Bibianne van Latum was one of those kids who know they want to fly – from an age when most of us are still getting our gumboots stuck and ruining a sock. She has memories spanning back as far as her grandma’s garden in the Netherlands at five years old, plane spotting with her cousin. But to Bibi, planes were just a way to get from A to B – she was much more interested in their rotary counterparts. “I’d be lying on my back in the grass looking for helicopters. I should really say helicopter, because I only ever saw the one. It is fair to say, perhaps, that the Netherlands wasn’t the best place to chase my dream, but, that didn’t stop me.” Helicopters, to Bibi, represent freedom, fun, and magic. It’s easy to read her passion for them in just a few short minutes.
Discouraged by the thought of signing up to thirteen-plus years in the military and with no connections in the aviation industry, Bibi felt for another pathway. She knew she needed two things to become a helicopter pilot: money and the prospect of work abroad. In her opinion, “flight schools in Australia, America and New Zealand are amongst the best in the world; hence the requirements for a career that I could pursue internationally.” After university-hopping from Europe to Asia and back again, she resigned herself to a career in recruitment – the best method, in her mind, of maximizing prospects.
After ten long years, a bright-eyed Bibi moved to New Zealand to begin on her Private Pilot License; however, due to restricted working rights, was soon forced to cross the Tasman to Melbourne, Australia. Working in an industry that was really only benefactory to her in monetary terms, Bibi was, by this point, finding things hard. Fortunately, her story is lifted here by a good number of supportive colleagues who took it upon themselves to keep her focussed on ‘the dream.’ “My colleague, Geoff, would come with me to spot the beautiful helicopters landing on the Helipads in Melbourne’s CBD and kept pointing out the office window, where EC130s Helicopters would fly past every hour.” They encouraged her to carry on, complete her permanent residency, and finish raising her funds.
Finally, Bibi had the money she needed, and the day she possessed that amount was the day she resigned from recruitment and began flying. The following eight months were some of the best in her life; her training institution subsequently opening the door to her first job. “I was very lucky that the owner of my flight school runs a scenic flight operation in the Northern Territory.” So, off she went to fly Robinson 44s.
A ferry flight from Melbourne to Yulara, NT, with a fellow pilot, stands out. Just down the road from Uluru, and home of the Camel Cup race weekend, you don’t get much closer to Australia’s dead center – or further from the Dutch homeland! This flight covered more of the Outback than the average Aussie witnesses in a lifetime.
“We departed early morning, with spare fuel in jerrycans. It was absolutely fantastic, a road trip by helicopter! We saw all the different landscapes Australia has to offer: the beautiful green of Victoria to the unique red of the Northern Territory.” Indeed, from the south to the north, you witness a dramatic change in the ruggedness of the landscape, especially from the air.
After the first day of flying, the pair had to delay their flight plans due to sandstorms. “It was truly a wall of sand, coming at us from the ground to as high as we could see. It is astonishing what nature can create.” Landing every two and a half hours to refuel, the extensive flight planning (and preparation for the unexpected) was more than worth it. “When we saw Uluru in the distance, it was simply breathtaking – the colours and unbelievable size of it! It’s such a unique place, and flying in that area is absolutely amazing.”
More recently, Bibi has had the chance to run her fingers through all facets typical of a smaller commercial aviation operation in Australia, working and flying for a charter company in the Hunter Valley, NSW. In these establishments, with the right attitude, you can gain valuable experience to help you work out how you’d like to specialise down the track. “It’s such an opportunity to learn all the different aspects of the industry, so I feel grateful for the jobs I’ve had whilst flying here.”
“I meet new people every day, and I love the connection you can build in such a short time. It’s fantastic to help people make memories and to make sure they have the best time. After a day of ‘entertaining’ and flying, I usually feel very satisfied.” However, as much as she loves the charter side of things, Bibi is determined to become an instructor – she has completed the theory components of the rating, and the flying will happen as soon as viable.
Today, Bibi is pacing out the current climate and finding ways to get through the uncertainty introduced by a global pandemic. She began running online theory courses and tutoring early on – a venture directly in line with her ambition to instruct. Either way, it’s evident that she’s not one to give up, and if you’re doing what you feel you were born to do, what else would you do instead?
Bibi’s story is one of perseverance and overcoming obstacles, working so hard and for so long to achieve something that was “too good to be true – even in my dreams!” It certainly goes to show that if your priorities are right, you can achieve just about anything. As Jana Meyer says, “Sometimes it’s just a matter of how long it takes you.”
First published in HeliOps Magazine – Issue 127 (Kia Kaha Media) Pg 44-49, September 2020