Highly skilled and qualified team

Led by Kestrel founder and Managing Director, Captain Ray Cronin, Kestrel’s team comprises a number of Australia’s most highly skilled and qualified aviators. Their backgrounds include charter and executive transport, airline operations, emergency medical services, search and rescue, offshore and military service.

Captain Ray Cronin

Founder and Managing Director/Chief Flying Instructor (Helicopters)

Captain Cronin is one of Australia’s most experienced helicopter pilots and instructors. He also has extensive experience in the general aviation industry and has logged over 10,000 flying hours throughout his 42-year career. He holds the record of being the countries longest continuous serving helicopter Chief Pilots and helicopter Chief Flying Instructors in Australia.

Captain Cronin has had first hand involvement in pilot training syllabus development to all licence and rating levels and has been an adviser to the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) on safety and training issues. The instructor and check and training pilot refresher courses initiated and presented by Captain Cronin have received recognition from CASA for consistently producing above average results in pilot licence training.

Captain Cronin is a delegated Flight Testing Officer (1986-Current) for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia. In this role he has flight testing approval for all flight crew licences and rating for both aeroplanes and helicopters. He currently holds the highest qualification available in Australia for CASA.

Captain Cronin also holds a diploma in Air Traffic Services, achieved through his services to the CASA in the late seventies.

Captain Cronin’s flying experience ranges from flying single piston engine helicopters and aeroplanes through to multi engine instrument flying in both jet aeroplanes and helicopters.

As Managing Director and founding owner Captain Cronin has lead Kestrel on a sustainable development path to today being on of Australia’s most capable helicopter firefighting companies with a record of continuous innovation and leadership in the field.  With over 27 years of contracted service to both National and State agencies Kestrel holds a privileged position in the industry.  In January 2018 Kestrel Aviation became the first Australian owned helicopter company to obtain night firebombing trials approval in co-operation with CASA which moved to live fire in March 2018 in conjunction with Emergency Management Victoria and the Country Fire Authority.   The successful outcome of these trials has now reached full maturity with Kestrel holding an unrestricted night firebombing approval from CASA.

Service to Industry:

  • Foundation member of Aviation Safety Foundation of Australia (ASFA)
  • Helicopter representative for “Flight Training Panel” (Appointed by CASA-CEO)
  • Industry consultant for development of the new ‘Helicopter flight training syllabus’
  • Industry consultant for helicopter flight test standards CASA
  • Industry representative for the development of the ‘Flight Testing Office’ CASA
  • Developed the ‘Helicopter flight instructor’s manual’ in conjunction with CASA
  • Initiated, produced and presented two Chief Flying Instructors conferences funded by CASA
  • Served in numerous other safety committees
  • Developed and produced an aviation standard for Western Mining
  • Developed and produced an aviation standard for cattle stations operated by BHP Billiton
  • Filmed by ‘ABC’ in a 30 minute documentary about Kestrel’s extraordinary training programs
  • Australian Helicopter Industry Association (AHIA) Vice President
  • Flight Crew Licensing Sub-committee as the AHIA industry representative
  • Part 61 taskforce member representing the helicopter industry

Justin Charlesworth

General Manager

Justin joined Kestrel in June 2020, bringing management experience developed from a career in the international maritime, emergency response and Defence sectors. With tertiary qualifications in commerce, management, supply chain, training and operations, combined with experience of being an aerial asset user from projects he has been involved in, he is well versed in the strategic requirements of the business in supporting its customers’ needs.

As General Manager, Justin is responsible for the overall leadership, reputation, safe operation and financial management of the business, and is accountable to the Directors. He leads the high-performing Kestrel team of highly skilled aviation and operations professionals delivering outstanding services to both corporate and government clients which impact the safety of the Australian landscape and community.

Captain David Sewell

Chief Pilot/Lead Fire Pilot/Grade Two Instructor


Captain Sewell joined Kestrel in 2007, bringing 25 years of aviation industry experience and 6000 hours of helicopter time, including 4000 hours of multi engine rotary.

