Q&A with Chief Pilot Luke
What’s your role at Life Flight and when did you join the team?
I’m the Flight Operations Manager and an active pilot. When I’m not flying, I’m overseeing our pilots, crews, and general operations. I officially joined Life Flight in 2018 but was around the base as early as 2014 when I worked for Air-2-There, a charter flight service. We occasionally did aeromedical flights for Life Flight when they needed an extra set of wings.
What kind of advancements have you noticed across the industry in that time?
To be honest, there’s been very little change in the NZ industry until now, and it’s with Life Flight. Our new fleet’s loading system is a real game-changer, it’s making operations safer and will enable us to help whole new groups of people.
What sparked your interest in the aeromedical industry?
I never really set out for the aeromedical sector, I just never fancied scheduled flight work. I started with charter work, and more and more of that turned into aeromedical. Now I love it.
What attracted you to work at Life Flight?
More than anything – the history and longevity. Life Flight is so well established, and it was one of the pioneering aeromedical providers in New Zealand.
What’s the best part of the job?
The varying nature of the job – you’re never flying the same mission. There are different locations, different patients with different needs, and the challenge of logistics. You’re always adapting to the job.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Hah, the early starts… I can happily take a job at 2:00 AM, but getting up at 6 or 7 is a real struggle.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
For probably the last 6 years I’ve been renovating the house room by room. I’m on the final room now though… I have no idea what I’ll be doing once that’s finished. Probably start all over again.
Are there any types of missions that stand out to you?
When you fly someone to treatment, and then fly them home however much later, those are always memorable. I’ve got children, so when it’s a prem baby needing care, and a few weeks later we see how much better they are, those really stand out.
Is there a mission you’ll always remember?
One from my early years has always stuck with me. We were flying a patient who needed a lung transfer and right as she boarded, she collapsed. Our crew got straight to work, gave her oxygen, and wasted no time flying to Auckland. After we landed and the medical team took over, they found out the other plane bringing her lungs broke down on the runway and couldn’t make it. We took the job, flew all the way down to Invercargill to pick them up, and brought them back to Auckland in time for her surgery.
Have you had an encounter with someone you rescued in the past?
Not until just recently! I was chatting with a patient before our flight, and I asked where he was from. Found out he was from the same suburb, then the same hill, then the same street! Turns out he lives just 5 houses down from mine. I think I’ll be bumping into him pretty often.
What personal qualities do you think are essential for the job?
Adaptability. In almost every other job, there’s an unforeseen event that requires some problem-solving from the team. It’s not that things are wrong, they’re just different. The medical team is delayed, the airport is about to close, a patient requires specialist equipment. Change happens all the time, and it’s our job to get patients to the care they need. Critical thinking and adaptability are crucial.
What would you like to say to our wonderful supporters?
I’m hugely thankful for all the people who keep us flying because aviation isn’t cheap. As a donor, I know it’s sometimes hard to see how each individual donation helps, but across the community, many tens add to hundreds, many hundreds add into thousands, and many thousands are enabling this service for everyone.