From Aviation Apprentice to Boeing pilot

Aeroplane cockpit

From Aviation Apprentice to Boeing pilot

The first time I met Paul Ensor was the day I passed my commercial pilots license flight test. With my fresh commercial pilots licence in hand I made my way a few doors down to Paul’s hangar at Island Air. I presented myself (an overweight, pimply, 18-year-old with zero commercial aviation experience) and expressed my deep desire to fly his aeroplanes. I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams that that meeting would be the start of my journey to becoming a Boeing Captain, flying to over 45 countries on three continents, leading a multinational, multicultural team just ten years later at the age of 28 years old.

Paul played an instrumental part in my career and a crucial role in helping me accomplish the achievements I have made thus far.

Arriving at Paul’s hangar that day I had no idea what he looked like so thought it best to ask directions to his office from the first person I encountered. During my brief exposure to aviation I was expecting to be directed to a glass corner office on a mezzanine floor within the hangar. Within this office would be a man of a certain age, wearing a crisp white shirt, busy organising charters and rosters, however this was not to be.

The first person I encountered was in fact Paul and he was standing up to his waste in a ditch just outside the hangar! There was no crisp white shirt, no glass corner office although he was on the phone and did seem to be booking flights…… I wasn’t completely wrong! With a pen in hand but no paper available he was writing the details of his call on a plank of wood.

I quickly adjusted my approach and expectations, Paul was obviously a no-nonsense sort of chap and my first impression was that he didn’t suffer fools gladly. I realised at that moment I was leaving the protective, warm cradle of the flight school and entering the hardnosed business world of commercial aviation. I politely introduced myself, said that I had just gained my commercial pilot license and that I wanted…. if possible…..on the off chance, if a job was available…… to work for him.

Paul, in return and equally politely replied that unfortunately he didn’t have any flying positions available. Instead, he suggested I might like to help around the hangar and in return he would give me type ratings on his aircraft, the C206 & BN2 Islander. He then told me I could start today by digging out the remainder of the half-finished trench he was standing in. I didn’t know at the time of course but there, in that ditch, began my journey in commercial aviation.

Over time Paul slowly brought me into a flying role. He took me under his wing as his “Aviation Apprentice”, guiding and moulding me into a, “seat of the pants pilot” where intuition and experience were my best friends. It was during this time, on short strips with heavy loads and challenging weather that I would cut my teeth for my first few years. Paul’s approach was very hands-on and somewhat agricultural at times but that was Paul. You had to prove to him you were good enough on the ground to be entitled to be in the air in one of his aircraft. I cleaned restrooms, removed cow dung from the pod, re-arranged Paul’s tool shed and at the time I may have found the tasks to be mundane. In reality though he was giving me the chance, a chance to prove myself and an opportunity that few took. An opportunity that was, in fact, my “golden ticket” for which I shall be forever grateful.

Paul’s company, Island Air Charter’s principle business was and still is serving the residents of Motiti Island. The reason Paul has maintained the monopoly on this route for the last ten years is not only because he has dedicated so much time to faithfully serving the Motiti community but also by earning their trust. One only must ask anyone who has safely flown with Paul over the past decade and you will soon see how admired and respected he is, not only as an aviator but also a close friend of the Motiti people.

As all things do, my tenure at Island Air came to an end when new opportunities to progress presented themselves. But these new opportunities only came to pass due to the skills and solid foundation Paul and Island Air gave me. Paul not only gave me an opportunity, he gave me the ability to have the career I do today. I am now fortunate enough to fly some of the most modern and sophisticated jet airliners around the world and can’t help but to think where it all started.

Thank you Paul, for giving me that incredible opportunity those few years ago.

By Captain Joshua Canuel

I write for this magazine to share the huge respect and gratitude I have for Paul and Island Air.