History makers: Air New Zealand’s first mother and son pilots

With the mum-and-son team making airline history, the pair share a passion for flying that spans generations.
Air New Zealand mother son pilot Ryan Bergman Ruth Schoushkoff

As a toddler, Ryan Bergman would be strapped into his car seat, perched in the cockpit alongside his pilot dad and taken for countless scenic flights soaring high over the Hauraki Gulf.

Two decades later, the dashing 26-year-old is still in the cockpit, but these days he’s gone from passenger to captain and, in keeping with family tradition, flying for the same airline as his pilot mum!

“Ryan came into this world with wings on,” laughs Air New Zealand’s first female jet captain Ruth Schoushkoff, 64. “He was always around airplanes and loved them.”

Happy landing – Ryan gets his private pilot’s licence in 2011.

Adds Ryan, “It’s amazing working in the same company, especially when I got my command. We took photos because we were in the same uniform.”

With the mum-and-son team making airline history, the pair share a passion for flying that spans generations. However, Ruth reveals her start was accidental.

“I went parachuting a couple of times when I was about 23 and was spectacularly unsuccessful at it,” she recalls.

“I jumped out and my toggle, which steers where you are going, wasn’t working and I landed on the rump of a cow! I cracked my ankle.

Ruth shows non-flying son Taylor her “office”!

“I let that heal and stupidly went up again and broke something else. I was not good at it, but I did enjoy going up in the airplane and thought, ‘Why don’t I learn how to fly?'”

Soon after getting her pilot’s licence, the clinical biochemist focused on turning her newfound hobby into a career.

“The minute I started, I was hooked,” she tells.

“I met my then-husband Jim Bergman and together with three other pilots, we started Great Barrier Airlines in 1980. My ex-husband had a lot to do with my training and encouraging Ryan. Not that Ryan needed any encouraging!”

Ruth joined Air New Zealand when she was 33, but kept on domestic and trans-Tasman routes while Ryan and his younger brother Taylor were in school. But for the past eight years, she’s been flying

to all points of the globe.

“I love it,” she enthuses. “It’s never boring. As the old saying goes, it’s a different view from the office every day. No day is the same and no night is the same.”

Yet Ruth isn’t the first in her family to take to the skies. Her father Raymond “Dan” Danzey was a decorated World War II fighter pilot – something she didn’t discover until she had been flying for nearly 20 years.

“My father was a spitfire pilot and he got the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). He did 99 missions and they sent him home at 23 because his commanding officer said, ‘Dan, you can’t do 100 because no-one’s ever survived 100.’ I didn’t find all that out until I was in my 40s, way after I joined Air New Zealand, when he started talking.”

Ruth’s war hero dad Dan.

Ruth says many men in his era never spoke about their experiences during the war, but she’s incredibly proud of his accomplishments and has a photo of him and his squadron sitting on the wing of a Hawker Tempest fighter bomber hanging on her dining room wall.

Like his grandfather, Ryan also took to the skies at a young age, making his first solo flight on the day he turned 16.

“It was scary,” he says, recalling nervously taking off and landing for the first time without a pilot parent guiding him in the cockpit. Now with a decade of flying under his hat, Ryan is hoping to join his mum in the airline’s jet pilot ranks.

“A lot of what I have been doing over the past five years is trying to follow Mum into the jets,” he tells. “Air New Zealand is based on a seniority list, so it’s just about waiting your turn.”

Despite working on different fleets, he’s even managed to sneak a sly shout out to her over the radio.

Ryan explains, “When I was doing my check to be a captain, I heard Mum flying around and said hello. The examiner couldn’t believe I had just said ‘Hello Mum’ on the radio during my check.”

Dan, Ryan and Ruth.

Ruth continues, “I’m on my way to Buenos Aires and I felt like saying, ‘Hello son, behave yourself now, won’t you,’ but I didn’t. I just said, ‘Hi.'”

As for the future, the proud mum hopes she will accomplish yet another milestone for the airline and one day get to work alongside her son on a jet.

“It would be absolutely the most wonderful thing,” muses Ruth. “There is a rider to that, though. Who would be the captain?!”

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