23 February 2010

Newmans Air - It began 25 years ago this month

In late 1984 the face of a new player on the tourist airline business appeared in the form of Newmans Air which was formed to offer competition to Mount Cook Airlines. Like Mount Cook Airline’s Newman’s Air had its origins in a rich heritage of bus and tourist services in New Zealand. With its plans to buy into Mount Cook Airlines thwarted Newmans Air was established with its services more or less replicating Mount Cook Airline’s routes.  The company ordered two De Havilland Canada Dash-7 aircraft and the first of these, ZK-NEW, arrived just before Christmas in 1984. Over the next six weeks it was kept busy doing crew training and familiarisation flights.

The company’s first scheduled flights began on 13 February 1985, using two De Havilland Canada Dash-7 aircraft, ZK-NEW and ZK-NEX, though  The initial timetable saw two daily northbound services to Rotorua from Christchurch, one extending further north to Auckland, and three southbound services from Christchurch to Queenstown.

ZK-NEX arrives home at the Newman's Air hangar at Christchurch at the end of the day's flying on 10 December 1986

The first timetable, effective 12 February 1985
At the time of the launch of services the airline’s chief executive, Mr Ken McDonald, foresaw a third Dash 7 and including Nelson on their network. He told the Christchurch Press he estimated Newmans Air would have captured 50 per cent of the available market by June 1986 and that they were aiming to get 70 per cent of the market in the long term. Newman Air’s original plans to use the ungraded Glentanner (Mount Cook) airfield were delayed due to issues with the Civil Aviation Division and the permit granted to use the airfield by the Land Settlement Board. These were eventually overcome and from 19 March 1985 Newmans Air flights to and from Queenstown began to call at Glentanner (Mount Cook). Very early on the company looked at Ashburton as another possible destination to be used to fly skiers from nearby Mount Hutt to Queenstown. Dash 7 ZK-NEX landed there on a charter flight on 17 April 1985. Scheduled flights on two days a week began on 17 July 1985 with an early departure from Christchurch to Ashburton and then onwards to Queenstown, departing Ashburton at 7.30 a.m. At the launch of the Ashburton service Mr Ken McDonald said that regular flights would soon be going to Wanaka and Te Anau if their air strips were upgraded to take the Dash 7.

By August 1985 the company was reporting load factors of 50%, somewhat less than they had originally hoped for. By the end of the year the company was reappraising the suitability of the Dash 7. While being a STOL aircraft they were eminently suitable for Glentanner, they were slow, especially on the long Rotorua-Christchurch sector. Having four engines increased the maintenance costs. Sometime after they were replaced an Ansett NZ engineer told me they had to have a 108% loading on the Christchurch-Rotorua sector to make a profit!

By early 1986 Newmans was looking for another partner and by April 1986 the speculation was the favoured option would be with Ansett Airlines of Australia and that Dash 8’s would replace the Dash 7’s. In July 1986 the Government gave Ansett permission to purchase half of Newmans Air with Brierley Investments buying a further 30 per cent. By this stage the company had lost over $ 5 million since beginning in February 1985. Their position was not helped by Air New Zealand taking over Mount Cook Airlines in 1985.

What might have been but what wasn't... An artist's impression of a Dash 8 in Newmans Air colour scheme...
In 8 Oct 1986 an application was made to Air Services Licensing Authority by Bilmans Management Ltd (trading as "Newmans-Ansett"), to conduct a Category "A" air transport service between Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, Glentanner and Queenstown with two De Havilland DHC-8 Dash 8 Series 100 aircraft. The first Dash 8 arrived in Christchurch on 15 December 1986 sporting Ansett Newmans titles. Ansett Newmans soon introduced direct Auckland Christchurch services with the Dash 8. The Newmans name was soon to disappear however and by early 1987 the airline rebranding to Ansett New Zealand had began.
What appeared - Dash 8 ZK-NEY in Ansett Newmans titles at Christchurch on 26 January 1987... the "Newmans" was soon to disappear and the airline became Ansett New Zealand.

Have you anything to add to this brief account that might fill in some of the gaps about Newmans Air? Have you or comments or thoughts about Newmans Air? Please feel free to write a comment or send me an e-mail to


  1. Do you know when the flights to Ashburton were dropped? Did Ansett ever fly to Ashburton?

  2. The Ashburton flights were only scheduled from 17 July to 26 September 1985. These were not repeated the following winter. Ansett never flew into Ashburton

  3. I remember flying (paxing) in the -7 to ZQN via Mt Cook and only shutting down the LH engines at Mt Cook. Slow trip!!