22 September 2019

On the Inaugural International

A huge thanks to Don Colway for writing this review of Air Chathams' new air service to Norfolk Island...

There cannot be too many places left on Earth these days where two and a half hours can be spent on an international flight in a 60 year old Convair 580. Air Chathams AucklandNorfolk Island service is now one. 

I had had the privilege of being on their first scheduled flight (Flight 3C 401 on 6 September 2019) and what an experience it was. Air Chathams has a thoroughly deserved reputation of really looking after their passengers and on this occasion they certainly did.

Air Chathams had their own counter at Auckland with some Air Chathams staff behind the counter. As we lined up for check in we were all given an Air Chathams baseball cap ( which came in very useful on the Island). There were a few teething issues with check in, but I’ve seen far worse on regular international flights.

In due course we were treated to the sight of Convair 580 ZK-CIB being towed towards the International Terminal. When Convairs come into Whanganui they look huge but in among 777s and 787 CIB looked tiny. CIB was being used as at present there is heavy passenger traffic to and from the Chatham Islands so ZK-CIE is handling that route.

Boarding was by way of a bus out to where CIB was parked. All handled very smoothly.

One disadvantage of CIB is that because of being a combi freighter not all the seats rows have windows and initially we were quite disappointed to find we were in one of the windowless rows. However, the disappointment soon evaporated in the sheer excitement of the moment.

Flight level 240 - 24,000 feet en route to Norfolk

The seats still had huge legroom and space and were about 150% better than the very middle seats we had in a crowded 10 seat per row 777-200 LR for 16 hour flight with Qatar recently.

38 of the 39 seats were full on the first flight - Photo : Don Colway
Up front doing the flying were Craig and Duane Emeny (father and son) - the airline's CEO and General Manager. After take off we were allowed to move around and from time to time were able to find a window.

Father and son... Craig and Duane Emeny on Norfolk - Air Chathams photo

The two and a half hour flight seemed to go quickly aided by coffee, tea and of course the ever popular “Tim Tams” (What would Air Chathams be without Tim Tams?). Of course there was also the sound of those wonderful Allison turboprops and the company of other passengers fill in the time..

The flight was met by a local Polynesian dance group and a few local VIPS.

Air Chathams' first scheduled international service. Convair 580 ZK-CIB on Norfolk Island on 6 September 2019. Don Colway photo

A week later we returned (Flight 3C 402 on 13 September 2019) and guess what the windowless seats again. However, we were assured that once airborne we could move to window seats which we did and remained there until approach to Auckland. Interestingly of the eight passengers in the windowless area only four of us moved.

Convair 580 ZK-CIB back at Norfolk for Don's return flight home on 13 September 2019 - Don Colway photos

Again fantastic and genuine cabin service.

Very interesting to also note that the flight was also carrying what appeared to be a fair amount of freight –making good use of CIB’s ‘combi’ capacity…..a direct air freight service to/from New Zealand may be very useful to Norfolk Islanders.

A solid machine - Don Colway photo

All too soon back in Auckland and a few hours wait before boarding a regular SAAB flight back to Whanganui..

“Islanders” were very welcoming and were all very interested that we had come on the new direct service. Many spoke of a real sadness that the Air New Zealand direct service had been dropped and expressed a real enthusiasm for the new Air Chathams service.

I thoroughly recommend this new service especially to my fellow aircraft enthusiasts. How much longer the Convairs will be around is anyone’s guess – like so many things it depends to whom you talk.

One thing is sure they won’t last forever so my recommendation is do this unique flight before it’s too late.

I’m also prepared to bet that readers will fall in love with the Island – we did.

21 September 2019

Jetstream Movements

There have been BAe Jetstream movements in the last few days... Originair's BAe Jetstream 31 was seen flying at Palmerston North. Originair's website shows flights resuming on 4 October 2019 from Nelson to both New Plymouth and Palmerston North.

