'Awesome' awards for Wanaka Helicopters

Pete Spencer-Bower receives the Outstanding in Tourism award as (from left) his mother Carolyn,...
Pete Spencer-Bower receives the Outstanding in Tourism award as (from left) his mother Carolyn, father Simon Spencer-Bower and Lake Wanaka Tourism general manager James Helmore look on. PHOTO: THE FILM CREW
An aviation business with a focus on a strong family culture received the top award in the Ignite Wanaka Business Awards. Business reporter Jacob McSweeny catches up with Wanaka Helicopters.

Wanaka Helicopters has been rewarded for sticking by its founder’s philosophy of striving to create the best pilot in the world.

The helicopter tourism and training organisation won the Outstanding in Tourism title at the recent Ignite Wanaka Business Awards before going on to be named Supreme Winner.

"Bit of an awesome thing for us to achieve," Wanaka Helicopters’ chief executive, general manager and pilot, Pete Spencer-Bower said. Pete’s brother Chris Spencer-Bower is also a pilot and helps run the company.

"To win the tourism services and then also the supreme award was a bit of a shock."

"The tourism side was something we’ve focused on quite a lot over the last three years and obviously it paid off."

Pete and Chris are the sons of Simon Spencer-Bower who started the company about 40 years ago as Canterbury Helicopters.

Back then the company was based mainly around training with a bit of commercial work. They moved to Wanaka in 1992, but Pete Spencer-Bower said his father’s vision never wavered.

"Since then [1992] we’ve built on the flight training and it’s just got busier and busier. It all stems from my father Simon.

"His philosophy has been to create the best pilot in the world. Hand on heart, we are doing that."

Wanaka Helicopters was now the busiest and largest flight training school for helicopter pilots in Australasia, Pete Spencer-Bower said.

"Little old Wanaka has turned out a lot of good pilots," he said.

"Out of our last graduation everyone has jobs within the industry. That’s probably one thing that not any helicopter training organisation in New Zealand could say.

"We’ve got a 100% success rate for every one of our students leaving our course and getting a job within the aviation industry, which is a testament to how we train them as well."

About seven to eight students a year graduate from the company with a diploma in aviation. The company also provides self-funded and private training for people who want a helicopter licence.

One of the reasons that the judges gave Wanaka Helicopters the supreme award was for a strong company culture.

‘‘We’ve worked very hard to keep that family feel and treat our staff as we’d treat our family," Pete Spencer-Bower said.

"Our staff are very valuable to us, it costs a lot to train them and we want to provide the best working environment to our staff to be able to keep them on."

Over the last two years Wanaka Helicopters has hired nine new workers, both part-time and full-time. In that time they have had no-one leave.

Pete Spencer-Bower was effusive in his praise of staff and their contribution.

"It’s not just for us, it’s for them as well."

Despite its award-winning exploits, Pete Spencer-Bower was adamant the company would keep the status quo with no big changes on the horizon.

"We’re not going to reinvent the wheel just because we’ve won an award.

"We want to keep the same quality and keep our vision of providing the best flight training and turning out the best pilots in New Zealand, if not the world."

Pete Spencer-Bower said his parents still helped run the company but they had taken a bit of a back seat.

As for the man who started it all at Wanaka Helicopters, Pete said he was still up in the air whenever he could be.

"Dad says 'well I don’t want to go home and go gardening, I’d rather fly a helicopter with some people and show them a good time and have a good time myself'."



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