Celebrating women in airlines: NZAWA annual rally and conference
The 56th New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation (NZAWA) annual rally was quite the event in June with 80 registrations received for the Queen’s Birthday meet at Mercer Airfield, south Auckland.
In addition to the usual annual rally programme, two extra days were added to foster closer trans-Tasman ties with visitors from the Australian Women Pilots’ Association (AWPA), and to run the inaugural Schools Day “to promote development of today’s youth to become tomorrow’s Women in Aviation”.
Thursday: Schools Day
The weekend-long theme of celebrating women in airlines was evident from day one, as Pip Schofield and Thyra Bloam, both Air NZ pilots in full (with permission) uniform, addressed around 140 students from seven schools in the upper Waikato/south Auckland region.
The entire roll of Mercer and Mangatawhiri Primary Schools were introduced to principles of flight, airfield operation and basic aircraft mechanics in the morning by representatives from Ardmore Flying School, Auckland Aero Club, Air NZ Engineering and NZALPA. When I arrived in the afternoon these committed volunteers were busy inspiring intermediate and senior students from Mangatawhero Intermediate, Onewhero Intermediate, Pukekohe High School, Onewhero High School and Edgewater College.
Newly qualified Air NZ A320 Capt Thyra Bloam, assisted by McKenzie Rayes from Nelson Aviation College, ran a simulated flight circuit around the forecourt while Sandra Shalland, CFI at Auckland Aero Club, invited students to get their hands on the stationary Grumman with a cut-away engine view.
“They were quite rough on the controls,” she said. “Just as well it’s a demonstrator!”
Bianca Barbarich-Bacher introduced eager young girls and boys to maps and charts, Fiona Scorgie from Air NZ Engineering answered hours of questions alongside the team from ALPA (Dan Hanforth, Pamela Hutton and Patrice Almond) and Ardmore Flying School (Rachel Callum and assistant).
Three senior students were treated to their first flight with one in particular getting the bug.
“I thought I wanted to be an author, but now I’m keen to also be a pilot,” said 16-year old Zara Holten from Pukekohe High School, following her first flight with mechanical engineer and pilot Bianca Barbarich-Bacher in a Grumman Tiger. Zara and her mother spent the following hour discussing flying schools and study prerequisites before learning they were the recipients of an Ardmore Flying School introductory flight.
“Everyone involved with the Schools Day was blown away,” said Dee Bond, NZAWA member and co-owner with Neil Armstrong of Mercer Airfield. “Most students had never had the opportunity to get this close and personal with anyone in the aviation sector.”
The rally weekend was formally opened that evening by North Waikato Mayor Alan Sanson at a cocktail function. Held at the beautifully renovated Tuakau Hotel (also owned by Dee and Neil) it brought a busy day to a close with the promise of much more to come.
Friday: Seminars Day
Every three years NZAWA holds an aviation seminar day. The line-up of speakers over a six-hour period was impressive and included a solid mix of interesting, innovative and entertaining speakers.
First up was Bernard Kelly, Air NZ senior flight planner, who shared an all-too-brief glimpse into the strategic soul of an airline doing its utmost to be safe, legal, cost efficient, effective and responsive. His team of 30 planners is split among three overlapping 8½hr shifts within a 24hr period, and look at 3000–4000 METARS each day.
Regional desks prepare 40–50 flight plans while international desks prepare up to 25 routes, navigating multiple countries’ flight rules and regulations and incorporating in-flight amendments as more data comes to hand. Fleet tracker, FWAPS and Flight Explorer.
And how much discretion does a pilot have? “They can do whatever they want as long as it’s legal.”
Richard Fry from Airways NZ reminded us all of how mammoth the organisation is. More than 780 staff deliver air navigation and air traffic management consultancy and training services in NZ and more than 65 countries, together handling more than one million aircraft movements each year. Richard said the introduction of new lights at Queenstown airport has doubled air traffic capacity and supports Airway’s commitment to supporting New Zealand business development.
Dave Brown from NZ Warbirds Association shared a slice of his experience advising aerobatic display and formation flying teams. Flying with the Warbirds’ flagship team, the Roaring Forties, Dave said display flying forces him to “up my game every time”.
“Display or formation flying is not a group think exercise,” he said, taking the room back to basics where human factors take priority.
