A topnotch dentist and cosmetic surgeon left New York in 2006 to embark on an adventure of a lifetime to a remote beautiful island north off Luzon in pursuit of love. He married a girl in Batanes, settled on the island and used his life savings to buy planes and establish an airline company.
Joel Alcantara Mendoza, or Doc Joel as he is fondly called by people around him, obtained a masteral degree on orthognathic surgery (corrective jaw surgery) from New York University. He had a lucrative career as a dentist and cosmetic surgeon in New York where he lived in an apartment with his mother.
He says as a young boy, he never dreamt of buying his own aircraft. The idea to buy airplanes began when he was mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty of remote Batanes, where flights were sparse and infrequent. “I was stunned by the majestic beauty and awe-inspiring view of the island, ” Mendoza says in an interview with the Manila Standard.
The first time he went to Batanes in 2006 was during the “pamanhikan” when he sought the “hand” of Ma. Rosan Castillejos to be her wife. The wedding took place in a church on April 20, 2007 when Doc Joel was 40 years old.
“The moment I landed in Batanes, I fell in love with the island. So I stayed there for a week after the pamanhikan. I was stunned by its culture. The cultural things you haven’t seen elsewhere are there. It’s very rich in culture. But here in Batanes, you see them alive,” he says.
Doc Joel admires the people of Batanas for being very honest and simple. “That’s how I discovered my wife. I’ve been around the Philippines and the United States and I didn’t imagine falling in love with an Ivatan,” he says.
Falling in love with the quaint charm of Batanes and its people, Doc Joel laid down his cards to pursue what he calls his “wildest dream.”
He finds this dream rewarding as he would help people earn a living. He says instead of Ivatans going to Manila to look for jobs, “we give them jobs in Batanes.”
“I told them, do not leave your island, we will convert it to a tourist spot and the economy would go to your place,” he recounts telling the people of Batanes.
Doc Joel says when he first came to Batanes, there was no commercial flight that would bring tourists to the island.
“During that time, I wondered how come no one pursued Batanes as a tourist spot. So I started advertising Batanes in newspapers. I invited journalists for newspapers and magazines and photographers and paid for their plane tickets to promote Batanes,” he says.
“So I am selling a culture. I then saw the effects of tourists becoming aware of Batanes. Tourists started coming in to the island,” he says.
When domestic flights increased, Doc Joel learned about chartering aircraft. He later launched his own company, the Global Aerospace which handles aircraft maintenance. The company also sells aircraft parts.
When the only local airline flying to Batanes was sold to an international airline, flights to the island decreased until its operations totally stopped.
“When they left, we didn’t have an aircraft. The economy in Batanes which was just starting to boom turned very sad. Batanes again became a lonely place,” says Doc Joel.
He recalls the standoff in the island came just when they were developing it as a haven for tourists due to its natural beauty and abundant potentials in eco-tourism.
The influx of tourists initially led to more businesses in Batanes. Doc Joel says there were only three major beach resorts in Batanes in the past, but the number has grown to seven, aside from several smaller ones.
“And then all of a sudden, there was no airline, no economy. So we’re going back to the same old thing. We’re a liability to the government—this drove me to put up an airline company,” he says.
Flights to the province stopped for eight months. “We tried to talk to other airlines to come in. We knocked on the doors of most airlines and asked them to fly to Batanes, but everybody said they can’t.. No one wanted to fly,” recalls Doc Joel.
“Because of my experience in aircraft maintenance, chartering and leasing, I told myself—why don’t I just put my own airline company that focuses on eco-tourism. That will provide jobs to the local and alleviate their living conditions,” he says.
“I’m not a tycoon, but I have a vision. So I came up with this company which is 100-percent Filipino-owned. And so Skyjet Airline was born,” says Doc Joel, who sits as the company’s president and chief executive
Skyjet is the newest passenger airline in the Philippines. It utilizes British Aerospace BAE-146 series 200 (94-seater) and series 100 (76-seater) four-engine jet aircraft.
Doc Joel says he used his entire life’s savings to buy the aircrafts. “My money was from hard work. I have been working as dentist-cosmetic surgeon from New York. All my savings I put it here. I have been saving for a long time,” he says.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines granted Skyjet an airline operator certificate or the license to fly in November 2012.
The airline company launched flights from Manila to Batanes on Dec. 14, 2012. Two months later, it also started flying from Manila to Busuanga island in Palawan.
Skyjet will also have its maiden flight to Virac, Catanduanes, which is the “gateway” to Caramoan on April 16.