12 March 2010

Taupo Air Services

One of the joys of domestic travel in New Zealand at present is Air New Zealand’s grabaseat which certainly makes air travel affordable. It also enables the slightly plane crazy (like me) to do things like flying to Taupo for the day, just because I’d never flown to Taupo before. These days Air New Zealand Link offers 3 flights a day to Auckland and 3 flights a day to Wellington. However, there are still traces of one of New Zealand’s smaller regional airlines, Taupo Air Services.

Taupo Air Services Ltd took over the light aircraft operation and the former maintenance facilities of Air Central after they moved their base to Napier in 1978. Air Central continued operating its airline services through Taupo but ceased flying in January 1982. At an Air Services Licensing Authority hearing in Rotorua later that year the ASLA chairman noted that it was a requirement of every air service licence that the licensee would not abandon or curtail the authorised service without the consent of the Authority. Air Central had failed to do this and so their licence was changed, the company losing the right to operate scheduled services between Rotorua and Tauranga, and between Taupo and Auckland. In a hearing immediately following the loss of Air Central's route approvals, the Authority awarded the Taupo-Auckland scheduled service to Taupo Air Services Ltd to enable a daily return service between the centres. The Taupo operator aimed to complement Air New Zealand services, enabling a same day return, with either a Cessna 402 or Cessna 337. At the time Air New Zealand operated two flights to Taupo each day. An early morning flight from Auckland continued on to Wellington, via Wanganui. The reverse route was flown in the evening.

Cessna 337 ZK-DFT at Taupo 15 December 1983 shortly after the service commenced.
Taupo Air Services' first timetable, effective, 1 October 1983

Scheduled services began on the 12th of October 1983 initially using Cessna 337 ZK-DFT on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A Saturday morning return flight was also operated in the service’s latter years. The fare was initially $ 70 each way. 27 years later a Grabaseat fare can be as low as $29 with other fares ranging between $ 69 and $ 299. Ironically it is still not easy for Taupo business travellers to travel to and from Auckland. The first northbound flight leaves at 9.05am. I happened to meet a friend who need to fly from Taupo to Auckland for a funeral and so had driven to Rotorua to catch a flight. He was told that drive would take an hour but road works meant his travel was well over an hour and a half and he missed his flight!

Cessna 337 ZK-DFT at Queenstown 24 October 1987 
Taupo Air Service's Cessna 402 ZK-DSG at Taupo on 23 January 1993
A fourth weekly flight on a Saturday

The scheduled service continued after the Friendships were replaced with Eagle Air’s Bandeirantes using both the 337 and 402. Richard Porter, one of Taupo Air Services two pilots at the time told NZ Wings in October 1991, "The 337 is the only way to maintain the service with light loadings. Our passengers are mostly Taupo businessmen so the lack of baggage space isn't too bad. Our competition out of Taupo is Eagle twice a day, but we still have local support." However at some point of this the scheduled air service did end but I have no record of when.

Taupo Air Service's Cessna 402 ZK-DSG at Taupo on 1 December 1996

Today the only feature of the scheduled service still to be seen is the window of Taupo Air Service's hangar/terminal which boldly announces "We fly Taupo Auckland" - they might do, but sadly no longer on a scheduled basis. Also, their Cessna 172 ZK-DHU, one of the original planes that came from Air Central is often seen parked on the airport.

Cessna 172, ZK-DHU, one of Taupo Air Service's original aircraft at Taupo on 23 January 2011.

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