Capts Barbara Thomson (Air NZ B777), Liz Needham (Air NZ B767) and Carol Dehn (Virgin Australia B737 and AWPA president) compared notes and shared stories and anecdotes collected during their careers.
Shane Fleming provided a sneak peek into the innovations and growth projections at the Rocket Lab before Talia Fisher introduced the scope and reach of the Air Accident Investigation team at Air NZ.
We were also given a heads-up on several new books destined for our aviation libraries. A number of our national treasures feature in the soon-to-be-published Retro Aircraft by Don & Marilyn Jessen; Kathy Little has written a personal adventure account in The Kiwi in Emuland – Fair Dinkum; and Cathy Hobson’s Nancy Ellis-Leebold biography is a credit to her clever investigative journalism with just a dash of good luck.
The last speaker, Pam Collings, threw us back in time with some stunning oral histories recorded during her research for Silver Wings.
Saturday: Rally + Fly-in
Competition day dawned with thick fog filling the north Waikato basin until lunchtime. I drove to Mercer from Auckland and sank into the white goop before I’d even cleared the Coromandel SH2 turnoff.
An 8.30am pre-rally briefing provided plenty of time for non-flying competitions and numerous cups of tea before the goop cleared around 1pm (as local farmer-turned-mayor Alan Sanson said it would!). By then Trish and Ike Stevens had arrived from Tauranga to help on the grid, and then it was all go to complete all rally competitions throughout the afternoon.
The circuit was kept consistently busy and the blue skies over Mercer were filled with several Cessnas, a Robin, Grumman Tiger and Cheetah, Foxbats and a Minicab, plus two gliders provided courtesy of the Auckland Gliding Club. Twenty-five entrants, including several student pilots which was great to see, competed across 16 categories in private, aero club and gliding club aircraft.
A cold Waikato breeze didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the evening’s entertainment at the airfield. “Celebrating Women in Airlines” certainly brought out some colourful characters. Several Air NZ pilots, a hostess and a good number of male guests made a huge effort to dress the part.
Candy’s pre-dinner service went down a treat (Beef or chicken? Chicken or beef?) and a very brave CAA official became “The problem with women in aviation” by strapping a laminated copy of the latest Vector magazine to his torso.
Several skits had the room in fits of laughter and appreciation with such items as “Tales of the Fox Moth on the West Coast” (from Canterbury and Dargaville), a potted history of aviation, and a stunning rendition by the Telford family of Air NZ’s “Women in Black” safety video.
Later on the tables were pushed back to make room for dancing and when this reporter departed for home the fun was well under way.
Sunday: AGM, free afternoon, evening prizegiving
Sunday morning kicked off with an early meeting of the Ninety-Nines NZ Section at the Tuakau Hotel, attended by several overseas guests from Australia and Canada. There was a healthy turnout for NZAWA’s AGM, and members enjoyed a free afternoon before the evening presentation awards dinner at La Valla Estate.
Life membership was granted to Rhona Fraser, the founding member alongside Ena Monk of NZAWA in 1959. Long-time president Sue Telford and committee members Pamela Adams and Marian Rait have stepped down.
About 80 NZAWA members and partners arrived in formal dinner attire for the dinner at La Valla Estate, a conference and function centre with accommodation facilities on the edge of Tuakau.
Jackson family proprietors went all out, turning the dining room into a virtual jet with forward facing tables, two aisles and a public address from the front of the plane (I mean room) just forward of a cockpit audio visual display. The menu offered choices for Take Off, Turbulence (Chicken or Beef), Touch Down and Check Out, while staff dressed as cabin crew delivered meals on airline platters.
Dinner guests were treated to a fashion show displaying Air NZ crew uniforms through the ages before the formal awards ceremony, along with a good measure of after-dinner fun and games.
Monday: Breakfast, fly out
Monday dawned sunny with NO FOG! Regardless, I sauntered out to Mercer to wave the last of the visitors goodbye and to chat with Dee Bond about the weekend’s event. Sitting on the deck with a cuppa overlooking a private runway, it was hard to leave. I guess that’s what happens after spending four days with so many bright, inspiring and active aviators. And did I mention fun?
The next NZAWA Rally will be held in Wanaka over Queens Birthday Weekend 2017.
- Report by Paula Jackson and photography by Satyaki Hosmane.
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