28 February 2024

Masterton on the cards again?


With the Hood Aerodrome improvement project about to get underway, one airline is already putting its hand up to express an interest in providing an air service. Air Chathams chief operating officer Duane Emeny is enthusiastic about the prospect of launching an air link between Wairarapa and Auckland, saying the airline has always had an interest in the region. “We’ve seen a huge amount of growth in Wairarapa over the past decade,” Emeny said, noting the burgeoning wine and tourism industries and high-profile investment in the area and describing the region as being “on the up and up”. Air Chathams put a bid in for the route after Air New Zealand announced its permanent departure 10 years ago but was unsuccessful, losing out to Vincent Aviation Australia – a venture that failed after the company went into receivership. Four years ago, Air Chathams was asked if it wished to service the region but had to decline because the aerodrome wasn’t certified for the 34-seat Saab aircraft the airline operates, Emeny explained. “The runway was too narrow and the airport itself was not certified,” he said. “We couldn’t operate from there in 2020 as much as we would have liked to.” But now Masterton District Council [MDC] – with government funding assistance, is about to begin the required upgrades and improvements to Hood Aerodrome. Work is expected to start in March with the runway resurfacing and widening, an apron expansion, and the installation of security fencing to help the aerodrome meet CAA qualification certification. Emeny said once this is completed, Air Chathams would have the opportunity to provide an air service for Wairarapa residents again, although there would still be some restrictions due to the runway length – namely, the number of tickets it could sell on flights taking off from Hood Emeny said that while the runway length wouldn’t impact flights landing at the aerodrome, “for take-off, there will be a penalty – we won’t be able to sell 34 seats on that aircraft”. As a result, Air Chathams would look to sell between 27 to 30 seats per flight for take-off from Hood Aerodrome, which would mean a higher price point to make the service viable. “Those are the conversations we are having right now with the district council plus the business community,” Emeny said. Business Wairarapa is currently running a survey to provide tangible evidence of the community’s interest in air travel returning to the region. Emeny also noted that one of the biggest risks to Air Chathams being able to provide a service to Wairarapa will be CAA approval of the runway end safety area. Standard runways have a 240-metre end safety area, although this can sometimes be reduced to 90m, which Emeny noted Kapiti Coast Airport is an example of this. Emeny said the council would need to put a safety case forward to reduce the area from 240m to 90m, which is “still a lot of space if something did go wrong” for the Saab aircraft the airline wishes to operate. Emeny said the public’s response to the survey “shows that there’s a real interest here in this and what we’re proposing”, and added he is keen to build relationships with local companies and see if there is any potential for business connections. “We’re a nice small little niche airline, so we can have conversations with people and if the idea sounds good, we can have a crack.” Air Chathams believes Masterton could operate at a similar capacity to its Whanganui route, Emeny said, although the final results of the survey could determine the future of the air link. “We want people to be honest,” Emeny said. “If they do think it is really important and they do think it can bring those wider economic development benefits to the region, we’re pretty keen to provide a service.”

Source : https://times-age.co.nz/infrastructure/on-the-up-and-up-region-attracts-airlines-interest/

27 February 2024

Post Update #1


 

In the last month I have done a major rework on my post on Stewart Island Air Services. It can be found here... https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/04/nzs-southern-most-airline-pt-1-stewart.html

24 February 2024

Unhappy Airport Customers

 


Barrier Air to Hike Fares Amidst Auckland Airport $8 Billion Makeover

Auckland Airport’s ambitious $8 billion redevelopment project is casting a shadow over regional carriers, with Barrier Air at the forefront of concerns as airport taxes are set to surge. Grant Bacon, Chief Executive of Barrier Air, expressed apprehensions Friday over the impending financial strain, stating, “Some costs have increased by around 100 per cent overnight.” Ticket prices he says, will increase from April. The surge in operational costs due to the decade-long redevelopment is not only a concern for Barrier Air but has also prompted industry giants like Air New Zealand and the Qantas Group to demand scrutiny. Air New Zealand has led the charge, calling for an urgent inquiry into what it deems runaway spending by Auckland Airport, fearing charges per passenger could leap from $9 to $46 by 2032. The Qantas Group, encompassing Jetstar and Qantas flights, alongside industry bodies such as the Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (Barnz), has echoed this sentiment, seeking greater oversight of airport costs. Amid the calls for investigation, Air Chathams, another key regional player, has voiced its struggles with the proposed fee increases, which it finds “extremely challenging”. With increased rents for hangars and office spaces compounding their woes, Air Chathams’ COO, Duane Emeny, highlights the disproportionate impact on smaller airlines that won’t necessarily reap the benefits of the airport upgrades, “We don’t feel it is fair to put this burden on small turbo-prop airlines with limited access to capital.” Emeny told NZ Herald. The culmination of these pressures is set to directly affect the wallets of travelers to and from Aotea. Barrier Air, facing the escalated charges and operational costs, says it will increase fares 8% starting April 1. The decision underscoring the broader industry challenge of maintaining regional connectivity amidst soaring costs, with Barrier Air and its peers caught in the crossfire of infrastructure upgrades and the quest for sustainable operations. As the debate over airport charges and regulatory oversight intensifies, the timing of Barrier Air’s fare increase could not be more significant, occurring just days before a community hui on Great Barrier Island. The meeting convened by Auckland Council and the local board, is scheduled for Wednesday and aims to tackle issues surrounding sustainable tourism practices to and from the island. Until then, passengers are faced with the undeniable reality: air travel costs to and from the island look set to soar.

