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Tributes to Thanet businessman Ken Wills who founded Heli Charter and Summit Aviation in Manston.

By Mary Graham

A pilot and businessman who did much to ensure Thanet’s economy also flew high is being remembered after he died last week.

Ken Wills, 63, died after a long battle with cancer.

He was involved in setting up and running many of the Isle’s companies, which employed hundreds, with his specialist areas ranging from aviation, construction, property and a radio station and had many friends across the area.

Ken Wills who died on October 19.
Ken Wills who died on October 19.

He believed in Manston’s successful prospects as an aviation hub and invested over £5m in to a purpose designed and built facility ‘Summit Aviation’ adjacent to the former airport.

He also set up Heli Charter in Manston, which offers helicopter maintenance and sales and chartered flights.

Many of his workforce also said he would go the extra mile for them and recalled he hoped to see people progress in their careers.

He was always a staunch supporter of 'local employment', often citing the words "work for me for one year, work for me for life", and was proud to produce quality employment and training positions. Many of his staff had been on his pay roll for more than 30 years.

Mr Wills held a flying licence for more than 30 years and his experience ranged from a Boeing 707 to a Bell 429 Helicopter.

He also turned his hand to property and established Thanet Local Radio (TLR) which later became kmfm for Thanet.

Ken Wills, far left, pictured at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Heli Charter when the firm opened the UK's first purpose-built helicopter showroom and maintenance facility.
Ken Wills, far left, pictured at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Heli Charter when the firm opened the UK's first purpose-built helicopter showroom and maintenance facility.

Aside from business Mr Wills also played a key role with charities and is the life president of the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Trust and was a former chairman of the Cancer Care Appeal Events.

He also ensured Thanet’s young people would be equipped with the skills needed for working life by forging a partnership with Thanet College (now East Kent College) in 1995 to run a course for young engineers. Mr Wills, a chartered engineer, recognised many youngsters struggled with timekeeping, working to a target and general reliability.

A new course gave trainees an allowance and the majority passed and began new jobs.

A tribute from the Spitfire Museum recalled how the businessman had helped the site secure freehold status which allowed trustees to take control of its future.

“Though he was only with us for a short time, he certainly made a big impression and a significant difference to what we do,” it read.

“Ken was also a very successful, self-made, Thanet based businessman.

“Above all though, Ken was a generous, kind, thoughtful and understanding manager and friend and will be sorely missed by all the trustees, staff and volunteers at the RAF Manston Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum.”

David Foley, Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce CEO said "Workers, residents, employers and many families across the whole of East Kent have every reason to be grateful to Ken Wills. A veritable star of international trade, Ken will also be remembered for his extensive charity work at home and abroad as well as his good humour and kindness to those closest to him."

Mr Wills also featured in 'Kent's Power List' in 2015, a definitive guide of the 40 most influential business people in Kent. It recognised the decision-makers whose actions have made a big impact across the county and beyond.

Mr Wills, from Broadstairs, leaves wife Julie and four children.

Lt Col (Retd) Roger Latchford OBE, said: "In the 20 years I have known Ken he was always at the forefront of doing good work for the people of Thanet. He was always heavily involved in charitable work, even when I first worked with him as the chairman of a fundraising Committee; to raise a million pounds for a cancer Care Unit in the QEQM. Ken was passionate about Aviation and saving Manston as an airport and so much more, a dear friend and a great loss to Thanet."

Heli Charter is based in Manston
Heli Charter is based in Manston

Charlie Elphicke, Dover and Deal MP added: “Ken was a real visionary who worked so hard to deliver for East Kent. He had real ambition for our area. We could do with more people like him with the energy and enthusiasm to change lives and our community for the better.

"His passing is a great loss to us all and he will be greatly missed”.

A Funeral service will be held at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate on Thursday November 2 at 2pm.

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