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Pilot’s COVID Career Detour to IT Project Management


Christian Rush recalls the surreal feeling of flying a Boeing 737-800 with almost no passengers on board before COVID-19 saw his 25-year career in aviation take a swift detour into IT project management.

“Usually we would fly around 180 passengers each flight across the Tasman to Australia, but during the last couple of weeks before lockdown we had no more than 14 passengers,” says Christian.

After parking the plane on 17 March, Christian didn’t realise he would not be back on board or able to say goodbye to many of the colleagues he met during the 13 years he worked for Virgin Australia.

He was one of around 600 staff that were suddenly unemployed when the airline announced it was immediately shutting its New Zealand operations in early April.

When a project manager role with Hawke’s Bay District Health Board was advertised in May, Christian decided to apply.

After convincing a panel he had the transferrable skills to be a project manager for the IT team, he started on a six-month contract as an intern in June 2020.

“Before you fly you need to spend time planning the flight and the route, weighing up factors like the weather, turbulence, assessing risk and planning contingencies. This is a very similar process to scoping a project.

“You also need to know how to solve problems, think ahead, communicate, lead a team, manage evolving situations and ensure it’s clear when you delegate a task and who is accountable for what and when,” says Christian.

He says while there are lots of similarities there are also differences.

“There’s a little more relationship building and diplomacy involved in project management, especially at the start.

“When you’re a Captain and exercise command you are expected to have an answer for every problem. In project management you defer to the expertise around you.”

The most enjoyable part of project management for Christian is the team work and opportunity to work with a variety of experts across a number of disciplines.

After helping to manage the relocation of the call centre to the corporate building without any disruption to services, Christian is now focused on helping the DHB transition away from faxed communications through the national Axe the Fax project and is also managing a network upgrade and equipment refreshment programme at the region’s community dental clinics.

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