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Happily grounded: Rob Banks now has a trucking business after a lifetime in aviation

After well over 30 years in aviation — either paragliding, flying turboprops or pilot training
— Rog Banks is back on terra firma. He talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about why he’s swapped
planes for trucks, representing New Zealand in paragliding and why he’s happy living back
in the Whakatipu Basin

Arrowtowner Rog Banks admits Covid even did him a favour.

When it hit last year, the 53-year-old was in India training pilots for the national airline.

He used to work eight weeks on, four weeks off, giving him a chance to see his family at least twice a year.

However, Covid travel rest rictions put paid to that — apart from one trip to NZ to see his
dying mum — so he decided to up sticks.

‘‘I got home on Christmas Eve and thought, ‘I need to do something’ — I’d had a house in
Arrowtown for two-and-a-half years and I’d lived in it for three months.’’

As a result, he last month bought a Hiab truck and started a business, Arrow Transport.

That’s why he says Covid’s been good — ‘‘it got me off my bum and thinking about doing
something for myself’’.

But it’s a big change after spending a working life in the air.

Banks was greatly influenced in that career by his father, Peter, who flew all his life, including in Queenstown, for Southern Scenic Air Services, during some of his son’s very early years.

Initially, though, he flew paragliders, not long after they launched in the resort in the late
’80s.

He and Mark McIntyre bought the Max Air paragliding school, which operated off the
Crown Range, from Ged Hay and Paul van der Kaag.

He later sold out to his business partner and was in the four-man NZ team at the first world paragliding champs, in France, in ’91.

He stayed on in Europe, competing for two more years before returning to Queenstown and
buying a tandem concession to fly off Bob’s Peak.

In ’96, he and a mate became the fifth and sixth people to climb Mt Cook and fly off it.

‘‘It was magnificent — we flew for about an hour and landed by the Hooker River bridge, almost by the village.’’

Climb up, fly off: Rog Banks about to fly off Mt Cook in ’96

After about five years, Banks sold his tandem concession to fund flying lessons with Wakatipu Aero Club’s Carlton Campbell, giving him mountain flying experience that later
served him well.

His first job was plying the Milford route in Nomads and Britten-Norman Islanders — his
Mount Cook company bosses, Jules Tapper and Rex Dovey, had flown with his dad.

He then flew Dash 8s for Air NZ in Nelson, then Christchurch.

Banks next spent six years in mountainous Papua New Guinea, introducing, alongside two
colleagues, ATR turboprops to PNG Air pilots.

After a brief stint in Fiji, he worked for Air India in Hyderabad, mostly training pilots to fly
into the Himalayas — ‘‘the last year, I spent two-thirds of my time in a simulator’’.

If Covid hadn’t happened, Banks says he’d have probably stayed two more years in India,
however’s he’s more than happy to now be living in Arrowtown with his wife, Fi.

‘‘There’s not many genuine old towns in NZ any more — it’s just beautiful.’’

He’s also enjoying paragliding — ‘‘probably my real love’’ — off Brow Peak, landing opposite the entrance to Millbrook Resort.

He’s yet to miss fixed-wing flying, however.

‘‘Maybe down the track, when the business gets established, I might do part-time into Milford, if I can.’’

Though truck driving might seem out of his comfort zone, ‘‘I’ve always liked trucks’’, he
says.

‘‘When I was a kid, to dad’s horror I had truck posters on my wall, not aeroplane pictures.’’

And when he was looking for something to do, ‘‘I thought, construction’s going to keep
booming here, it’s something that’s almost Covid-proof, it seems’’.

‘‘To be honest, I’m not qualified for much else.’’

scoop@scene.co.nz