New Zealand’s southern most airline, Stewart Island Flights, is in its fourth incarnation. It began as Stewart Island Air Services before being rebranded as Southern Air Ltd and subsequently Southern Air (1997) Ltd. This first instalment is about Stewart Island Air Services...
Stewart Island’s first air service was operated by Grumman Widgeon amphibians operated by an Invercargill company, Amphibian Airways. The service was later sold to NZ Tourist Air Travel which was later brought out by Mount Cook Airlines.
In 1976 Mount Cook Airlines sold their amphibian operations at Invercargill and from Mechanics Bay in Auckland. The Invercargill operation was taken over by Stewart Island Air Services who applied the Air Services Licencing Authority in June 1976 to operate non-scheduled and charter services between Invercargill and Stewart Island, and charter and taxi services from Stewart Island with one Britten Norman Islander.
After being granted the necessary licence the company looked to the construction of the Ryans Creek air strip. The Mount Cook Airlines amphibian service ended on 3 September 1976 and this passed on to Stewart Island Air Services. The company leased a Widgeon (though ultimately two Widgeons were to be used, ZK-AVM and ZK-BGQ), from Auckland’s Sea Bee Air to ensure the continuation of the service until he Islander service could be started. In a letter sent to Stewart Islanders on the 8th of September 1976 the company said provided no further delays are encountered with approvals for the establishment of the air strip, construction should be near completion within four months. In the meantime Captain Murray Donald was appointed to fly the Widgeons daily except for Wednesday and Thursday. The ferry, the MV Wairua, ran on a Wednesday so this meant that Thursday was the only day when the Island was without some form of transport to and from the Mainland. Flights were scheduled to leave Stewart Island at 9.30 in the morning and 4.30 in the afternoon. The company received a Government grant of $10,000 to cover losses which is would incur on the amphibian operation and to ensure the continuity.
Above, Grumman Widgeon ZK-AVM at Invercargill on 7 September 1976. Photo : B Kerr Collection. There are also another couple of great photos of AVM in Tourist Air Travel and Mount Cook Airlines colours on the NZ Civil Aircraft blog... http://nzcivair.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-remember-when.html. Below, the other Widgeon used by Stewart Island Air Services, ZK-BGQ, again at Invercargill on 30 November 1976. Photo : B Kerr Collection
Martin Mueller reported on the frustration the company had with the construction of the Ryans Creek air strip in NZ Wings in 1978, “Work had to be stopped due to weather, and the whole job - which was estimated to take about three months - eventually took thirteen. The trouble centred around doing major earthworks during a wet winter. Finally work was completed, with only sealing to be done. This has been put off in the meantime. Gravel has been laid which was sufficient for a Civil Aviation Licence, issued on January 19.”
From 1 April 1980, with the withdrawal of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 737 flights between Dunedin and Invercargill, Stewart Island Air Services spread and its wings and introduced a twice weekday return service between the cities. The company initially opted to introduce a De Havilland Canada Twin Otter for the service but instead the company obtained Cessna 402 ZK-DSB and Piper Aztec ZK-TJE to service it.
Cessna 402B ZK-DSB (above) at Dunedin on the afternoon flight from Invercargill in January 1981. I was rather surprised when a short time the 402 arrived the Piper Aztec ZK-TJE (below) arrived on a courier flight from Invercargill.
On the 27 October 1980 disaster struck the company when the mainstay of the Stewart Island run, Islander ZK-IAS, crashed on approach to Ryans Creek following encounter with windshear and turbulence on short finals. The aircraft was disassembled and flown as an external load by helicopter from Stewart Island to Invercargill by AS350 ZK-HMY on 3 November 1980 and was written off.