Source : https://aoteagbi.news/2024/02/24/barrier-air-to-hike-fares-amidst-auckland-airport-8-billion-makeover/




Air Chathams raises concerns over Auckland Airport’s prices

Air Chathams is concerned that the skyrocketing prices Auckland Airport (AIAL) is charging smaller airlines will have a big impact on customer demand for important regional connections. “The increases we’ve already seen in this price period are extremely challenging, especially when combined with an almost 50% increase in commercial leases for hangars needed to service our Auckland based fleet over the past decade including the Pandemic years” says Duane Emeny, Chief Operating Officer of Air Chathams. “We’re very concerned about the effect of even higher prices on the future viability of our family business”. Passing on cost increases to travellers will impact on demand and fewer people will fly as a result. If demand for flights to the regions is reduced, that means fewer services, a reduction in cargo options, and ultimately some tough times and tough decisions for airlines like Air Chathams. “From our Auckland hub, we operate services to Whakātane, Whanganui, Kāpiti, the Chatham Islands, and Norfolk Island. All these connections see Air Chathams as the sole operator to help transport passengers and critical cargo to and from these airports. “What’s really tough about the prices at Auckland Airport is that regional airlines like Air Chathams and Barrier Air will use very little of what the airport company is building. We are all the way down the end of ageing domestic terminal, and this building will be almost unchanged in this price period. “We won’t be using the international terminal – because we only have one international destination in Norfolk Island, and that’s a single flight per week in Summer with no flights over Winter. At best, we will get some use from some of the tarmac upgrades. Regional airlines face some of the steepest price rises over the price setting event 4 (PSE4) yet we get the least in return.” The Regional Passenger Charges (RPC) will see increases from $2.64 to $6.88 over the FY23-27 period, and landing charges for aircrafts (less than 6 tonnes) will jump to $115.04 from $60.24. “It equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars extra each year which we have to find or absorb”. Emeny agrees that AIAL needs an upgrade, but the proposed investments should be efficient, sustainable, and affordable for regional airlines and travellers. “We support the need for improvements at Auckland Airport, but we don’t feel it is fair to put this burden on small turbo-prop airlines with limited access to capital. Our margins are so tight and it’s not like if we disappear that those remote regions will have another airline right in behind us ready to take up the route. It just means they lose their air service and the wider economic benefit that direct airlinks provide them”. “We support the Commerce Commission inquiry and hope that the right regulatory regime on airport pricing can be achieved that will be in the best interest of the New Zealand traveling public that rely heavily on the services us and other domestic carriers provide”. 

Source : Air Chathams media release



Air Chathams has this morning hit out at Auckland Airport's fees for airlines, warning customers could ultimately feel the effects and key regional connections could be impacted. But Auckland Airport has clapped back, rejecting the suggestion their changes will make travel unaffordable and arguing the carrier is opposing the investment to protect its margins. The airline said the airport's prices are "skyrocketing". Passing on the costs to passengers would see fewer people fly, the airline said, adding that could lead to fewer services, "tough times and tough decisions". "The increases we've already seen in this price period are extremely challenging," Air Chathams' chief operating officer Duane Emeny said in a statement today. "We're very concerned about the effect of even higher prices on the future viability of our family business." And "what's really tough" is that the airline doesn't particularly benefit from the increase, Emeny added. "Regional airlines like Air Chathams and Barrier Air will use very little of what the airport company is building," he said. "We are all the way down the end of ageing domestic terminal, and this building will be almost unchanged in this price period. "At best, we will get some use from some of the tarmac upgrades. "Regional airlines face some of the steepest price rises... yet we get the least in return. "Our margins are so tight and it's not like if we disappear that those remote regions will have another airline right in behind us ready to take up the route." 

Auckland Airport responds

A spokesperson for the airport rejected any suggestion the planned infrastructure upgrades will make regional travel unaffordable. "Regional airlines are a very important part of the aviation landscape at Auckland Airport," they said in a statement. "We have partnered and championed Air Chathams right from the start of their operation, working tirelessly to enable them to be operationally and commercially successful because of their importance to the regions they serve. "Airlines protesting against airport investment is a perennial issue that surfaces every five years when airports change their prices – a process which is currently underway. "Airlines have strong commercial incentives to oppose airport investment in order to protect their margins." The spokesperson added that, in addition to the current infrastructure build, consultation is underway with airlines on plans for increasing capacity and customer experience for regional flights." Our development programme will increase regional gate capacity and improve the experience for customers. "Delaying this infrastructure is not in our country's best interests."

The numbers

Regional charges make up "a fraction of the cost of an average regional airfare (4%)", Auckland Airport said, adding their "domestic and regional charges have been rock bottom for years – 40 to 50% lower than comparable airports". Between the financial years ended 2023 and 2027, the Regional Passenger Charges (RPC) will rise from $2.64 to $6.88, Air Chathams said, while landing charges for aircraft less than six tonnes will rise from $60.24 to $115.04. That's on top of "an almost 50% increase in commercial leases for hangars needed to service our Auckland-based fleet over the past decade including the pandemic years", Emeny said. The airport said that, by 2027, the regional charges would be comparable to Christchurch and Wellington airports. "Regional charges increased by $2.70 in July from $4.40 to $7.10 – this is $3 to $4 cheaper than comparable current charges at other major NZ airports," a spokesperson said. "Regional prices will average $8.15 over the FY23 – FY27 pricing period." The airport also drew attention to airfare price hikes. "Today regional airfares to and from Auckland are significantly higher than they were pre-Covid (30% higher in 2023 than 2019 or $39). "Regional airfares increased 16% between 2022 and 2023, higher than inflation which was 4.7% in the 12 months to Dec 2023."

