Always at the ready
Fighting fires from the skySONIA BEAL
Fighting fires and replacing fuses to reconnect power in remote, seemingly inaccessible areas around the region is often all in a day's work for Marlborough Helicopters pilot Simon Moar.
Marlborough Helicopters is on call 24/7 with the region's rural fire brigade and Marlborough Lines to help put out fires and re-establish power links.
"We're not necessarily sitting around waiting for a call but we have to be ready for it," says Simon.
"It's probably the hardest part of the job."
Marlborough rural fire chief Richard McNamara phones the company's pilots if a blaze requires an aerial vantage point. Depending on the flying and work hours logged for the week, which is put into the company's "fly access system", whoever had done the least would respond to the call-out, says Simon.
But in a major fire, such as that which destroyed a property and five outbuildings at Flagg Bay in the Marlborough Sounds in December, both of the company's helicopter pilots and loader drivers respond, leaving one loader driver/pilot behind.
A loader driver is mainly responsible for maintenance jobs such as refuelling and loading the helicopter with chemicals for aerial spraying.
Despite it being Simon's first major call-out, the streamlined nature of the job left him unfazed, he says.
"I guess in a situation like that where it's so big it's quite well managed.
"You just do what you're told and put buckets of water where you're told."
The demands of the role for the father of two were a lot more than other piloting positions, but the challenge and skills gained was invaluable, says Simon.
‘I guess that was one of the drawcards of the job."
"I've been able to build on my skills rather than just sticking with aerial spraying jobs."
"It's not too bad - [it's] no more than what a police officer or a firefighter has to do. It's just part of providing a service to the community."
Originally from a farming background in Manawatu, Simon's first foray into aviation came at the age of 19, when a friend asked him to accompany him on an aerial shooting job.
Unbeknown to Simon at the time, that first job paved the way for his future as a helicopter pilot.
"I didn't really want to be a pilot at the time.
"It's not the fact that I didn't ever want to be a pilot - I'd just never even given it any consideration."
He received his Private Pilot Licence in 2005 through Harvey Helicopters in Taupo, followed by a Commercial Pilot Licence three years later.
Starting out had involved clocking up flying hours before taking on jobs such as "meat hunting", or aerial shooting for commercial venison recovery, and agricultural spraying.
Simon has been with Marlborough Helicopters for about 18 months.
The company undertakes agricultural-based aerial spraying in their busy season, from mid-October till mid to late May.
As the calmest time of the day and best time for spraying is in the mornings, pilots and their support crew are up before daylight, says Simon.
Through the summer, they are ready to go about 4.30am and are out on the job until early afternoon.
At daylight, they make contact with whoever has requested the job and check the forecast to ensure it isn't too windy.
Marlborough was known for its blustery nor'wester, which cut short any aerial spraying jobs, says Simon.
"Our best spraying is done from daylight until about midday," says Simon.
Despite the early starts, Simon looks forward to getting to work each day.
"Every day is different, every time you go up and look at the landscape below, it's different."
- The Marlborough Express