How I Became a Fjord Pilot in NZ

How I Became a Fjord Pilot in NZ

G’day mate. My name is Karl Le Couteur, here’s how and why I became a Pilot...


I never considered being a pilot until I began working for Eagles Airways in the Bay of Islands at Keri Keri Airport, New Zealand at the age of seventeen. 


Put it this way, I was never the sharpest tool in the shed at school... constantly behind on maths and sciences. I couldn’t make sense of the subjects, looking back on it I think it’s because I couldn’t see any valuable application for these studies. All I wanted to do was Box and play Rugby, nothing else seemed relevant in my life at the time.


About a third of the way through my final year at school I had earned enough school credits to gain university entrance, so I applied for a Personal Training degree. Soon after, I was accepted for study. I asked myself; what was the point in hanging around at school for the rest of they year? I decided it was time to get a job, but not just any job - something fun and physical!


This led me to Keri Keri Airport, I expressed my interest in working outside and around aircraft because it seemed cool. I was right, it was a great experience working around Beach 1900’s and Bombardier Dash 8’s and meeting all of the pilots. They soon began to encourage me to have a go at flying. There was a microlight based in one of the hangars which belonged to the aero club, I thought girls might find me more ‘interesting’ if I knew how to fly a plane... so, I gave it a go!


I was sick as a dog, four flights over a few weeks and I threw-up every time. 


Still, I couldn’t believe I was actually capable of flying an aircraft. It truly amazed me that I could grasp the basic principles of flying. I talked more with one of the Eagle Pilots; who soon became a life long mentor. My mentor had a contact at Ardmore Flying School in Auckland, he made a call and all of sudden I was off to meet the Chief Flying Instructor. I was accepted into the school and the CFI agreed to train me. Sometimes its “who you know” not “what you know”.

The process of sitting exams was daunting to me, three weeks of ground course to study and pass all seven Private Pilot Licence exams. Then straight back in to a ten week ground course for the six Commercial Pilot Licence exams, and again straight back for the last three weeks to sit the Instrument Flight Rule exams. My brain melted, but I only failed two exams which I promptly re-sat and passed the second time around. At the beginning of the ground course, we were a class of approximately thirty students. As the Instructors predicted, by the end of the ground course about fifteen of us remained. The Instructors had a few more predictions too. They explained that out of the original thirty students, seven would likely finish our licences and ratings, and maybe two or three will move on to get a job. They were right. 


Clear as day, I can see myself sitting in that classroom, scared that I might be wasting everyone’s time. Could I really do this? Could I be one of the two or three people to see this all the way through...


I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t stop training, studying and fighting for this career until I was a true Commercial Pilot, flying for a living. 


Much flying and vomiting later I emerged with a Commercial Pilots Licence, Single Pilot Multi Engine Instrument Rated. It was a great feeling. Now the really hard part starts - finding a job.


I had been working for Air New Zealand, part-time as a Baggage Handler over the three years it took me to finish everything I wanted to achieve at flying school. I was able to transfer my job down the country to Queenstown. I moved my whole life here and began forming a relationship with the local operations that flew scenic flights to Milford Sound. A couple years later, I took leave without pay for the summer from Air New Zealand and I began working for Air Milford as a refueller. This was my ‘in’, I could now demonstrate my work ethic to one of the the local operators and forge a name for myself. I was lucky enough to get a small taste of flying here, however I couldn’t fly myself - I had lost my Class 1 Medical to depression... But that’s a whole other story.


Anyway, I got my Class 1 Medical back (with some restrictions of course) after a year of fighting which seemed like an eternity. During this time I progressed nicely in the Health & Safety world of Air New Zealand, which led me to an awesome job opportunity with a very healthy pay packet. The allure of money was hard to turn down, but I had to stay true to the promise I made myself. 


An opportunity to become refueller for Milford Sound Flights had also come my way, I took it. I was so excited, just to have the chance of proving myself worthy to be given a shot at flying one of the aircraft in their fleet of GA8 Airvans, C208B Grand Caravans and BN2 Islanders. I took the pay cut and got to work.


Three years later I am the Safety Manager and a Line Pilot at Milford Sound Flights, flying the GA8 and C208B through beautiful Fiordland to Milford Sound. No regrets.


This career path is extremely frustrating, heart breaking and difficult to commit to as there are so many good reasons to quit. However, you only need one good reason to stay. You’re a pilot.


You can keep up with my flying adventures on Instagram, follow @pilotdownunder  

OUR PILOT'S CHOICE


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