BAe Jetstream 31 ZK-JSH at Nelson on 18 December 2017
Meanwhile, according to the CAA aircraft register BAe Jetstream 32s ZK-ECI and ZK-ECJ have had a change of ownership and have been reregistered to ANCL Investments Limited, (Air National Corporate). What that means for both aircraft remains to be seen. They were previously registered to air2there.

BAe Jetstream 32 ZK-ECI at Nelson on 24 January 2018
 BAe Jetstream 32 ZK-ECJ at Tauranga  on 7 November 2016

16 September 2019

Challenges and Opportunities for Saab Services to Northern Cook Islands

Engineers have inspected the Cooks’ most remote runways as the local airline talks with government about upgrading the Northern Group’s coral runways. It comes after the airline announced it was adding a second Saab 340BPlus 34 passenger turbo-prop to its fleet, later this year. The new aircraft was previously operated by Japan Airlines subsidiary JAC and is presently undergoing maintenance in the USA in preparation for its delivery flight to Rarotonga and induction into the airline’s fleet in October. The second Saab will add capacity initially to the Rarotonga-Aitutaki route with the potential for regional charter flights to Tahiti and Niue. The new aircraft has been the catalyst for Air Rarotonga entering discussions with government about upgrading the runways on Manihiki, Penrhyn and potentially Pukapuka – to allow regular scheduled flights there. Saab flights into the Northern Group would substantially reduce the cost of travel for local people on the back of specialised small-scale tourism to the North, Air Rarotonga chief executive Ewan Smith said. “By operating a larger aircraft it means we can carry almost a full load up there, so if we can supplement local needs with a little bit of tourism it means we can carry 20 to 25 passengers per flight and then we can reduce prices significantly.” At the moment a flight to the Northern Group is around $1300 each way. If the new service eventuates this would reduce by more than half, Smith envisages. Smith says there is a lot of “commentary” about the cost of flying to the Cooks’ outer reaches – but the facts are that it is 1300 kilometres up there to coral runways that can accommodate small aircraft only. “The consequences of that is we are very limited in the payload we can carry – a 15-seat Bandeirante can carry only seven or eight passengers. That’s why it so expensive along with logistical expenses such as shipping fuel up there. Initially the new aircraft will supplement capacity to Aitutaki at peak times. We are also preparing for some regional charter flying to Niue and Tahiti as required.” But Smith said he’s most excited about the positive discussions he’s having with government to open up air travel to the northern islands. “If we can find a commercial solution to open up air access to the Northern Group, without relying on taxpayer subsidies, then it will be a great achievement,” he said. “These new aircraft require a paved runway and we’ve made a commitment to government that if those runways are upgraded then we will offer a weekly scheduled service to the north.” Just a couple of weeks ago the director of Civil Aviation, Dennis Hoskin, and an engineer from the New Zealand company that upgraded the Aitutaki runway back in 2003, visited Manihiki and Penryhn to evaluate the airstrips and to come up with a proposal to upgrade them to accommodate the new Saabs. Final upgrade plans would need to go out for tender if the government decides to pursue the idea. “It’s quite a substantial project and our discussions with government are in the preliminary stages but essentially our position is, we are the air operator here and we’ve said, ‘look, if the infrastructure can be upgraded up there, then we’ll make the commitment to schedule services at much improved economics’.” Smith believes there are seasoned world travellers who are looking for experiential holidays in the world’s remotest places and with a specific Northern Group marketing plan there could be enough custom to essentially subsidise scheduled weekly flights to the north. “These are people that want an authentic experience, they don’t want to stay in hotels. They want to meet the people that live in those places and do what they do. “We’ll develop product around the experience we’ve gained with our atoll excursion with our jet. It’s given us experience and exposure to a boutique market we’ve not seen before. “It’s different to what we see here on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, it’s a different demographic altogether. It’s people who seek places that are very, very different, and very unique.” Founded in 1978, Air Rarotonga celebrated 40 years of inter-island air service in 2018.

