New heli operator cops chop from rival

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A Queenstowner believes 11 years’ local farming experience will help with his new helicopter excursion business. 

Paul Mitchell – whose Queenstown Airport-based Heli Tours got Civil Aviation Authority approval on Christmas Eve – admits he’s “new to the game”. 

The 32-year-old just got his commercial licence after winter but says he’s flown privately around the local area for four years. 

Mitchell won’t reveal his exclusive landing concessions but says they’re as far away as Canterbury. 

He’s jacking up combo trips with local tourism giant Real Journeys – flying people to Walter Peak where Real Journeys will host them on a farm tour and return them to Queenstown on its vintage Earnslaw steamer. 

Mitchell – who calls his product “premium but not exclusive” – has also linked up with Central Otago wineries. 

While most local pilots boast thousands of hours’ commercial experience, Mitchell will only disclose he’s flown “way more” than 200 – “If [people] want to know that they can come to me and I’ll tell them.” 

Pat West, manager of rival Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, says he doesn’t employ anyone who’s flown fewer than 2000 hours. 

“Plus, when they come to us with 2000 hours, they’re under a fairly strict supervision regime and limited to what they can do until they get experience in this environment.” 

Mitchell believes what he lacks in hours he makes up for in experience farming around Lake Wakatipu, the past six years as a “wool grower” at remote Halfway Bay Station. 

“I know the weather and the wind and how it all works, which is my upper hand.” 

Mitchell, who’ll do 80 per cent of the flying, says he can call on the experience of his chief pilot, Jeff Sly, who’s notched up more than 10,000 hours over 40 years, and farmer Eric Scott, who’s flown for five years. 

“I also know little knobs and tarns five to 10 minutes away.” 

So far he’s working with one machine – a rebuilt six-seater AS350 Squirrel – but he’s hoping to bring a second into service next May/June.