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Aviation magic for Abi Carter

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She’s been saving up for years, sometimes working three jobs at a time – all for a chance to touch the sky!

For bright-eyed 20-year-old Abi Carter, she’s always been fascinated by aviation. And now, she's been awarded a Pauwels Flying Scholarship, sponsored by the Gattung Foundation.

“My nana actually used to take me to Classic Flyers as a little kid and I always wanted to fly but then life kind of hit and there were bills to pay and helping out my sisters and then I started working full-time,” says the young pilot prodigy.

It wasn’t until her co-worker and best friend Kate, who was sitting her commercial pilot licence, encouraged Abi to give flying a go.

“[Kate] took me for a flight, which was magic – and I was absolutely hooked.

"Then I’ve just been saving for the past couple of years and then started flying this year, and it’s everything.”

Mental money

Abi has been funding herself through her Private Pilot Licence training and exams at Tauranga Aero Club, where she impressively completed all PPL Theory exams in a club record time of 32 days.

Obtaining her PPL has cost about $26,000 so far.

“I’ve been working two jobs for the most part – sometimes three over summer – that was mental, and just saving every bit.

“I’ve pretty much just been the stingiest friend for a very long time…It’s been tricky you know, when everyone else is going out and doing stuff, I’m just counting my little dollar coins going: ‘No, not tonight’.”

But it’s all been worth it, with Abi awarded the Pauwels Flying Scholarship last week after sister Sophie encouraged her to apply.

“It’s a dream come true,” says Abi. Set up by retired pilot, John Pauwels – the scholarship supports financially disadvantaged or underrepresented New Zealanders aged 15-20, aspiring to become pilots.

Going commercial

Emotions were high when Abi was told she’d won the scholarship.

“I couldn’t actually believe it because John Pauwels called me and I just sat on my floor and burst into tears… I thought it was a call to say: ‘Sorry Abi’… but no, they were like: ‘Congratulations’ and I just couldn’t stop crying.”

Valued at $13,000, the scholarship will support Abi with her training to gain her Commercial Pilot Licence through Nelson Aviation College, where she’s been accepted to start in February 2024.

“It’s such an exciting future to think about. I still can’t believe it. It’s just like everything’s magic.”

So what does it take to become a pilot?

“Well my nana calls it stubborn – I call it determination – same thing really. You can’t give up. You’ve just got to keep going. Determination and stubbornness takes you pretty far,” says Abi.