Innovation - Chuck Foster
Chuck has been a pioneer of LTA aviation for over 30 years and has owned and operated several passenger carrying services from Napa Valley in California. He sold the business in 2000. His company was declared ‘The ultimate California experience’ by the New York Times.
He was also one of the early influencers in the development of thermal airships and worked with such major brands as Budweiser, Virgin and Westinghouse. He is a commercially rated LTA pilot with more than 10,000 hours.
Chuck was Project Director of a Japanese attempt to cross the Pacific Ocean when Mike Kendrick recruited him for two of the most technically challenging and high profile aviation record attempts: Sir Richard Branson’s flight across the Pacific and a circumnavigation of the earth by balloon.
Kendrick publicly stated that Chuck Foster was a major influence in the Virgin/Branson world record flight successes. Chuck built the projects’ command centres and was Strategic Planning Director and Launch Master for Sir Richard’s Global Flight Challenge. His appreciation of technical, logistics, safety and planning requirements produces intuitive and outside of the box thinking, offering a refreshing approach to aviation and solutions synonymous with leading edge and groundbreaking aircraft and special projects. He got involved with Straightline Aviation at its formation and attended the initial meetings with Lockheed Martin.
Foster has been awarded and successfully monetized several patents, chiefly in the financial transactions field and is also an accomplished database developer and equally expert at business logistics and sequencing.
When it comes to aviation Foster takes the position; “We never guess.”
Chairman - Brian D. Kessler
Brian Kessler is a prolific inventor who applied for his first patent while in high school and has since designed and developed more than 2,600 products.
He is also a successful venture investor and serial entrepreneur.
Brian has a strong 30-year history in global manufacturing and worldwide logistics and transportation.
As Founder and President of Maui Toys, from 1988 to 2014 Brian sold and distributed more than 210 million units with a value of over $1.5 billion. During this time he created, developed and manufactured patented consumer goods, overseeing and managing 8 manufacturing facilities. He was also responsible for a global supply chain serving over 60,000 retail outlets in 60 countries, managing a global sourcing and distribution model moving goods and freight worldwide.
Subsequently, Brian established SBL Venture Capital taking on the role as Chief Executive Officer and Senior Investment Partner, making investments focused on the transportation, consumer products as well as the health and well-being markets.
Since 2012 Brian Kessler has been active in the hybrid airships industry. Initially becoming one of the original key investors in Hybrid Air Vehicles, the owners of the first full scale flying hybrid airship, this led him to Straightline Aviation where as Non-Executive Chairman he has helped in guiding the company through each stage of its development.
Senior Business Advisor - Dr Michael Gray OBE
Dr Michael Gray is a partner of Straightline Aviation plus several companies in Indonesia and Great Britain. As a chemical engineer, Mike has held senior positions globally in Aerospace, Defence, Power Generation, Oil & Gas, Marine and chemical sectors for major companies including Rolls-Royce, Simon Engineering and Dunlop.
His wide experience covers international markets, leading-edge technology, education and contracting. These span all continents, including Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and North America with a focus on the application of technology, front-end project development, strategic planning, formulation of marketing & business plans, project execution and delivery of stakeholder expectation. Projects include airlift for civil and defence aerospace requiring reliable decentralised aircraft operations.
Following the 2004 Tsunami, Mike was actively engaged in providing disaster relief and rehabilitation of Aceh, Indonesia after, for which he received an honour from HRM Queen Elizabeth II.