As a Tauranga local, my love for machinery and particularly aeroplanes began as a young lad when I would frequently ask to go to the Tauranga Airport to watch the planes taking off and landing.
Attending Otumoetai College, I grew up alongside the Nuku family from Motiti Island. As a teenager, I would regularly holiday on Motiti Island with the Nuku’s whenever the opportunity arose.
The flights to the Island were always a highlight for me. On one trip, our pilot was local identity John Martin. Once I got chatting with John and because of my obvious interest in aviation, he encouraged me to consider taking up flying lessons. After leaving school, while working in the construction industry in 1989, I began flying lessons and didn’t stop until I completed my Commercial Pilots licence in 1991. Flying had become my passion and I soon got a job as a Line Pilot for Sun Air, flying the Motiti run.
Island Air Charter begins…
In 1995, I took the plunge and ventured out on my own by starting the aviation company, Island Air Charters. With just one Cessna 206 aircraft parked outside on chains and a small flight office at Tauranga Airport, I began building up the business through my close relationships with the Motiti Island people. The small pre-fab office building that I built lived on the same site where the hangar stands today.
In 1997, a second Cessna was purchased and as the Tauranga region grew, so too increased the work in Aerial Photography, while Charters and Scenic flights became more regular business.
About this time, we were also outgrowing our small flight office, so I campaigned to try and build a hangar on a horse paddock next to our flight office. But at that time, the Airport wasn’t sure where their future development was heading, so I couldn’t get permission.
Instead, in 2000 we purchased Bay Aircraft’s old hangar, bought a third aircraft and we operated out of there until 2004 when the museum opened next door to us and it became cramped. In alignment with the new Airport development plan, we were graciously granted permission by the Airport to move the horses along and we built our current hangar where it still stands today and where it all began!
You name it, we’ve carted it
Without a doubt the 1,500 – 2,000 yearly flights to Motiti over 30 years have been a privilege to be involved with, to say the least. In the early days, with no regular boat service and just one barge, the Motiti locals relied heavily on the flight service to get to and from the island.
Island Air has also carried freight, from avocados and crayfish coming off the island, to delivering bobby calves, sheep, goats, chooks, pigs, pallets of beer, cement, building materials, motorbikes, you name it, we’ve carted it.
Today we’re as much a part of the Motiti way of life as we were when we started and even carry the Flying Doctor service there each month. It has been a privilege beyond words to share in the lives of the families that live on Motiti. I am equally grateful for the support that they reciprocate to Island Air and our pilots.
Growing new pilots
One of the great unanticipated spin-offs of the past 22 years we have been in business, is the training and employment of about 20 young pilots who are now dotted around the world captaining all types of aircraft from float planes in Hamilton Island, Dash-8’s for Air NZ, to intercontinental Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
The hands-on experience gained flying at Island Air, sets up pilots to manage many different scenarios with comfort and ease. Giving these young people a chance in aviation, as I was also given in the early years, is an essential process within the aviation industry and one that builds a bond of mutual trust and respect for life with each other.
Every scenic flight is unique
After close to 30 years flying over Tauranga I never tire of the beauty of our region from the air. There is so much to see, from Coromandel to Cape Runaway, White Island, Rotorua lakes and thermal activity, there are so many exciting scenic flights on offer. It is for this reason we have always operated the high-wing Cessna Aircraft as it gives passengers the greatest visibility and everyone gets an unobstructed window seat of the views below.
Scenic Flights are an affordable way to view the Bay from above. Our 15 minute ‘City and Surf’ flight is very popular and is only $75 per person for 2-3 passengers.
There has hardly been a scenic flight passenger who hasn’t stepped off the aircraft without wearing a grin from ear to ear.
There is nothing better than being appreciated for your work!
By Paul Ensor
“I write for this magazine to share my passion for the Tauranga region and my love of flying.”