As Kestrel’s lead fire pilot, Captain Sewell has led major rural firefighting campaigns in Victoria, NSW and ACT, including Victoria’s notorious Black Saturday fires, and a number of urban firefighting campaigns in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. He also has spent time firefighting in Canada, flying Bell 212’s in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, and in PNG.

Before joining Kestrel, Captain Sewell was Chief Pilot for Helicopters Victoria, owned by the Grollo family, for fourteen years. In that role he operated three aircraft predominately in the alpine regions of Victoria and NSW and was involved in multiple search and rescue missions in Victoria, including being awarded the US Coast Guard award for participating in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race rescues. He also managed offshore support to ship, fixed and floating platforms in Bass Strait.

Captain Sewell’s qualifications include:

  • Air Transport Helicopter Pilots license
  • Command Instrument rating with 10 renewals.
  • Helicopter Instructor with Multi Engine Training approval granted in 1995. Approved for ground and flight instruction on the IFR Simulator, Rappel and Winch training (Pilots and Aircrew ), HUET and the ‘in house’ Wire Avoidance Course.
  • Certificates in RMIT – Aircraft Design and Manufacture
  • International Safety Institute – Helicopter Safety Management
  • National Emergency Medal for sustained service during the Victorian Bushfires 2009

Captain Richard Butterworth

Head of Operations (Training)/ Chief Pilot NVIS

Captain Butterworth joined Kestrel in 2017 undertaking the role of Head of Training Operations and senior pilot night vision delegation.

Captain Butterworth’s flying career began in 1996 with the Australian Defence Force as both a pilot and instructor. During this time, he saw service in Bougainville in support of Peace Keeping Operations and was a member of the Joint Incident Response Unit for the Sydney Olympic Games. In 2004 Captain Butterworth joined the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter project as a flight and tactical instructor and was part of the integration and training team supporting the ADF.

In 2009 Captain Butterworth moved to Australian Helicopters as a line pilot in South Australia conducting HEMS, Law Enforcement and Fire Support operations. This role evolved into helicopter type, NVIS and instrument check and training positions, culminating as the Flight Training Manager for Babcock Onshore operations. In 2014, he was the AW139 production acceptance pilot and fleet manager in support of Ambulance Victoria contract operations.

Since joining Kestrel, Captain Butterworth has developed the night firebombing program of which he is project manager and flight lead. In conjunction with EMV and other industry contributors, Kestrel created Australian history in March 2018 by providing the first contracted night aerial firefighting service. Since that time, Kestrel has continued to advance the Australian night fire capability, through the use of early response initial attack and pioneering hover fill operations which is considered an international first.

Captain Butterworth is an experienced flight instructor and examiner across a range of advanced flight regimes, in particular night vision systems, instrument flight and simulation. In addition, he holds a Bachelor Degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Sydney.

Captain Butterworth’s qualifications include:

  • Air Transport Pilot License
  • Instrument Rating with 20+ renewals
  • Flight Instructor – Grade 1
  • Flight Examiner – Instrument flight and NVIS
  • Fight Safety Management and Investigation
  • Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering


Josh Cronin

Chief Engineer  

Josh began his career in Aircraft Maintenance in a GA workshop in Bendigo Victoria before moving to Kestrel in 2006. At Kestrel Josh has gained years of experience maintaining the fleet in the challenging environment of Victoria’s fire flighting campaigns. Josh’s ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking has placed him as the lead innovation/special project designer at Kestrel and has been responsible for the design of the Conair/Kestrel firefighting tank, now standard on our fleet. The tank used by Kestrel and developed by Josh has proven to be superior in effectiveness and reliability than other helicopter systems.

Josh has also been instrumental in the development and modification of our NVIS systems used in our aircraft to permit Kestrel to  lead the way into the NVIS/ night fire suppression realm. Amongst other special projects, Josh also lead the integration project for the CCS system into our fleet for the department of defence and provided crew support during CCS campaigns. Also qualified as a winch operator/crewman, Josh has participated extensively in SAR operations, crewman and pilot training, and training of MFB/AMSA teams in helicopter insertion/extraction.

