Tuesday, 08 September 2020 06:55

High-flying ag contractors

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) medical and welfare director, Andy Pender. New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) medical and welfare director, Andy Pender.

An airline pilot may soon be landing in a paddock near you, driving a harvester.

New Zealand pilots, made redundant following the abrupt border closures triggered by Covid-19, are eying driving jobs in the agriculture sector.

With rural contractors having little success in getting government approval to bring in at least 206 overseas drivers, these pilots could provide some relief.

New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) medical and welfare director, Andy Pender says it has been working with Ministry of Primary Industries and Rural Contractors of NZ for several months to match pilot expertise with the immediate needs of the agricultural sector.

Pender told Rural News that nearly 500 NZ pilots have either lost their jobs or are in furlough: most are redeploying themselves to other sectors.

He says driving large machinery in the agriculture sector would be a great fit for pilots, who are used to working long hours and operating large and expensive machines.

“We know how to work under pressure and we aren’t daunted by big machines….we have been operating machines that weigh 250 tonnes,” he says.

Some pilots are serious about making a career change, driving large agricultural machinery and are undergoing training before applying for a Level 1 and 2 licences, required to drive large ag machinery.

Pender, who used to fly for Virgin, is scheduled to undergo training this month.

He says the association is working with training providers.

The association has matched skills and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) licences pilots already hold.

Pender says they found almost 200 opportunities for pilots to put their skills to use with land-based machinery and do their bit for New Zealand’s essential agriculture economy.

RCNZ chief executive Roger Parton contacted his national membership alerting them to surveys NZALPA had taken of its members to identify transferable skills that, with some extra training, could result in pilots helping to fill some of the gaps many growers and exporters now face.

Parton says these pilot surveys indicated a significant number who, in addition to considerable flying expertise and qualifications, also held land transport licences class 2 or higher, with specific NZTA category endorsements.

Some have also had previous agricultural large machinery operating and farming experience.

Pender says the pilots are determined to apply their training to where it is needed, pick up additional skills and make the most of new opportunities.

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