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Vai Papali'i

Quality Training and Process Co-ordinator

Meet Vai, a member of our Aviation Safety and Security team. He’s part of the airport dragon boating team, The Flying Dragons, but admits that Waka Ama has his heart. 


What do you do at the airport? I audit the operations of the airport to ensure we maintain our Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA) aerodrome certificate, which allows us to operate as an international airport. Aviation safety and security are a big part of my role, including training and airside driving.

Best work story? I’ve been working here since 1996 so there are a lot of stories! There are two stories in particular that resonate with me. The first, when I escorted Sir Edmund Hillary to a vehicle airside after he arrived from overseas. That was a privilege.

The second being when the Crusaders won their first title in 1998 and over five thousand Cantabrians arrived at the airport to welcome them home and celebrate. It was fantastic - I don’t think anything will top the joy and celebration everyone felt that evening. And yes, all this coming from a Blues supporter!  

We hear you recently tied the knot – congrats! What inspired you to have a surprise wedding? It’s our second time around so the only people you have to please are yourselves, and we’ve both had the big wedding. We count ourselves lucky because the engagement party-turned wedding happened on Saturday 14 March, just before we went to Alert Level 4 lockdown. I will always remember the surprise and palpable anticipation in the room when it became a wedding - pretty awesome.

Honeymoon location? We had our honeymoon in beautiful Hanmer Springs just two days before lockdown. It was meant to be, we can’t wait to go back.

What were you most looking forward to after lockdown? Having a beer at a pub (and maybe a red wine or two!) with good food and of course, Jo my wife.

Favourite way to keep fit? Waka Ama canoe outrigging is my mental fix.

What do you enjoy about Waka Ama? I enjoy it because it’s a physical, spiritual and cultural experience being out on the open water. Paddling a single canoe in 5 metre plus swells in Kauai (Hawaii) with Jurassic Park in the background is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Canoe outrigging is a great way to get a workout, on your own or in a group, and see the country at the same time with regattas held all over NZ.

How did the airport dragon boating team come about? The Flying Dragons was part of the inaugural Dragon Boat competition formed in 1991 as a corporate team bonding exercise, meaning a lot of socialising! It’s a great way to introduce both new and old staff to different areas of the business. It’s also the closest you’ll get to synchronised swimming, with 20 people paddling in time to get to the finish line, sometimes only winning by a few seconds - nothing beats it. I’ve been fortunate to be in winning teams, but my main memories are of working hard for each other and having fun.

What do you love most about your job? Building relationships and making a difference. My job allows me to interact with a wide range of people. We are fortunate to have genuine people working for the airport who have everyone’s best interests at heart.