In the beginning of 2018 Josh became Kestrel’s Chief Engineer.


Eleanor Cronin

Business Manager/Director

Eleanor has over twenty years experience in the aviation industry and has played a pivotal role in the development of Kestrel over that time. Her fluent Japanese linquistic capabilities enabled the company to develop strong contractual ties with Japanese companies, with over 500 Japanese pilots credited for training at Kestrel.

Eleanor oversees the financial and daily office operations including planning and future development. She also directs Kestrel’s quality management systems and oversees the accreditation of education programs with state and national education agencies.

Eleanor has flown solo in both aeroplanes and helicopters but now devotes her energies to ensuring that Kestrel has the management and administrative support required to achieve its goals.


Peter Howe

Safety, Quality and Compliance Manager 

After leaving school Peter completed 12 years in the Australian Army including 6 years as a helicopter pilot. Flying operations were conducted across Australia under both the VFR and IFR, by day and night. On leaving the Army, he worked with Surf Lifesaving in Sydney before moving to join the National Safety Council of Australia, Victorian Division, (NSCA) as the first Chief Pilot.

From 1982 until 1987 he was employed by Esso BHP, in Bass Strait, flying Bell 205, Bell 212, Bell 412 and Sikorsky S76 helicopters in offshore operations. He held the position of Helicopter Division Safety Representative during this time. Peter re-joined the National Safety Council of Australia, Victorian Division, in 1987 as the Aviation Project Manager. He served with the company until the collapse in 1989. Flying operations included ambulance helicopter tasks, SAR and Aerial firefighting.

Following the collapse of the NSCA, Peter worked as an independent Aviation Advisor to the Oil and Gas companies completing assignments in Europe, Africa and South East Asia.

In 1992 Peter joined Lloyd Helicopters in Adelaide (trading as CHC Helicopters) as the Chief Pilot. A position he held for a number of years. He worked with this company until his retirement in 2015.

From 1996 he assisted with company training and checking activities in offshore, SAR, HEMS and aerial firefighting operations involving a number of helicopter types including Bell 212, Bell 412 and Sikorsky helicopters. He conducted fire-fighting operations in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania.

He held a number of responsibilities including Training and Standards Supervisor and Company Safety Officer. He has completed Safety and Quality training programmes including accident investigation training and holds a Safety/Lead Auditors qualification. His last assignment in CHC Helicopters was the position of Head of Operations/Chief Pilot responsible for 48 medium and heavy multi engine helicopters and some 280 pilots and air-crewmen.

Since retiring Peter has remained active in the industry having completed a 12 month assignment as the General Manager Safety and Quality Assurance for a regional airline and continues as a Director of the Australian Helicopter Industry Association (AHIA).

He has represented the AHIA on the CASA Sector Risk Assessment Committees and the Aviation Industry Reference Committee in the Australian Industry Standards organisation.


Shirley Woods

Head of Aircraft Airworthiness Maintenance Control

Shirley is a vital member of the maintenance and airworthiness management team at Kestrel.

Over many years of service with the company Shirley has acquired an intimate knowledge of the fleets operational status. This includes management of the stores and parts procurement to maintain an efficient flow of components essential to the serviceability of the aircraft.

Shirley’s valuable contribution to the daily running of the maintenance at Kestrel is noticed and appreciated by all.


Prue Hateley

Operations and Logistics 

Prue joined Kestrel in 2012 and has been involved in the development of Kestrel’s operations center since its inception for the 2013/2014 fire season.

The role of the Operations officer is to maintain a high level of situational awareness of the company’s fleet and personnel movements and to provide logistics support where necessary.

This is a demanding task through peak events during the fire season and other emergency response tasks. Prue is well known and respected by Kestrel’s clients and crews who benefit from her attention to detail.