Source : https://www.1news.co.nz/2024/02/23/air-chathams-hits-out-at-auckland-airport-over-skyrocketing-costs/

22 February 2024

Jetting through Auckland...

Gulfstream G450 B-8301 at Auckland on 16 February 2024

Dassault Falcon 2000LX ZK-OCB at Auckland on 16 February 2024


Cessna 510 Citation Mustang ZK-VXM at Auckland on 16 February 2024


One that I took last month... Bombardier CRJ-100LR C-FIPX at Auckland on 9 January 2024


 

20 February 2024

Using this blog on mobile...

Using this blog on a mobile differs to using it on a laptop  or computer. How the blog appears on the mobile is simplified and misses some features that make searching the blog easier.

However it is very easy to access these features. 

Below the Home button tap VIEW WEB VERSION




On the right hand side are quick links to my profiles or histories of individual airlines. There are also quick links to New Zealand airports which will take you to a post with links to all the airlines who operated through that airport.


The search box is found in the top left hand corner of the webpage view.


I hope this hints are helpful and that you enjoy this blog.


 

18 February 2024

Part-Time Freight Service Ended?


 

Merlin Labs, seems to have ceased operating their regular air freight service which began on the 29th of June 2023. The service operated alongside their development of pilotless flight technology. The last flight was operated on the 15th of December 2023 with Cessna 208B Super Cargomaster ZK-MLO operating from Kerikeri to Auckland and then returning to Kerikeri via Whangarei. Their Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZK-MLN last operated the service on the 8th of December 2023. Regular services have not resumed in 2024 following the summer holidays.

In saying this, the Super Cargomaster, ZK-MLO, did operate a Kerikeri-Auckland and return flight on times similar to the regular service on the 13th of February operating as MERLIN 1.

All this is, however, pure speculation as Merlin Labs still remains somewhat of a mystery.

My profile on Merlin Labs can be found here : https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2023/10/merlin-labs-part-time-freight-airline.html

17 February 2024

ZK-POF now an Aussie

Thanks to Greg who has let me know that ex-Air Chathams Fairchild Metro 23 ZK-POF was added to the Australian civil aircraft register as VH-SEF on 8 February 2024, with the registration holder being Eastwest Aviation Pty Ltd and the registered operator, Sharp Aviation Pty Ltd. He tells me this is the second Metro to hold the VH-SEF rego. The Metro departed New Zealand on the 5th of January this year.

Ex Air Chathams' Fairchild Metro 23 at Sydney on 5 January 2024. Photo : Grahame Hutchison


A history of ZK-POF can be found here... 

16 February 2024

New Plane for Barrier Air?

 Spotted yesterday at Auckland International was Pacific Aerospace 750XK ZK-SDT amongst the other Barrier Air  ZK-SDx series aircraft...

ZK-SDB, ZK-SDT and ZK-SDE

ZK-SDT and ZK-SDE

ZK-SDT at Auckland on 15 February 2024

Contrary to popular rumour the Pacific Aerospace 750XL is not being used to launch a new Barrier Air service between Parakai and Great Barrier Island... it was in fact on export to Papua and New Guinea flying yesterday from Auckland to Norfolk Island.

Thanks to MRC Aviation for the pics

15 February 2024

Masterton Airport Development Plans

Thanks to Jarden who sent me this link... It is some months old but still interesting

Hood Aerodrome infrastructure project re-scoped

13 September 2023

Masterton District Council has agreed to a re-scoping of what will be delivered as part of the Hood Aerodrome Infrastructure Upgrade Project. Over the past year, project cost estimates have risen to the point where reprioritisation is needed to determine what can be delivered within the agreed project budget. In 2020, following an application to the Government stimulus funding for “shovel ready’’ projects, a total of $10 million in funding was secured to upgrade the safety features and infrastructure of the aerodrome. This Government funding was secured on the basis of $7 million of Council co-funding, to provide a total of $17 million for the project. The Government’s funding agency - Kānoa - Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit (formally known as the Provincial Development Unit), has confirmed this funding is continuing. Prioritisation as part of this re-scope was based on ‘key drivers’ for the project, namely that the project should be focussing on meeting regulatory requirements, improving safety at Hood, and improving infrastructure to attract future development at Hood. The following project deliverables are recommended to remain in scope for the project:

  • water, wastewater and electrical upgrades and extension to support hangar development
  • development of access roads to support hangar development
  • runway resurfacing and widening
  • apron expansion
  • in-fill of drain on eastern side of the sealed runway
  • upgrade/replace airfield fixtures (lighting, windsock, etc)
  • upgrade/installation of security fencing (to meet CAA Qualification Certification requirements)
  • supporting the aerodrome to meet the CAA Qualification Certification deadline of June 2025.

The following project deliverables have been removed from the scope to allow the project to proceed without the need for additional funding beyond the already agreed budget:

  • any additional land purchase.
  • diverting Manaia Road (requires additional land).
  • extension of the runway beyond its current length (requires additional land).
  • moving the grass cross runway.
  • sealing a new taxiway.

Rescoping of the Hood Aerodrome Infrastructure Upgrade Project does not alter the Hood Masterplan approved in 2021. Mayor Gary Caffell said the re-scoping ensured clarity for the project. “We now have clarity on the work that can be done and the budget for that work. This gives us clear air to make progress on improvements to an important strategic asset to the people of Masterton and the wider Wairarapa region.”

Source : https://www.mstn.govt.nz/council/news/council-news?item=id:2ng2itbh917q9srgcpib

14 February 2024

Auckland on Monday evening

I arrived back into Auckland on 12 February to a beautiful evening and rather than sit on the Auckland motorway I decided to do a little plane spotting...