15 September 2019

The Air Hamilton Advantage

Air Hamilton was established in August 1981 by Kevin, Lochore, Roderick McAdam, Russell Sharpe, and Grant and Carol Wilkinson. Grant was the manager and chief pilot/instructor while his wife Carol was in charge of the office and reception as well as being a commercial pilot and instructor.. The company offered twin or single-engined pilot training, hire, air charter, scenic flights, aerial inspection and photography and air freight using two Cessna 172s, ZK-WFS and WFT, a four-seat Gulfstream Cougar ZK-SSS, and a six-seat Beechcraft Baron ZK-UPB. Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II ZK-EQA was added to the fleet in October 1981.

Waikato Times, 8 October 1981

With the acquisition of the Seneca the company started an air taxi service between Hamilton and New Plymouth. In November 1982 the company applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority make this a scheduled service with return services operated on weekday mornings and late afternoons. As the company was already operating an air taxi service to New Plymouth and the Licensing Authority agreed that this demonstrated that the service was desirable. Objections by Eagle Airways, which flew the same route in middle of the day, were over-ruled as Air Hamilton proposed to operate its flights in the early morning and late afternoon and this was more convenient for business passengers. Approval was given for the service in late December 1982 and the scheduled service started in January 1983.

Air Hamilton's Piper Seneca ZK-EQA at Hokitika in May 1982
Waikato Times, 5 January 1983

Also in January 1983 the company operated a newspaper service for the Waikato Times to summer holiday makers on the Coromandel Peninsula. From Hamilton the service landed at Pauanui before doing newspaper drops at Tairua, Hot Water Beach and Hahei. After landing at Whitianga newspaper drops were made at Whangapoua and Papa Aroha before that last stop at Coromandel. 

Waikato Times, 5 January 1983

From the 1st of April 1983 competition came on the Hamilton-New Plymouth route with Eagle Air increasing their frequency to three flights each weekday. To counter this and to find additional passengers, from the 15th of May 1983 an extension was made to the Hamilton-New Plymouth service in the form of a connecting Hamilton-Tauranga air taxi service.

Air Hamilton's timetable effective 15 May 1983

Also in May 1983 Air Hamilton took delivery of a Piper Pa28 Arrow IV, ZK-FKJ.
Air Hamilton's Piper Arrow IV ZK-FKJ at Nelson on 15 April 1985

In September 1983 Air Hamilton applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to reduce the minimum number of flights to New Plymouth from 10 to a minimum of 6 flights per week offering it the flexibility to not operate if there were no passengers.

Air Hamilton's Beech Baron ZK-UPB at Hokitika in January 1982. It was the only twin operated by the company that did not carry Air Hamilton titles.

In November 1983 the company was sold to Chris and Gloria Bowden. Chris had learnt to fly with the Waikato Aero Club in 1973. He later did his commercial pilot's licence with the Canterbury Aero Club in 1979, and instructor's rating the Waikato Aero Club in 1980. He had been chief flying instructor for the Matamata Flying Club for eighteen months prior to taking over Air Hamilton. 

About this time Air Hamilton moved its base to the main Hamilton airport terminal. By this stage the fleet comprised of the Seneca, ZK-EQA, the Turbo Arrow, ZK-FKJ, the Cougar ZK-SSS and Cessna 172 ZK-WFT. Air Hamilton operated from an office inside the main foyer of the Hamilton Airport terminal. The company also carried out multi-engine and single-engine air charter, and advanced training up to single-pilot, multi-engine instrument ratings with students staying in the Bowden's own home. Eagle Air often used Air Hamilton's Cougar (with Chris often flying himself) to do recovery flights/charters when they had an issue on their network. 

Despite the competition with Eagle Air, Air Hamilton continued to operate the scheduled service to New Plymouth twice a day during the week and once a day during the weekend. The service presumably ended sometime in 1984 and that charter and flight training sometime after that.

