A purchaser sought to partner up with MBAS plane build programme

01 Jun 2021

Mercury Bay Area School’s successful, and unique, plane build programme, which has set up a number of former students for a career in aviation over the years, is on a quest for a buyer to partner up with for its latest aircraft build.

But while a purchaser is being sought, the school is not looking for a cold, hard sell of the $150,000 aircraft, but rather a someone who would work in with the project and bond with the students in the couple of years until completion.

So far, the programme has built four Van’s RV12 kitset planes and is now partway through completing the fifth.

Patrick Pfister, one of the MBAS staff members involved in the programme, said they were hoping for a partner to team up with to see the project through to completion. “Four planes are flying and we started the fifth in February this year, and now we are looking for someone who wants to buy the project and be part of the process,” he said. “I would call that person a partner, someone who wants to be involved with us and the students during construction.

“That is how it has worked so far. All our buyers were involved. We had barbeques together and laughs. They came and looked and helped. They were interested in the kids.”

While the “business angel” was being sought, the project was happy to receive sponsorship or donations. “This is something unique in New Zealand that has been benefiting students for a number of years,” said George Fletcher, the other MBAS staff member involved in the programme. “People in Whitianga are very proud and supportive of what the school and aviation community have achieved.” 

In the past six or seven years between 30 and 40 students have been through the programme, some of them going on to be pilots themselves while others benefited from a solid grounding in engineering and applied physics, not to mention teamwork and precision.

Patrick said that with each new plane build, they recruit 10 students who had to show enthusiasm for the project. They receive hands-on guidance from mentors, some from fixed wing and helicopter engineering, while others are specialist turners and welders, with one even from the world of NASCAR.

These one-on-one volunteers were glad to give up their time every Wednesday during term time to pass on their skills to the young people. After six months in the programme, the students were offered a 50 per cent subsidy on the $1,000 cost of the 10 flying lessons needed to go solo in one of the RV12 planes. “That is when they decide if flying is a feasible career plan,” Patrick said.

Patrick said that as the four previous aeroplanes progressed, they found the type of students joining up had changed and not all necessarily wanted to be pilots or work in aviation as a career. “At the beginning we had definitely engineering-oriented, hands-on students who wanted to be part of the project and the more programme progressed, we got students who were very interested in building something really fascinating using precision, but possibly not that invested or interested in the programme as a clear career path in aviation.”  

Patrick said, however, that a number of the young people had gone into the aviation industry after leaving school. “Every student who wanted to have a career in aviation or related industries has got a job through contacts in the industry,” he said. “It looks good on your CV to be in the programme. Our mentors know the aviation community and it is a relatively small world.”

Among those who have “graduated” from the programme and gone on to go solo or to find work in the aviation sector are Jordan Williams, who works as a flying instructor at Massey University from where he obtained his Bachelor of Aviation earlier this month, Cara Bosman, who is doing a science degree in Palmerston North where she is a passionate pilot and intends eventually to pursue a career in aviation, Philip Henne, a young German who went solo several years ago, but is now back in Germany where, ironically, he was too young to drive a car, Bernadine Tanoa and Matthew O’Connell who went solo, and Cody Bennett, Jacob Sanders and Kal Rabarts-Small who have found work in the aviation industry. 

George added that there were many other students who had come through the programme who had been successful in starting careers in associated engineering industries.

Pictured: Four of the Mercury Bay Area School students who are part of the team building a fifth Van’s RV12 aeroplane on Wednesday last week From left to right – Ameloa Cox, Sidney Savage, Vincent Selfe-Lois and Jack Fiddler.