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Kāpiti Airport. A soul source for the community.

Is it just a place for aircraft to take off and land? Or perhaps a community hub teaching a large contingent of women to fly, enabling the neurodiverse to become pilots, while creating aviation pathways for our young people. Not something we often stop to think about when we reflect on what the Kāpiti air space brings to our region.

For local educational leader, pilot, and community advocate Sarah Sharpe, Kāpiti Airport is where she and other women have learned to fly. A place that has enabled often excluded groups, including the young and neurodiverse, to fulfil their flying dreams. She shares her reflections on the importance of retaining this soul source for our community.

I’m a mother, education consultant and private pilot. Two years ago, I finally fulfilled my life-long dream of becoming a pilot, and I haven’t looked back since.

Part of my aviation journey and my commitment to the airport–when we heard what was intended for the space–was to stand up and ask, 'What do we all think about this?’ Surely we must come to a resolution that is the best outcome for everybody?’

Initially, I got involved through conversations via the entity Save Kāpiti Airport. It was my way of being proactive about raising our ideas and concerns. We didn’t want to be perceived as a privileged group of individuals with expensive toys, as this is certainly not who or what we are. We are a diverse group of community members, aviation enthusiasts, young and old, from all walks of life and gender. I’m proud of that!

I grew up in the UK in an era when women were not encouraged to be commercial pilots. If you wanted to be in the air, it was assumed you would be an air steward. I lived close to Southend airport, and I used to watch the planes every day. My father had a passion for flying, which I inherited, and we used to talk about planes and make model planes together. My first job as a young teenager was to clean the plane interiors of the commercial flights that flew in and out of Southend Airport.

When we moved to New Zealand 30 years ago, we landed in Paekākāriki. Again, I found myself watching the planes fly overhead and increasingly thinking, I need to do this! I need to learn to fly.

The thing that drives me now? My love of flying, of course, and seeing other women come on board–excuse the pun! Currently, we have 34 women learning to fly at Kāpiti Aero Club. For a small coastal region, it’s part of our identity, and it's something to be incredibly proud of. It’s not just about flying. It’s a community of women who support one another through our flying challenges and successes. It’s a nurturing environment where we encourage women into aviation within Aotearoa New Zealand. I get such a buzz seeing a lineup of all-women waiting to fuel up their planes.

As an aside, I’m a teacher by trade. I became a dyslexia education specialist 15 years ago and established a successful neurodiversity education programme at Kāpiti College. While teaching there, we had around 140 students engaged in the programme at any one time.

Within our aviation community, I have observed that quite a few people with dyslexia are learning to fly. Many of these people are visual, spatial thinkers, which is an incredibly useful asset to have when flying a plane or helicopter in 3-dimensional space.

Indeed, some people talk about the ‘superpowers’ of a neurodiverse brain, and this would definitely be one of them! However, to be a qualified pilot, you must read numerous textbooks and pass at least six theory exams. So for those with dyslexia, that is challenging.

Through my consultancy business, I’ve combined my two passions as I help people who learn differently– the neurodiverse– pass their aviation theory exams, enabling them to become pilots.

Whilst learning to fly, an instructor once told me that they could visualise the inside of the cockpit in their head and ‘fly’ the plane while sitting at home. Student pilots have told me similar things.

That superpower is a valuable talent that we currently nurture in our community of neurodiverse aviators.

As well as our well-supported neurodiverse learners, we have a strong contingent of women pilots at various stages of their training, and that’s before we even touch on the aviation pathways we’re creating for our young people.

The Young Eagles Programme, facilitated through the Aero Club, offers flying and aviation-related experiences for young people aged 15-18 years. This programme is run for up to 15 participants at any one time and is often a stepping stone to becoming a qualified pilot or a career in an aviation-related field. Scholarships are also offered as part of the programme.

My experience is that the Club is a colourful and diverse group of people with a shared passion for flying. Our members work and save hard to achieve their dreams, where the sky is literally the limit.

Looking to the future, we envision a greener aviation industry. Having successfully hosted the Pipistrel Alpha Electro aircraft Rerenga Hiko ('Flying Electric') last year, we are excited to watch the progress of cleaner and more sustainable technology within the aviation industry.

It would be fantastic to see more engagement as a community with the space and more events bringing visitors to our region. For example, being host to aviation events, such as New Zealand’s Regional Flying Competitions, holding ‘fly Ins’ where aircraft from other Aeroclubs around the country could visit Kāpiti, and Community Open Days where our local community can come together and see what we have to offer. Bringing people to the region and having more local community involvement would support local businesses and tourism alike.

Important dates for our region:

  • Friday 16 September - voting for local councillor candidates opens.

  • 12 pm Saturday 8 October - voting for local councillor candidates closes.

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