Saturday, 06 June 2020


Peter the pilot

With an email address that starts with “peterthepilot” and a mobile phone number that has the numbers 747 running in sequence, it’s a safe bet the person concerned is somehow connected to and fairly enthusiastic about the aviation industry.

That person is Whitianga resident, Peter McVinnie, a recent retiree from Air New Zealand after 43 years as a commercial pilot. Peter and his wife, Donna decided to start calling Whitianga home five years ago. “Building a new home and relocating permanently to Whitianga from Auckland wasn’t a hard decision to make to be honest,” says Peter. “Donna and I both love what the greater Mercury Bay area has to offer in general, but having an airport so close to town means I am able to continue my passion for flying, albeit in something a lot smaller than I have been accustomed to.”

While being able to continue his love of flying on a regular basis, Peter is also very keen to stay connected to an industry that has provided him so much in terms of job satisfaction. He is already involved in the Mercury Bay Area School aeroplane build programme. “The programme is a fantastic example of a school and community working together to provide students with an interest in aviation some hands-on experience in the building and flying of an aeroplane,” says Peter. “It has is also people like myself the opportunity to pass on some of our past experiences and knowledge by taking on a mentoring role for those students who may want to follow a career in the aviation industry.”

Peter’s first ever flight was as a seven-year-old passenger in a Safe Air Bristol Freighter during the Christmas holidays in 1960. “My Father left it too late to secure a Cook Straight ferry passage for our family and our car, so he booked both all of us, including our car, on a Bristol Freighter for the trip from Rongotai in Wellington to Woodbourne, which is a short distance from Blenheim. The entire experience including the racket created by the two 14-cylinder Hercules engines was to be a huge changing point in my life. From that day on I was well and truly hooked on aviation.

“Move on to 1970, as a 17-year old Venturer Scout, I attended the Walsh Memorial Flying School at Matamata, flying solo in a Cessna 150.”

Being too young to obtain a commercial pilot’s license, Peter went to Canterbury University and obtained a mechanical engineering degree in 1973, specializing in aeronautics. He continued to fly as his budget allowed.

After graduating, Peter borrowed $2,000, which enabled him to gain his commercial pilot license. This eventually led to being offered a job with New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC) as an excited and very eager 22-year old rookie.

“My career has been wonderful, having flown F27s, Boeing 737s, 767s and both 200 and 400 747s as well as 777s,” says Peter. “My favourite plane was the Boeing 747 400. I was also fortunate to have two years in the early 80’s, when Air NZ had an excess of pilots, flying 737s for Bahrain-based Gulf Air.”

Upon retirement, one of Peters priorities wasn’t about deciding whether or not to own his own plane as that was a given. It was more about the type he would enjoy most.

After much research and tyre kicking, Peter settled on an American designed two-seater Glastar which he imported from the US. “It’s a plane that suits my needs perfectly and I try to get out flying at least once per week,” says Peter.

Peter says there are a number of retired pilots living in the Mercury Bay area, all with a good story or two to tell. “The collective bottom line message they would give to any student is simply to work hard and chase their dreams. There are bound to be challenges and obstacles along the way, but they should never be afraid to seek the advice from people who have followed the same dream, worked hard and eventually succeeded. If I can help students who are keen on aviation in some way, then I feel I am making a worthwhile contribution to both the industry and the community. And if my experience is anything to go by, they will have no regrets.”


Caption - Retired commercial pilot, Peter McVinnie at his two-seater Glastar aeroplane.


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