Air China Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner B-7898 arriving from Beijing

Air Chathams' Saab 340A ZK-CIY off to to Whanganui

Air Chathams' Saab 340B ZK-CIZ off to to Paraparaumu

Air New Zealand ATR 72-600 ZK-MVA off to Nelson

Air New Zealand ATR 72-600 ZK-MVI off to Palmerston North

United Airlines Boeing 777-200 N796UA off to San Francisco

Air New Zealand Bombardier Q300 ZK-NFI off to Napier

Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner arriving from Nadi

Air New Zealand Airbus 320 ZK-OAB off to Christchurch

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300 ZK-OKO arriving from Melbourne

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300 ZK-OKP arriving from Brisbane

Air New Zealand Airbus 320 ZK-OXL off to Queenstown

Barrier Air's Cessna 208 Grand Caravan ZK-SDG off to Kaitaia

And finally, what I was after, Tasman Cargo Airlines' Boeing 767-300 VH-XQU arriving from Christchurch





13 February 2024

Christchurch Yesterday

I had a little time in Koru yesterday in Christchurch before my flight to Auckland...


Cathay Pacific's Airbus 350 B-LXA departs Christchurch on 12 February 2024

On the taxi out at Christchurch on 12 February 2024, Air New Zealand's ATR 72-600 ZK-MVB 

On the taxi in at Christchurch on 12 February 2024, Air New Zealand's Bombardier Q300 ZK-NEM

Sounds Air's Pilatus PC12 ZK-PLB arriving from Blenheim at Christchurch on 12 February 2024

 

12 February 2024

Twice Daily to Wellington... except Saturday


 

In their latest timetable effective the 9th of February 2024. Originair have ramped up their Wellington flights to twice daily, Sunday to Friday. The airline has also expanded their services between Nelson and Palmerston North with double daily flights between two centres on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Hamilton is served from Palmerston North three times a week. 

Originair is now the only airline in New Zealand operating 18-seat turboprops on passenger services with three Jetstreams in their fleet, ZK-JSH, ZK-JSJ and ZK-JSK.




11 February 2024

Coast Aviation's Irregular Operation


 

Coast Aviation Ltd was an interesting operator that flew between Greymouth and South Westland in the 1950s and 1960s. It operated somewhat under the radar and involved an interesting mix of personalities and operators, including Buchanan Enterprises, Skyways Ltd, the Greymouth Aero Club and later Phoenix Airways. These five entities were all interrelated in rather convoluted ways.
 
The story begins with the first two strands that involve Malcolm Forysth and the Greymouth Aero Club. In a letter from the Greymouth Aero Club to the Royal New Zealand written on the 29th of October 1958 it is recorded that, Some three years ago (in 1955), Air Contracts Ltd of Masterton obtained a licence to operate a non-schedule passenger and freight service from Greymouth. Their pilot stationed here was Mr. Malcolm Forsyth. Air Contracts eventually were forced to sell this licence because of financial troubles of which you may so be aware. The purchaser of this licence was none other than Mr Blechynden. Needless to say, Mr Forsyth could not work far this man, and so set up his own flying school in Greymouth... The Aero Club here, would also have nothing to do with Mr. Blechynden, and as you are fully aware, made arrangements with Mr. Forsyth to carry out its flying training, a set-up about which we are still very happy.

So who was this Me Blechynden? Alex Blechynden, a pilot instructor from Hamilton, was the third strand to this complex operation. On the 16th of August 1956 he was issued with Air Service Licence No 170 which authorised him to offer air taxi and air charter services from Matamata and Greymouth to anywhere in New Zealand. He operated this licence under the name of Skyways. He owned three aircraft, de Havilland DH83 Fox Moth, ZK-ASP (c/n 4097), de Havilland DH82A Tiger Moth, ZK-AUQ (c/n132) and Ryan 511-2, ZK-BEM, (c/n 489) but only the Tiger Moth was used on the West Coast.

The fourth strand brings Henry Buchanan into the story. in his book, The Venison Hunters, Mike Bennett wrote, The credit for finding the first successful overseas amrket for New Zealand venison must go to Henry Buchanan, an ex-deer culler, then a crayfisherman of Jackson's Bay and Malcolm Forsythm a well known pilot of Greymoouth. The Haast in those days had no road access. Cattle were driven out along bush tracks through the mountains. All else came in and out by aircraft or ship. It was because of lack of access that Henry Buchanan acquired two aircraft, a Piper Apache and a De Havilland Fox Moth which he used to fly crayfish and whitebait out to Greymouth. Malcolm Forsyth had a Tiger Moth and was an experienced bush pilot.

Henry Buchanan had purchased de Havilland DH83C Fox Moth ZK-APT (c/n FM48) from the Marlborough Aero Club, it being registered to him on the 27th of November 1956. The Fox Moth was used to support developing his business interests. On the 27th of June 1957 it was sold to Malcolm Forsyth's Coast Aviation Ltd.  Meanwhile, in June 1956 Malcolm had been appointed as pilot instructor with the Greymouth Aero Club.

Coast Aviation's workhorse, de Havilland DH83 Fox Moth ZK-APT at Greymouth.
Photo : I Coates Collection


On the 22nd of May 1957 de Havilland DH82A Tiger Moth ZK-BNA (c/n DHNZ169) had been registered to him. Three months later, on the 27th of August, it was reregistered to Coast Aviation Ltd.
 
