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Turbulent times – pilot flys into uncharted future

Flagstaff Team

Flight disruption… Chris Harvey has had to ‘pivot’ into a different career

Chris Harvey is one of 300 pilots made redundant by Air New Zealand, as world travel has been shut down by Covid-19. He spoke to Janetta Mackay.

From schoolboy days at Takapuna Grammar School, Chris Harvey had his eyes set on a career as a pilot. Lift-off came early for the determined young man, but so too an abrupt grounding, when he became a Covid casualty losing his dream job at Air New Zealand.

After nearly 10 years flying overseas – including three years in hotspots for the United Nations – Harvey’s goal was “to come home and have a family and fly for the flag carrier”.

That mission was partly accomplished 18 months ago, when he began flying South Pacific routes for Air New Zealand. He and his fiancée Alexandra next bought a do-up in Hauraki, and added a dog to their household.

Then came the devastating news that he would be one of 300 of the airline’s pilots to be made redundant, due to the pandemic.

Harvey accepts he won’t be going anywhere far soon, and instead is branching out, with new appreciation of what his own parents went through when he was still at school.

Kevin and Christine Harvey ran the Takapuna Beach Holiday Park. When they were unable to secure a long-time lease extension on the property, they sold up in the early 2000s. “I didn’t realise the impact of it, losing their business and house all at once.”

The couple, who now live in Coatesville, started afresh and Harvey has come to appreciate their resilience. They supported him in taking flying lessons as a teenager, and during lockdown he helped them with their current business, dealing in temporary shelters. These were used to house virus-testing stations, so it was a busy time that happened out of the blue.

“That’s what came out of the whole Covid thing: you don’t know what is going to affect you and how.”

While Harvey was personally down about Covid’s impact on aviation and the loss of jobs across so many sectors, he is determined to remain positive. “Never say never is what came out of it to me.”

It was the same attitude that first took him overseas after attending flight school in Christchurch, and then working from Taupo on scenic trips and out of Gisborne internationally on low-level aerial surveying flights.

Harvey later based himself in Canada to build up experience in bigger planes, ending up working for a Toronto-based company that contracted to the United Nations. “At the time I didn’t realise it would be in such hotspots.”

Flying in Central America, Africa and Afghanistan followed. In both Somalia and Afghanistan, he came under small-arms fire from the ground. Making medical evacuations across the border from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, for six months has left ingrained memories. “I can still smell the skin and stuff burning.”

In Afghanistan, transport routes had to be varied for safety’s sake. For three months, he flew humanitarian flights moving cargo and passengers. Although the country was war-torn, from a four-engine turbo-prop aircraft above the mountains he also recalls it as “so beautiful”.

One experience in the Afghan capital, Kabul, was particularly hair-raising. During elections, when independent supervisors were targeted, those on his UN base had to take cover. Following protocol, he grabbed his ‘go bag’ and headed for a bunker under a central hall.

“When I got there, I thought I was the first person, but there were already 50 people. I thought, ‘How did they get there so quick?’” They all spent five hours holed up, with soldiers above fighting off insurgents.

In Liberia, Harvey experienced his first pandemic scare, the deadly ebola virus thatwas being held at bay, after an outbreak in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Precautions included dousings of hand sanitiser made from bleach.

In Hong Kong – where he worked for Cathay Pacific for three years before coming home – local experience of a SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak and then a MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) scare meant the sort of hygiene measures urged under Covid-19 weren’t so surprising.

Harvey is pleased New Zealand has staved off the virus and has closed its borders for now. But he says: “The world is not going to give up access to international markets and travelling freely,” and one day he hopes to take to the skies again.

African adventures… Flying for the United Nations took Chris Harvey to many of the world’s hotspots

However, a surprise offer of work made the day after his redundancy notice has proved to be just the lift he needed.

Sue Evans, the mother of a school friend, sounded him out about joining her in working as a real estate agent for Barfoot & Thompson in Milford.

During lockdown, Harvey swotted up on the trade online and has now just passed an oral examination to finish his certification. He is determined to give this lucky break a good go in the years ahead, saying many of his pilot and life experience skills transfer to real estate.

“I take from flying being able to understand and listen, follow criteria and rules, plus the liability aspects.” He has also gained an appreciation of cultural differences from his adventurous career.

To his “forced pivot” he would bring the bonus of being a local who was genuine in his love of the area he would be selling. “My mindset of this is it’s opened up an opportunity to try something different.”

This article originally appeared in the 7 July 2020 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.

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