Aviator’s long-time flight path

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'Aeroplane made us': Hank Sproull with his first Cessna Caravan

He dreamt of owning a plane, and now he has an airline. Hank Sproull tells Philip Chandler how he’s managed to survive in aviation, and shares his views on the Department of Conservation

Hank Sproull first dreamt of flying when, aged nine or 10, he’d chat to pilots of the light planes that would land beside his Te Anau primary school.

The Queenstowner, who nowadays owns Air Milford with his wife Kerrie, has now had 47 years’ aviation experience, but it took him a while till he flew.

On leaving school, Sproull says he wanted to join the airforce “but, as they say, I didn’t have the ‘right stuff”‘.

He applied instead to do an aircraft engineering apprenticeship with Mount Cook Airline, shifting to Queenstown to begin it in 1972.

He started to learn to fly, too, but put that on hold to pursue motocross racing instead, competing at a high level.

After five years, he qualified as an engineer, and continued to work for Mount Cook.

He then also got his private pilot’s licence, but had to be talked into upgrading that to a commercial licence.

After that, Mount Cook employed him as both a pilot and engineer – “it was sort of 50/50”.

From ’86, he also flew for Queenstowner Jules Tapper’s Hollyford Tourism Company, picking up trampers in Fiordland.

He applied to Mount Cook to fly its Hawker Siddeley HS 748 turboprops, and did an induction, but pulled back when told he had to wait about two years.

Meanwhile, he’d found a Cessna AGwagon crop-sprayer in the Pacific Islands which he bought and did up back here.

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