On the 5th of September 1957 the story further unfolded at an Air Services Licensing Authority hearing in Greymouth. The Authority firstly considered an application by the Greymouth Aero Club (Incorporated) for an Air Service Licence to operate non-scheduled passenger and freight services from Greymouth and/or Westport to anywhere in New Zealand. The Authority were also considering a second application by Coast Aviation Limited for an Air Service Licence to operate a scheduled passenger and freight service from Greymouth to Mussel Point on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of each week and also a non-scheduled passenger and freight charter services (including joy-riding) from Greymouth, Westport, and Mussel Bay to anywhere in New Zealand. Coast Aviation Ltd was a private company owned by Malcom Forsyth who had been the pilot-instructor to the Greymouth Aero Club since June 1956, even though the Greymouth Aero Club.
 
The Christchurch Press recorded on the hearing which seemed to weave the two applications together. Counsel for the aero club told the authority that the club, which was reformed in 1955, had a membership of 88, of whom 50 were pilot and student members.
 
The Civil Aviation Journal showed that 23 incorporated clubs in New Zealand had chartered licences similar to that sought by the Greymouth club. The vice-president of the club (Mr J. Dunne) stated that the application had first been made when the incorporation of the club had lapsed. The incorporation had been effected in June last. He outlined the number of flights undertaken by the club in the last nine months and added that an official of the Civil Aviation Department had suggested that the club should apply for a non-scheduled licence.
 
Mr M. D. Forsyth, pilot-instructor to the club since June, 1956 said his arrangement with the club was to train no-one other than a member and only pupil pilots were charged. Witness said his aircraft had been used under private licence and had carried potatoes for the Ministry of Works to Mussel Point. In further submissions, Mr Taylor said that, in view of the work at Haast Pass, there was a definite need for an air link between Greymouth and the other centres. The fishing Industry in South Westland also required a quick freight service from that area to Greymouth. If the application were granted, the company, Coast Aviation. Ltd., would not be taking business from any other concern, as there was no similar air service to the district.
 
Mr F. W. Spaakman, superintendent of mercantile marine, was called by the authority in connexion with the position of fisher men operating in the area. Mr J. B. Hood, president of the Hokitika Progress League, and Mr M, J. Sullivan, Fox Glacier, opposed the application on the grounds that West Coast Airways had taken over the licence from the National Airways Corporation at Hokitika last November, and they considered that two services were unnecessary. After a 10-hour sitting the authority reserved its decision.

Coast Aviation's application for the thrice-weekly scheduled passenger and freight service from Greymouth to Mussel Point was withdrawn at the hearing. Meanwhile the Air Services Licensing Authority declined the company's application to operate a non-scheduled passenger and freight charter services (including joy-riding) from Greymouth, Westport, and Mussel Bay to anywhere in New Zealand. The Greymouth Aero Club’s application to operate non-scheduled passenger and freight services from Greymouth and/or Westport to anywhere in New Zealand was also declined but it did give the Club approval for a joy-riding licence. 
  
It is clear that Alex Blechynden wasn't popular in aviation circles. The Press reported that on the 7th of October 1957 a deliberate attempt to prevent whitebait supplies reaching Hokitika from Little River, in South Westland, which could quite easily have caused loss of life. Mr Alex Blechynden, a pilot instructor from Hamilton, is at present whitebaiting at Little River and uses a Tiger Moth aircraft to fly out his catch to Hokitika. At 3 p.m. Mr Blechynden took off from Little River, but after he had travelled only two miles, and was over dense bush, the motor began to splutter. Mr Blechynden managed to turn the aircraft around and was heading back to Little River when the motor cut out. Fortunately he managed to bring the aircraft down on toitoi flats. Mr Blechynden examined the petrol filters and found they were blocked with sugar. After clearing the filters he took off again, landing at Paringa and Fox Glacier, each time checking the filters. He flew from Fox Glacier to Hokitika along the sea coast in case he had to land on the beach. At Hokitika, sugar had again practically blocked the filters. Before he took off this morning for Little River. Mr Blechynden said he had had a very lucky escape. “Had the motor cut out before or after it did I would have crashed,” he said. Asked if he had any idea how the sugar had entered the tank, Mr Blechynden said: “Well it just doesn't get there by itself." Inquiries are being made by Greymouth detectives led by Inspector G. S. Norris. Inspector Norris confirmed in Greymouth this morning that a complaint “has been laid that foreign matter had been placed in the petrol tank of the aircraft.” He would neither deny nor confirm that the “matter" was sugar. This would be ascertained by an analyst.
 
Later that month Piper Pa23-150 Apache ZK-BLP (c/n 23-1089) was purchased by Henry Buchanan and registered to him on the 29th of October 1957.


An early photo of Henry Buchanan's Piper Apache, ZK-BLP, taken at Christchurch.
Photo : D White Collection

 
In November 1957 Alex Blechynden made an application to transfer his licence to Coast Aviation. The application had not been proceeded with when the applicant was advised that that there were objectors. Instead Coast Aviation made an arrangement with Alex Blechynden that allowed Coast Aviation to operate using Alex Blechynden/Skyways’ licence. Both Coast Aviation’s de Havilland Fox Moth, ZK-APT, and de Havilland Tiger Moth, ZK-BNA, were used as well as Henry Buchanan’s Piper Apache, ZK-BLP. 

The Greymouth Aero Club letter to the Royal New Zealand of the 29th of October 1958 spells this oout a little more... Recently, you will remember, Mr Forysth, now operating as Coast Aviation Ltd. applied for a “charter” Licence but the application was declined, but at the same time this Club was granted a Joy-Riding Licence. Consequent on the application by Coast Aviation being declined, this Company had to find some other way of operating a non-schedule passenger and  freight service, and in this connection an arrangement was made with Mr Blechhynden, to operate the Piper Apache under the licence held by “Skyways.” Prior to this arrangement, the Greymouth part of the licence had never been utilised. In a nutshell, all commercial flying apart from joy-riding, is carried out by Malcolm Forsyth in the Piper Apache and under the Licence held by “Skyways.” 
 
