After catching the flying bug in his youth, 79-year old Whitianga pilot, Bill Beard, has gone on to spend a lifetime in and around planes. “My whole career has been involved in aviation, directly and indirectly,” he said. “There has been a connection to flying all through my life, really.
Bill forged a career selling small Cessna aircraft and Bell helicopters in New Zealand and throughout Southeast Asia and more recently as an aviation insurance Broker in New Zealand. Such is his love of planes and all things aviation, he even lives close to the action, being the second person to build a residence on the Waterways’ Air Park development in Whitianga back in 2006.
Now to cap it all off , Bill has been made a life member of the Mercury Bay Aero Club (MBAC) at its AGM earlier this month for his contributions to the club and the development of the airfield over the years, including serving on the committee for 14 years and two terms as president.
“I guess you could say I was a bit obsessed with aeroplanes from when I was a child,” said Bill, who grew up in Wanganui, not far from the RNZAF Ohakea Air Base. “Like a lot of kids my age you would look through the fence at the airport and dream that one day you might get to fly one.”
As time went by, Bill commenced flying with the Wanganui Aero Club in a Cessna 150 in 1965, obtaining his Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) the following year. He started working in aviation insurance in Wellington, but he said a life-changing opportunity arose when he joined the Cessna sales division of Rex Aviation at Ardmore Airport in Auckland, which after many name changes is now Oceania Aviation. “That was my big break into aviation in 1972 and things never really looked back,” he said. “It was an exciting career change I’ve never regretted, the best job I’ve ever had. Being with the New Zealand Cessna agents opened up a big door for me, because Cessna in the USA were producing some 6,000 to 7,000 aeroplanes a year and in a good year, we would sell 40 to 50 here in New Zealand. I was spending all my time flying around the country.
It was during this period that Bill sold and delivered two new aircraft to the MBAC for its air service, forming an association that would eventually lead him to move to Whitianga in semi-retirement to live on the airfi eld in the property that he and his wife, Carmela, had built initially as a holiday home.
In 1979, another career change took Bill to Heli Orient in Singapore, the Bell Helicopter and Cessna distributors throughout Southeast Asia. His position as fixed wing marketing manager involved sales and aircraft deliveries to Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, India and the Philippines. “I have been to Burma 24 times, there aren’t many people who can say that,” he said.
Bill also had a couple of years in the 1980s with Learjet Corporation handling special mission sales in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and Australia.
“When it came to semi-retirement or building a holiday home, Whitianga was ideal for me because it had a good airfield with Avgas fuel available and a very active aviation community,” said Bill. “It just had everything going for it.”
Bill knew a lot of the MBAC members and after buying the Air Park section, was persuaded to join the MBAC committee. He and Carmela moved to Whitianga permanently five years ago.
Over the years, Bill has accumulated more than 2,600 flying hours, all in general aviation class aircraft. He holds New Zealand, US, French, Singaporean and Philippine flying licences, and is rated on 37 different types of single and multi-engine aircraft. However, he said that his biggest achievement of all was having 57 years of enjoyable, accident-free flying.
As for his life membership, Bill said it was a great privilege, as there are only a dozen or so others to receive such an accolade, adding that one must acknowledge the huge amount of work done over the years by past MBAC committees and members in developing the Whitianga airfield to make it one of the best in the country.
While Bill has sold his Cessna 172, which he had for 15 years, he still flies, and says he will continue as long as he is comfortable doing so and as long as he is medically fi t. “The dream of flying is something that is always in the back of your mind that never goes away,” he said.
Pictured is Mercury Bay Aero Club president, Evan Wheeler (left), who is congratulating Whitianga resident, Bill Beard, on becoming a life member of the club.