Introducing Sue Telford - New WAUG Chair

Instructor 1st C Cat2

Experienced General Aviation (GA) pilot and instructor, Sue Telford, has been appointed the new Chair of the Wanaka Airport User Group, representing the GA community in Wanaka. We pinned down Sue for a coffee and chat about her aviation life to date.

Sue’s flying career started at the tender age of 17 when Sue embarked on a trial flight in a dual control Cessna around the Kapiti Coast.

After taking the controls for just a short while, Sue got the aviation bug and has since spent her life flying, specialising in the world of General Aviation and mountain flying.

“To be fair I had no direction at 17 and I was bored working as a receptionist. I had no idea what to do with my life, but going on that flying famil was great and it sparked my interest.”

Sue attended the Flight training school in Paraparaumu to gain her commercial pilot’s licence (CPL), clocking up more than 500 flying hours tiki-touring around both islands.

“We’d all fly together in groups of three or more, just touring the North Island, getting up our hours. We had a lot of fun times flying from one aerodrome to the next. The Friday night gatherings were a hoot with big turnouts of like-minded aviators.”

One of Sue’s highlights of training in the north was the presence of the NZRAF Skyhawk jets during flight. “I would often fly in and near military airspace and occasionally look out and see the Skyhawks coming towards us, then flying loops around us for fun. Cos they could.”

Sue’s proud of her GA focussed background and experience, bucking the trend to turn to the glamourous airline pilot route like many of her peers.

GA ZK SUE older

“Looking back it’s gratifying that I have managed to forge a successful career in general aviation and specialise in this field, rather than going down the airlines route like many do. Despite pressure from peers, I have managed to stick to my field and now have the pleasure of living and flying in Wanaka since 1988  and making a living from it,” said Sue.

With over 6000 hours of flying, Sue is a qualified commercial pilot and instructor currently working in Wanaka for Classic Flights.

Instructor Sue

Since Sue started out, times have changed with a decline in the number of GA pilots and airplane owners, meaning the old school pilot camaraderie isn’t always present.

“I believe the launch of academies by the airlines, which formalised training and pulled wannabe pilots into the airline industry, meant that the traditional Aero Clubs as we knew them started to disappear,” says Sue.

“This, coupled with the cost of buying a plane increasing significantly, means that not as many people are taking up the craft as they used to.

The continued presence of GA as an occupation is also aided by the NZAWA, Warbirds airshows every year in New Zealand, scholarships and other aviation associations such as AOPA, who continually drive the sector as best they can.

Sue is also a strong advocate for encouraging female pilots into the GA industry and is a big supporter of the New Zealand Association for Women in Aviation (NZAWA).


Sue, along with Warbirds Over Wanaka’s event manager Mandy Deans, was integral in bringing the organisation’s annual meeting to Wanaka again this year for three days of flying competitions, networking and the AGM.

‘Years ago my old GA flight instructor signed all us girls up to the NZAWA when we were training and it’s such a great group to be a part of. I have learned so much from other women in the industry - it’s an incredibly supportive network of successful, experienced women pilots and industry professionals.”

GA Twin Otter

Since 1993, Sue and husband Gerald have owned and operated Telford Fishing and Hunting, a local hunting and fishing guiding, employing one other guide.

Despite a strong increase in visitor numbers to Wanaka and the region, the couple made the conscious decision to remain a small owner-operated and sustainable tourism business to maintain one-on-one contact with their guests.

“We could have expanded but we love meeting people from all over the world and hosting them in our stunning town. Keeping it niche and tailored to the individual is part of our strategy.”

From NZ and Australia to the UK and US, they regularly host visitors from all over the world.

Sue’s experience in GA will come in handy in her latest role as chair of the Wanaka Airport User Group. The Chair will play a part next year when the airport engages with the airport and wider communities on the future of Wanaka Airport.

“I’m looking forward to representing all the users of the airport and working with the airport community and QAC over the next year as we talk about the future of Wanaka Airport,” added Sue.

GA Gliding Sue

It’s great to have you at the helm Sue.