This arrangement was to tragically end in May 1958. On the 7th of May 1958 Alex Blechynden and his passenger were killed at Kiokio, 10 miles north-east of Otorohanga, when the Tiger Moth he was flying, ZK-BVK, (though it was still wearing its previous registration, ZK-AYE), broke up in a dive, before spinning into the ground and where it burst into flame and was destroyed.
 
Alex Blechynden’s untimely death revealed something of the nature of the Coast Aviation operation for in the Press of the 14th of May 1958 it was reported that due to his death Greymouth has lost its only twin-engined ’plane service. The Aviation Department has cancelled the licence held by the pilot, Mr Alex Blechynden but operated on his behalf by Coast Aviation, Ltd., as agents. Bookings had been made in respect of the service up until next August. The West Coast agents have been notified that, as the holder of the licence is now dead, it cannot be operated. An appeal is to be made against this decision. The licence was for a non-scheduled passenger and freight service from Greymouth, and was operated by Coast Aviation, as agents, since Mr Blechynden left the West Coast towards the end of last year. A representative of the company said this morning that this “hasty decision” would deprive the widow of the pilot of the opportunity of earning revenue from the operation of the licence.
 
On the 1st of September 1958 the matter was placed before the Air Services Licensing Authority when Mrs M. T. Blechynden sought the transfer to herself of a licence held by her husband.
 
Objections to the transfer were made by West Coast Airways and the Civil Aviation Administration. Appearing for the objectors, Mr R. J. Gilbert, of Dunedin, said that Blechynden had been granted a licence to operate from Greymouth, but he had never flown from there and the licence had apparently been operated by Coast Aviation, Ltd. It did not possess a licence, and had been refused one upon application. Similarly, the Greymouth Aero Club, which had been operating in conjunction with Coast Aviation, Ltd.; had also been refused a licence. Coast Aviation, Ltd., then made an application for a transfer of the licence from Blechynden, but this was withdrawn when an objection was lodged. Counsel said he had been informed by the Civil Aviation Administration that, in spite of the position, Coast Aviation had continued to operate on the terms of the licence granted to Blechynden. The objecting company had been staggered to learn that Coast Aviation, Ltd., could operate on the licence issued to Blechynden.
 
Mr Gilbert pointed out that West Coast Airways took over the licence for the area from the National Airways Corporation when it was losing £6000 a year on its Coast operations. The new company realised that a substantial improvement would have to be made, but it was considered that the potential was available to make it economic to carry on. It was now claimed, however, that this potential had been lost through the illegal operations that had been carried on. Counsel then called evidence in support of his allegations.
 
James Francis Wafer, employed by the Ministry of Works at Haast, said he had travelled on the West Coast Aviation, Ltd., Piper Apache plane. He and three companions had flown from Haast to Hokitika at a cost of £4 8s. Similar evidence was given by a nurse employed at Haast, Josephine Mary Rathbun. The Westland County engineer, James Cumming Clarke, said he had flown from Greymouth to Mussel Point in the Apache plane in company with the assistant engineer of the Westland Catchment Board (Mr Simson). Witness said it was no concern of his whether the service was licensed or not. He had no preference for any service, and had not made any inquiry about insurance before undertaking the flight.
 
Thomas Mouat, of the Ministry of Works, said there was no reason why similar work should not be done by West Coast Airways, but he said the Apache service from Greymouth was the better one. There had been complaints about the delay in the arrival of goods through West Coast Airways. In answer to Mr White, witness said he had not flown on the Apache on departmental business but departmental goods had been flown. He did not think the department would willingly patronise an unlicensed service.
 
Malcolm Forsyth, a director of Coast Aviation, Ltd., and instructor to the Greymouth Aero Club, gave details of a verbal agreement his company had with Blechynden, whose licence was under the name of Skyways, Ltd. Witness said Coast Aviation, Ltd., was not interested in Mrs Blechynden’s rights to a licence. So far as the Greymouth Aero Club was concerned, witness said he considered that members could be flown to and from any point without restriction. There were several members of the club at Haast and they had been flown in and out of that area. The witness added that if the present arrangement, whereby the people of Greymouth could take advantage of a twin-engined service from the local aerodrome, was cancelled they would be very sorry to lose such a service.
 
The reference to Haast residents being members of the Greymouth Aero Club was a ploy to circumvent the Air Services Licensing requirements. Arrangements had been made with the Greymouth Aero Club for passengers to become temporary members of the aero club.  In this way they could technically be transported within the Law. This gave the operator revenue by filling otherwise empty space. In the early 1980s the Skybus plan was to use a similar legal loophole.
 
On the second day of the hearing the Authority declined the transfer of Alex Blechynden’s transfer to his widow Mary. The Authority (Mr G. H. Lusk, chairman, and Mr T. W. White), made mention of alleged irregularities in the operations of Coast Aviation, Ltd., and gave notice of its intention to cancel the licence. The authority was giving its decision on the application by Mrs M. T. Blechynden, who, it noted, did not appear and was not represented by counsel.
 
The licence was held under the name of Skyways, Ltd., and had been operated by Coast Aviation. Ltd. The authority held that this had adversely affected the licensed operator, West Coast Airways, and this was not in the public interest. In its judgment the authority pointed out that Mrs Blechynden’s application was for the transfer from her late husband of a licence which authorised air taxi and charter services from Matamata and Greymouth to anywhere in New Zealand. As there had been no appearance at the present hearing of either the applicant or her solicitor the licence would lapse. The authority said that the licence had never been operated by the late Mr Blechynden, who, in November last, made an application for its transfer to Coast Aviation, Ltd. The application had not been proceeded with. Mr Blechynden was advised that there were objectors.
 
