On Meg Morris – for HeliOps Magazine

If you call Snowy Mountains Helicopters to enquire about a flight, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by the cheerful voice of Meg Morris. Charter pilot and skilled aviation tourism all-rounder, Meg has quickly become the face of the company and, as is the case in so many niche aviation operations worldwide, her daily tasks cover many aspects of the business.

A typical day in the life of Meg finds her up early in the morning, either training hard on the weights in her home gym or out on the trails taking her dog for a run. Following this, it’s up to the hangar to check the Robinson 44, refuel, and give her a good wash before the first guests arrive. Based out of the Jindabyne Airport, a green grass and gravel strip that looks out over the little township and the lake, Meg feels lucky that her primary job is to share the beauty of this area with visitors and locals alike.

“When people ask why I moved from the warm and sunny Gold Coast, this right here–” Meg gestures out the window of the heli, suspended above the snowcaps, “is the answer. Flying helis around these mountains is what dreams are made of.”

There are plenty of scenic flights around Mt Kosciuszko, the rooftop of Australia (at 7310ft, this is Australia’s highest point, surrounded by national park and plenty of wild, tiger country), but Meg also gets to fly lots of picnic flights, as well as winery, distillery, and brewery lunch tours. Then there are the particularly heartstring-tugging bookings featuring engagement proposals and even elopements. 

It’s pretty different from the skyscrapers and golden surf coast Meg was frequenting up north.

“One moment, we will be observing the wild brumbies and other wildlife; the next, we will be doing a lap of the highest mountain in Australia. Then we might land at a beautiful bush location, where I put out a champagne picnic, and my guests explore the local creeks and mountain wildflowers.”

Jindabyne is the hub of Australia’s High Country, a tiny town perched on the shores of a vast, glassy lake surrounded by mountains. In winter, Jindy is a bustling ski town, but it’s great fun in summer as well; the locals are energetic and adventurous, the lake is perfect for watersports, and the flying is as entertaining as ever. It’s a great place to live and is home to an active community.

Community is essential, and it’s a big part of what got Meg through the grinds of flight training and finding a flying job while the world was in the grip of a certain global pandemic.

“From the first day I walked into ground school to the day I sat my CPL test was approximately 18 months. It was entirely self-funded – I utilized my savings as well as my inheritance to pay my way through training.” 

Meg quickly realized she was going to need some moral support.

“Right from the beginning, I immersed myself in the industry as much as I could, attending both Rotortech on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and HAI HELI-EXPO in Anaheim (USA). I went to these events for a variety of reasons; my love of aviation, to network, and to absorb as much valuable industry insight and knowledge as possible.”

“I met some of the most incredible people here, and on social media, building invaluable relationships with both fellow pilots and industry experts alike,” Meg points out, “many of whom have been generous enough to provide me with advice and mentoring.”

Meg began working as a hangar attendant for a local tourism operator a few months into her training, hot-refuelling the turbine helicopters, washing and detailing aircraft, coordinating bookings, and more. For three years she worked tirelessly, taking the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of running a heli tourism business and spending her weekends travelling the country with a stack of resumes. She met with as many operators as she could in the hopes of sparking her transition into a flying role.

“I always acknowledge my three years on the ground – to help aspiring students and pilots realize that, although you don’t often get a flying gig straight away, eventually the hard work and perseverance pays off.”

Finally, it happened. 

“I was very fortunate to obtain my first full-time flying job in the midst of Covid-19 and relocated from Queensland to Jindabyne to take on the position here.” 

“My workmates are a fantastic team, a great group of both mentors and friends, and I am so grateful to work for such a dynamic company with such a range of different aircraft and different work. It has meant I can look forward to furthering my knowledge and skills here in years to come.”

Meg’s vibrant presence, both in day-to-day life and on social media (where she is better known as @heli_meg), is sure to be a beacon to other girls and women who are eager to see what this industry has to offer them.

“I think the industry is certainly starting to change and feel more inclusive; however, I think this will continue to be a process for some time. I would love to see the day when a female pilot isn’t referred to as ‘the lady pilot’ or ‘the female pilot,’ but just as ‘the pilot.’ Let’s raise the seven per cent!”

“I have so many inspiring [female] friends in the industry, and truly love that we are all about celebrating each other’s achievements, uplifting one another, and being supportive of one another.”

Next on the radar – Meg’s working towards becoming the handiest person in the hangar. Unfortunately, Australia’s long, hot summers do not escape the high country, and when the mountains dry out and heat up, Jindabyne acts as a base for some of Australia’s most sobering aerial fire-fighting efforts. Meg’s senior colleagues (under Snowy Mountain Helis’ parent company, Heli Surveys) join the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) and NSW rural fire brigades, battling roaring flames and towering smoke columns that restrict visibility and constrict throats. Meg is drawn to this flying, too.

“I hope to join my workmates in flying utility work in the future – with a particular interest in aerial lifting/long-lining work, aerial fire-fighting, and fire-mapping operations.”

And in the long-term? Meg dreams of flying for the Highway Patrol Air Wing in the USA – a vision she’s had since she was invited on a life-changing ride-along one evening in California. “I was able to attend a real-time pursuit, test out the night-vision goggles, and witness the impressive expertise of these multi-skilled pilots firsthand.”

“A word of advice to all juniors in the industry; when opportunities like that come along, jump on them and experience as many different operations you can!”

First published in HeliOps Magazine – Issue 136 (Kia Kaha Media) in ‘A Greater View’, a column profiling women in the heli industry

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