Jim Summerfield thought he was to be feted for 30 years as a flying instructor at the Kaitaia Aero Club rooms on Saturday night. And he was — but there was more.

New Zealand's FAI representative Liz King had travelled from Auckland to be there to present him with a surprise, a Federation Aeronautique Internationale award for his contribution to aviation.

"If anyone was born to fly, it was Jim Summerfield," Ms King said.

"At the age of 9 he saw a topdressing aircraft working and decided that was what he was going to do. As a teenager he gained his private pilot's licence in 1967 with the Kaitaia Aero Club. In the 1970s, having gained his commercial licence, he took his turn flying holiday safety patrols, along with charter, scenic and emergency air ambulance flights for the local hospital.

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"During this time he also took up his first topdressing job, work he retired from just a few years ago, but continued to do all he could for the club."

In 1988 Mr Summerfield gained his flight instructor rating and became the club's resident instructor, and still was. He had always expected his students to maintain a professional attitude, manner and dress: "If the standard required is here, you aim for there," he would say.

"Jim has always first and foremost been strong on safety in aviation," Ms King added. "In his own words, 'I teach to stay alive.' He has always been prepared to go the extra distance to make someone a better pilot."

In the late 1980s he was behind the building of new club premises, enthusing members to raise funds then literally building the club rooms.

Throughout that time he had continued topdressing, amassing more than 22,000 hours in the air.

An emotional Mr Summerfield replied that flying had been everything to him, second only to his family. His wife Val had worked to put him through pilot school in Auckland, for which he would be forever grateful, his memories including emergency flights on days when even the ducks were walking.

"I've pretty well enjoyed every day of it," he said, but while he had widely varied experiences, topdressing had been his life. He had had a few "dings", but no bad ones, in an industry in which he had seen many fellow pilots, and four loader drivers, lose their lives.

Instructing, he added, was the worst job in the world — the pay was pathetic, and instructors were expected to produce pilots "out of nothing", but he had enjoyed the opportunity to pass his passion on to another generation.