Before that, Coast Aviation, Ltd., had applied unsuccessfully for a licence to operate a non-scheduled passenger and freight service from Greymouth. Westport and Mussel Bay to anywhere in New Zealand. For some time before this last application was made, Coast Aviation had been operating a Piper Apache plane between Greymouth and South Westland. This plane belonged to Mr Henry Buchanan, of Haast, and its work was done for the Greymouth Aero Club, which had no plane of its own, and no licence to operate a service. The whole operation, therefore, was irregular. “Assuming that there had been a valid contract between Coast Aviation, Ltd., and Blechynden,” continued the judgment - “the method of operation of the licence held by the last-named was contrary to its terms and conditions, whatever the terms of the arrangement between the parties.”
 
Now that the licence had lapsed Coast Aviation was not in a position to fly the aircraft for hire or reward. “It can only operate for its own specific and private purposes. That is, for the conduct of the work of Coast Aviation - in other words, air transport for Mr Buchanan’s business. So far as the Greymouth Aero Club is concerned its arrangement with Coast Aviation ceases “The only work that Coast Aviation can enter into with the club is to accept from it a dry charter. This means that the aircraft is operated under the supervision of the club for the purpose of flying members of the club only from Greymouth - except that it may undertake public joy-riding with this particular plane.”
 
In connexion with the irregularity of the operations, the authority pointed out that section 28 of the Act was the only section which gave it disciplinary powers of any sort, and its powers under the section were limited to licence holders. It was quite apparent, therefore, that the alleged irregular operations of Coast Aviation were no concern of the authority.

Coast Aviation's de Havilland Fox Moth at Hokitika on 3 February 1957

 
On the 10th of November 1958 the Fox Moth, ZK-APT, had a mishap when on landing at the Arawhata River it struck a tree stump. The undercarriage and main spar were damaged but the aircraft was able to be repair enough to allow it being flown out for more permanent repairs.
 
With the end of Coast Aviation’s arrangement with Skyways the company focussed on supporting Henry Buchanan’s and Malcolm Forsyth’s business interests.

Mike Bennett continues the story of Coast Aviation's early flying in The Venison Hunters...  There was certainly no shortage of deer. It wasn't uncommon to get a planeload of venison haunches for an evening shot — in fact there was more than enough meat for the plane to handle. The trouble was the West Coast weather. If it was fine in Greymouth it would be clapped out in the Haast, or vice versa. Distance was the weakest link in the chain of flying venison out of the mountains and up to Greymouth. The Fox Moth would land on rough, hastily improvised airstrips in the mountain valleys and ferry the meat out to the paddock airstrip on the sea-coast at Mussel Point, where the twin-engined Apache would be waiting. At the end of the day both aircraft, loaded to the roof, would head back to Greymouth. Weather permitting, the pilots, Malcolm Forsyth, Mery Dunn and Jeff Willeston, were kept flat out. Chillers were unheard of and we had only the crudest of meatsafes at first. But meat meant money for pilots and hunters; it had to come out...

Let us return to the cleaner air of early aviation in the mountains and the old Fox Moth for it cannot fly into the next chapter. Despite the many landings on unconventional airstrips, unknown to the then apparently sleeping Department of Civil Aviation, the ancient Fox Moth led a charmed life. 

This collector's item of a biplane, with hopefully a motor behind the laminated wooden prop, would be thought flown by a maniac if seen today on a short bush-strip, let alone ready to take off with a load. Yet the only time it nearly came to grief on the meat was on one of the best of runways at the mouth of the Waita River. This strip had actually been formed by MOW's bulldozers, a method so often dreamed about by hunters toiling away with banjo and grubber. It was over 300 metres in length and had been built to provide access for surveyors pioneering the road north to Paringa in case the Haast was in flood. There were no helicopters on tap at that time. 

A meat hunter had set up shop in a whitebaiter's but close to the strip, packhorsing his venison from way upstream. On this eventful day the Fox Moth trundled down the strip with about 200 kilos of venison haunches aboard, a good load at the best of times. The grass surface was sodden by days of rain and the pilot couldn't unstick the wheels — an important consideration if you wish to become airborne. The aircraft ploughed through a swampy section and vanished in a shower of spray, hit a bump at the end of the strip which bounced it sufficiently into the air to clear the first of the river channels. By amazing good fortune the wheels then hit a gravel bank in the middle of the river, which was running quite a bit higher than normal at the time; this bounced the plane over the second channel. Still struggling for flight, the Fox Moth hit the landward side of the sea-beach at one hell of a bat, and blew a tyre either through impact or by striking one of the many logs lying about. The horrified shooter watched it disappear over the top of the sand-dune, and dived into the river in hot pursuit. 

The aircraft had slewed on the punctured wheel and was pointing back the way it had come. The tailplane was in the waves and the tide was making. The pilot was stunned and had a nasty cut on the forehead from hitting the instrument panel. He was helped out of the cockpit and soon came to, the hard-won meat was thrown into the tide, and both men tried to lift and push the plane back up the slope of dune. It wasn't on. 

The pilot climbed back aboard and started the motor, the hunter then put his back under the wing, lifted and took one step forward, then had a breath for himself while the pilot brought up the other wheel by using the punctured one as a pivot. Halfway up the slope the hunter had had it so they changed places, and for the first time in his life the footslogger found himself at the controls of an aircraft, but it was certainly not going to take off with the first lesson as the pilot was unable to lift the weight. It was just as well that professional hunters have, as popularly supposed, weak heads and strong backs, for with an almost superhuman struggle the plane was eventually crabbed above high-water mark and tied to a log out of reach of the hungry sea.

