Paul Bennet is adept at running his three diverse businesses involving road freight, fibreglass supplies and aviation.
A boat builder and shipwright by trade Paul moved from the Taree area on the New South Wales mid-north coast to Newcastle where a friend was involved in the business which was to eventually become Trojan Fibreglass. Paul ran the business for a while before deciding to purchase it himself.
Trojan Fibreglass manufactures resins and composite materials for fibreglass-based industries such as boats, spas and swimming pools.
Paul extended into the road transport business essentially due to necessity.
Trojan Fibreglass was using a local freight operator but ultimately that company couldn’t keep up with Trojan’s increasing needs, and as much of the freight associated with Trojan Fibreglass is in various categories of Dangerous Goods, it was essential that every piece of licencing was always in place.
“We were virtually pushed into transport because other people didn’t do a great job,” he says. “It was decided we might as well get our own truck so we don’t let the customers down.”
So it began. Paul and one other driver with a rigid pantech. As the fibreglass business grew further a second truck was added, this one a twin-steer to accommodate additional payload to ensure the products were getting to the customers.
“Then we thought we might as well get a semi because we were making too many trips with the rigids,” he says. “At the time we were using other carriers to bring our containers up from Sydney so we might as well do that ourselves, too.”
Initially, a third party carrier was used to pick up Trojan’s containers from the port in Sydney and Trojan would collect them with their own sideloader, returning the empty container to the other carrier’s depot once they were unpacked.
“We thought: ‘what’s the point of getting someone else to get them off the wharf?’ We may as well pick them up ourselves, so we obtained a skel, and then that led to more drivers and more trailers and more trucks,” he recalls.
“We started doing some freight for other people and we ended up with numerous freight forwarders as clients who wanted us to do their freight because they were unhappy with their existing freight providers.”
The Trojan prime mover fleet today consists of two Kenworth K108s and four K200s, with the most recently delivered K200 unit destined for A-double duties. Paul considered a bonneted Kenworth T610 but ultimately stayed with the cab over model due to its abilities when manoeuvring in the tight situations often involved in container operations.
“I’ve always had Kenworth prime movers and all have been bought through the Gilbert and Roach dealership here in Newcastle because I try to do the right thing by local businesses,” he says.
Not unlike other container carriers, Paul has experienced frustration with the situation at the Sydney empty container parks during 2020. As the void between Australian imports and exports widens the build-up of empty containers has led to excessive amounts of time lost in queues, plus often difficult access or re-directions at late notice all of which lead to additional costs.
The third, and most spectacular, division of the Paul Bennet Group is related to aviation. Paul has converted his boyhood obsession with model aeroplanes and flying into a career that has him recognised as a champion stunt pilot internationally, through to putting on airshows throughout Australia and Asia at the controls of one of his 400 horsepower stunt bi-planes or historic ‘warbirds’.
Paul’s father was a non-commercial pilot and after being exposed to flying at a young age Paul’s goal was always to perform aerobatics as he wasn’t necessarily interested in flying from A to B.
After being taught the skills for aerobatics Paul became successful in competition, advancing to the highest grading.
It was a natural progression for him to establish a flying school as well as the Aero Hunter flight experience operation for passengers who want to experience stunt flying or military style aircraft for themselves.
“We set this business up to do airshows and provide the complete package to promoters and aero clubs. I used to just turn up with one aeroplane but now we organise the whole show with a package of up to ten aeroplanes. We handle the paperwork, ticketing, and advertising and promotion.”
Now with 18 aeroplanes at his disposal, Paul also flies custom built stunt aeroplanes and a Wirraway which was built for the Australian military during World War II, and is one of only three left flying in the world. He also flies several ‘warbirds’ for other collectors including a Mustang and a Kittyhawk with their raucous V12 engines.
“They’re sort of heavy but have plenty of power and a pretty cool sound and can be more fun than driving a Kenworth. It always changes when a hobby turns into a job, but I still get a thrill flying and I’ve been missing it a bit lately and am looking forward to the Hunter Valley Airshow next March,” he says.
The absence of domestic and international airshows due to the COVID situation during 2020 has led to Paul having the time to concentrate on the road freight operation, culminating in the introduction of an A-double combination expressly for the Sydney Port – Newcastle route.
The approval process was set in motion a year previously and Paul says it was relatively straight forward as other carriers had already gone through the necessary steps.
“While we’ve had this year in turmoil it’s been good to get the A-double project rolling along. The A-double obviously brings with it a degree of flexibility and its weight capability of 85 tonnes against the 64 tonnes with a B-double will suit the high number of heavy containers we move. The only downside of an A-double is they are hard to back in and you can’t just go wherever you want. With a B-double there are many approved routes these days and you can almost go anywhere you want and drop a trailer and go back out to do another delivery and come back. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Trojan Freight transports quite a few containers into the Gosford area which usually involves uncoupling trailers before each delivery.
Its services include dangerous goods warehousing, unpacking containers for local customers and then distributing the clients’ freight items to various locations. Trojan’s expertise in packing and transporting aircraft both within Australia and overseas has become recognised and has shown potential for further growth.
All trucks and trailers are Dangerous Goods licenced, as are the drivers. A selection of sideloaders, skels, drop decks, flat tops and curtainsiders are available including for over-dimension jobs. Wharf and container work can be hard on trailers so inspection and maintenance is paramount in ensuring reliability and safety.
Paul applies similar standards of ensuring compliance to his transport operations as he does to his aviation equipment and the trucks are audited every couple of weeks to make sure everything still complies.
“It’s a matter of reading the legislation and making sure we comply. We have to be diligent on the factory side as well where everything has to be DG approved, plus we hold an EPA licence,” he explains. “None of it is easy but it all works together.”
Once airshow activity returns Paul will probably phase himself out of driving but is likely to continue to drive one or two trips a week.
“I’ll probably do a few loads in the A-double and make sure everything is right and then I’ll hand that over to one of our drivers,” he says.
The ‘Trojan’ name associated with Paul’s businesses including the road transport division was influenced by the T28 Trojan aeroplane which Paul coveted in his early years and was eventually able to add one to his fleet.
While most people would be satisfied with a successful involvement in one niche industry, Paul Bennet continues to prove that three diverse, yet surprisingly complementary operations can be pursued as well.