If you have any information on the final phase of the Air Hamilton story I would be delighted to hear from you - Steve, westland831@gmail.com 

Grumman American Cougar ZK-SSS at Palmerston North on 19 January 1986

Aircraft operated
ZK-DXY - Cessna 172M Skyhawk II (c/n 17265781)
ZK-EQA - Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II (c/n 34-7970134)
ZK-FJB - Cessna 172M (c/n 17265126)
ZK-FKJ - Piper PA-28RT-201 Arrow IV (c/n 28R-7918026)
ZK-SSS - Gulfstream American GA-7 Cougar (c/n GA7-0084)
ZK-UPB - Beech 95 C55 Baron (c/n TE-29)
ZK-WFS - Cessna 172M Skyhawk (c/n 17261457)
ZK-WFT - Cessna 172N Skyhawk II (c/n 17267712)

13 September 2019

Heading for Kaitaia or Auckland for the weekend?

Barrier Air is continuing to experience increasing passenger numbers on its Auckland-Kaitaia service. Due to the demand the airline is adding an additional Friday evening service to and from Kaitaia as required. Whenever the 1815 departure is full the airline will add an 1830 departure from Auckland. The expanded service will start from 27 September 2019.

The Friday evening schedule will be:

1815 AA-KT
1830 AA-KT*

1935- KT-AA
2000- KT-AA*

*As the first flight gets full, we will put on the second flight on a as required basis.

12 September 2019

Second Saab for Air Rarotonga

A second Saab 340B Plus 34 passenger turbo-prop will be added to the Air Rarotonga fleet by mid-October 2019. The aircraft was previously operated by Japan Airlines subsidiary JAC and is presently undergoing maintenance in the USA in preparation for its delivery flight to Rarotonga and induction into the Airline’s fleet. The new aircraft will add capacity initially to the Rarotonga-Aitutaki route with plans underway for the operation of some regional flights to Tahiti and Niue. Discussions are also being held with the Cook Islands Government regarding a future upgrade of Northern Group runways to facilitate scheduled operation of the larger aircraft there. Saab operations into the Northern Group will substantially reduce the cost of travel and provide access for specialized small-scale tourism to the North. Founded in 1978, Air Rarotonga celebrated 40 years of inter-island air service in 2018.

Air Rarotonga's first B model Saab 340, E5-SMW. Photos Air Rarotonga

10 September 2019

Colourful ATRs

A BIG thanks to Terry Hodges for these magnificent pics of visiting ATRs in Nelson... and Terry, sorry it has taken so long to post them... I have been on the road a lot

On 27 August 2019 Air Caledonie ATR TPC7202 F-OZNO arrived direct into Nelson from Noumea .

A great view of the new Nelson terminal... it looks like a larger version of Hokitika!

On 3 September 2019 Virgin Australia ATR 72-600 VH-VPI arrived into Nelson direct from Canberra as VOZ9946