By then, pilot and plane should have been on the way home to Greymouth. Darkness was not far off and the nearest telephone was fifteen kilometres away on the other side of the Haast River to the south. The Waita forded, the pilot's wound roughly dressed at the hut, and they started off for the Haast without even stopping for a life-restoring brew-up. They reached the Haast just on dark and alerted the ferry dingy by a hastily made fire. It was a close go, and possibly saved an embarrassing search-and-rescue flap the next morning. 

A spare tyre unit for the Fox Moth was flown in the next day by Des Nolan in his Auster and the old aircraft which had been so close to a watery end was successfully flown off a beach of sand so soft that it was difficult to walk on. 

Fox Moth ZK-APT on the beach at the Waita River. Source : Mike Bennett, The Venison Hunters
 
On the 23rd of November 1959 the Tiger Moth, ZK-BNA, carrying a cargo of venison, the property of West Coast Natural Food Supplies, was destroyed at Paringa. The plane was about a quarter of the way down the runway when a sudden gust of wind blew it off course into a belt of trees. Only part of the machine burst into flames immediately, and this enabled the pilot, Don Smith of Greymouth, to make his escape. The aircraft was totally destroyed.


Coast Aviation's ill-fated de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth, ZK-BNA, at Greymouth in the late 1950s. Photo : I Coates Collection


On the 26th of November the Press printed an article about West Coast Natural Food Supplies, which had established a major industry on the West Coast for the exporting of venison to America which was set up by Henry Buchanan and Malcolm Forsyth A company comprised of West Coast businessmen is exporting 10,000lb of venison a month, and it is gradually increasing that amount. This was disclosed yesterday by Mr Malcolm Forsyth, managing director of Coast Aviation, Ltd., one of whose planes was destroyed in a crash at Paringa on Monday last. The accident had caused a temporary setback to the firm, as it employed six regular deerstalkers, and the venison, which previously has been flown out from Paringa, will be brought to Greymouth by road in the meantime. The meat is treated at Greymouth for export to the United States and Europe. Mr Forsyth said the markets for venison could be expanded, but only if the production was also expanded. However, the company expected to be exporting about 80,000lb of venison each month. “It has been a great dollar earner,” said Mr Forsyth. “A consignment of 10,000lb is scheduled to leave New Zealand for Germany during the first week in December." That the continual shooting of the deer would go a long way towards keeping them under effective control, was the opinion expressed by Mr Forsyth. He said the animals were being shot ip areas inaccessible to vehicular traffic, but in close proximity to landing strips. Referring to the processing of venison, Mr Forsyth said it was thoroughly cleansed upon arrival in Greymouth, trimmed and wrapped in greaseproof paper. It was then placed in burlap bags, deep-frozen, and sent to Christchurch in refrigerated vans. It was exported from Lyttelton. The company had been in operation for only five months, and the product had proved very popular overseas, Mr Forsyth added.
 
A hangar at Greymouth Aerodrome was the first, crude processing plant to process the deer. In this later time Forsyth, along with Merv Dunn and Jeff Willeston, were the pilots. Bill Hende was one of the earlier pilots flying whitebait out of South Westland. The economics of flying the carcasses 200 kilometres eventually told financially and the company folded. Buchanan then established Buchanan Enterprises and relied on deer shot closer to the processing plant and to road transport.
 
Meanwhile, in November 1959 the Piper Apache, ZK-BLP, went to Auckland to be used by Northland Airways until September 1960 before returning to Greymouth. In 1961 it was used to start a new Greymouth-based charter company, Phoenix Airways, and in September 1963 it was used to introduce the first, short-lived, trans-alpine air service from Greymouth to Christchurch, see https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/03/first-trans-alpine-air-service-phoenix.html. The Apache was eventually lost on the 18th of October 1973 whilst on a private flight from Wellington to Whakatāne when it ditched into the sea off Ohope Beach after its fuel supply was exhausted after its flight was prolonged by bad weather. 


Henry Buchanan's Piper Apache ZK-BLP back in Greymouth after being used by Northland Airways.
Photo : D White Collection


This left the Fox Moth ZK-APT as Coast Aviation’s only workhorse that continued to fly whitebait and venison from South Westland to Greymouth. In the June 2020 issue of Prop Talk, the North Shore Aero Club’s magazine, Ian Couper gives a beautiful potted history of this work.
 
Another major use was to bring the whitebait north for onwards transfer to the markets. The catch was never predictable but none could be left behind. It is said APT once got airborne off the beach over one thousand pounds overweight with the valuable whitebait, thus carrying twice its own unladen weight. Climbing out of ground effect was not possible, even as fuel was consumed, so it proceeded along beaches and over coastal waters until Greymouth was reached, where the pilot put it down on the beach to unload the precious cargo.
 
Life on the West Coast was hard for APT and in 1962 its Certificate of Airworthiness lapsed. After its final flight to Omaka APT was condemned after a CAA inspector was most disturbed at what he saw. “The general condition of the aircraft can be described in one word – disgraceful. It would appear maintenance has been of a negligible nature for some time. The cockpit has the stench of an abattoir and it appears that the aircraft has been used for carrying out deer carcasses on the West Coast.”

Happily, this was not the end for ZK-APT as it underwent a long term restoration by the legendary Stan Smith. Even though it was a later machine ZK-APT joins the Air Travel and NAC Fox Moths as one of the iconic aircraft of South Westland, one that continues to fly in our New Zealand skies.

De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth ZK-APT back on the Coast at Hokitika on 17 December 2009