“My ultimate goal is to become an airline captain,” says Chris Cooper who having just gained his commercial pilot’s licence at age 18 is climbing to the top and will soon train as a flight instructor.
Chris got into the cockpit as a secondary school student on ServiceIQ’s popular Aviation Gateway training programme, which gives students all over New Zealand a bird’s eye view of the many different jobs in aviation.
He was in Year 12 at St Bede’s College in Christchurch, and wanted to go behind-the-scenes to discover more about the exciting industry which is off-limits to most unless you’re an employee.
He says: “Gateway opened my eyes. We went everywhere - to the radar centre, the air traffic control tower at Christchurch Airport, the rescue fire garage and saw the aircraft engineers at work in the Air New Zealand hangar. We also had the Canterbury Aero Club where we did practical flying lessons.
I learnt a lot about the options aviation offers and wanted to be an air traffic controller. I followed up by sitting the entrance exams, but when I failed one of the tests in spatial awareness, I knew my career was decided and I wanted to be a pilot.”
That was two years ago. After school, Chris went on to complete full-time pilot training with the International Aviation Academy at Canterbury Aero Club. He has also become a top flight competitor, winning the Bledisloe Aviation Trophy two years in a row. The award is part of the Flying New Zealand Nationals, and tests the navigation skills of pilots with less than 150 hours total flying time.
Not that his effort seems to come from hard work. More like pure enjoyment: “It’s peaceful and something I am good at. When I’m flying the plane, nothing else really matters,” says Chris.
His best trip so far? “I flew my parents up through the Marlborough Sounds, landed in Nelson for lunch and flew home again.”
By his calculations, it will take the young pilot about 10 to 15 years to qualify as an airline captain. It might sound impossibly long, but for him it’s a pleasure trip because he gets to spend a lot of time in the sky, his favourite place on earth.
Looking back to when he had to make a decision about a career, Chris offers some advice for other young students with a passion for aviation and aircraft:
“Gateway helps give you an insight into the industry and the different jobs you can do. Get on the programme and keep your options open. It’s a lot of fun and definitely one of the best opportunities I took hold of.”
Find out more
To find out more about ServiceIQ’s Aviation Gateway Flying Programme click here.