09 September 2019

INFLITE Acquires Skydive Fox Glacer

INFLITE, one of New Zealand’s leading aviation tourism companies, has continued its expansion in the adventure tourism market with the acquisition of Skydive Fox Glacier. The new businesses complements existing skydive operations Skydive Abel Tasman, Skydive Mt Cook and Skydive Franz Josef. The acquisition of Skydive Fox Glacier adds a dedicated and experienced team of skydive professionals to the existing INFLITE team, along with a Fletcher PC-24 to the fleet, which includes helicopters and fixed wing aircraft nationwide. INFLITE prides itself on people, and like all previous acquisitions, all Skydive Fox staff will be welcomed into the INFLITE Family. INFLITE has merged Skydive Fox Glacier with their existing West Coast skydive operation, Skydive Franz Josef. The new company will operate as Skydive Franz Josef & Fox Glacier, retaining drop zones in both locations. Customer experience will be improved with customers checking in from a central location on the main road of Franz Josef and they’ll also benefit from an expanded product offering, including NZ’s highest skydive – 20,000ft. INFLITE acquired Skydive Franz Josef in 2018 and the business has performed strongly since then leading to INFLITE expanding skydive operations – initially with the purchase of Skydive Abel Tasman, then the announcement of Skydive Mt. Cook and now the acquisition of Skydive Fox Glacier. Skydive Mt. Cook will open in October 2019 in a brand-new purpose-built facility at Pukaki Airport. INFLITE has operated Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters since 2015. INFLITE CEO Adam Joyce says, “We’re thrilled to welcome the team at Skydive Fox into the INFLITE family. The merging of the Skydive Fox and Skydive Franz teams is an exciting development for everyone involved in our West Coast business. This acquisition reinforces our commitment to the region which we plan to further develop over the coming 12 months. Skydive Fox brings with it an extremely successful, customer focused strategy, which fits perfectly with our drive to maintain NPS scores in excess of 90 across our operations. INFLITE has been through a period of considerable growth, so it’s very important we acknowledge the efforts of our people who continue to work tirelessly in providing our customers with unforgettable experiences.” This exciting development is the latest in a string of announcements for INFLITE and comes on the back of INFLITE’s selection as a finalist in the NZ Tourism Awards in the Sustainable Business Excellence Award and a finalist in the Westpac Champion Canterbury Business Awards as a finalist in the Champion Service Delivery category. INFLITE are proudly Qualmark Gold.

Source : INFLITE News Release

Spring Flights

Air Chathams have announced special flights for Whanganui and Kāpiti residents wanting to attend the U2 and Metalica concerts later in the year.

In addition extra spring flights are being added between Whanganui and Auckland. On selected dates in September and October an additional return flight will be offered on Fridays. From the 1st of November until the 20th of December an additional return flight will be offered on Fridays.

These extra flights will depart Auckland at noon and arrive in Whanganui at 1.00pm with the northbound flight departing at 1:25pm and in Auckland arriving at 2:25pm. The additional flights will be operated by Saab 340s with the ATR 72 being redeployed on the Tauck Tour flights.

08 September 2019

Saab Plans for Whakatāne

With the completion of Whakatāne Airport's RESA (runway end safety area, that is, "the surface surrounding the runway prepared or suitable for reducing the risk of damage to airplanes in the event of an undershoot, overshoot, or excursion from the runway.") Air Chathams is in the process of preparing for peak time Saab services to the eastern Bay of Plenty town. This was noted in the Air Chathams' September Update where a report was given on Air Chathams' attendance at Whakatāne's  Beacon Business and Lifestyle Show... 

Gray Tinley, our Customer Service Manager and Lyn Cheyne, our Marketing Manager both represented Air Chathams in Whakatāne.  It was great to see people who use the service regularly and receive a number of compliments about the airline....  

The questions we were asked the most were - when will Air Chathams fly to Wellington from Whakatāne? and when is the "big plane" coming?  Gray and Lyn could only say there were no plans for flights to Wellington and that plans were being put into place currently to introduce the Saab 340 before the end of the year.

The Saab 340 will be used only on the flights with the highest levels of demand (late Friday and early Saturday morning are a couple scheduled already) and seats double the number of passengers at 36.  It is a turbo-prop aircraft crewed by two pilots and one flight attendant and travels a little faster than the current Metroliner at 470km per hour.  (And it has a toilet on board).

Keep an eye out as it won't be long until you see our bigger aircraft over the Bay of the Plenty as we fly in to Whakatāne's heritage airport.

Not a Saab - but at last a decent full sun photo of Metro 23 ZK-POF at Whakatāne on 7 September 2019.

07 September 2019

Whakatāne Yesterday

Departing east from Whakatāne on 6 September 2019 was a very smart looking Cessna 206 ZK-JCS

Vans RV-3 ZK-WCO on the taxi to the hangar at Whakatāne on 6 September 2019 after some aerobatics

Vans RV-7A ZK-RFX about to do an engine run up at Whakatāne on 6 September 2019

Operating the Air Chathams late afternoon flight from and to Auckland was Fairchild Metro 23 ZK-POF.
Photos taken at Whakatāne on 6 September 2019