06 February 2011

Air Freight NZ Ltd - Flying our air freight for 27 years

In 1989 a new air freight company was formed by Fieldair Holdings and an Auckland company, Parceline Express, with the aim of operating a week night Auckland-Palmerston North-Christchurch freight service. Operating as Air Freight NZ Ltd the operation was established with two General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580s, ZK-FTA (c/n 168) and ZK-FTB (c/n 180). The Convairs had been especially converted by a Canadian company, Kelowna Flightcraft, for an all freight operation which included the installation of a large cargo door allowing for a cargon system where wheeled cargons slide on to two rails in the aircraft floor.

The ill-fated Convair, ZK-FTB at Palmerston North on 30 July 1989, the day before it crashed.

Operations began on the 21st of July 1989. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the new company just a few days later when Convair ZK-FTB crashed on take-off into Auckland’s Manakau Harbour on the 31st of July 1989. The two crew and a training captain were all killed. FTB was replaced with General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580, ZK-KFL (c/n 372), this aircraft being registered to the company in late April 1990.

Convair 580 ZK-FTA taken at Auckland on 30 January 1992.

In 1994 the fleet was expanded by the addition to the fleet of General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580, ZK-JDQ (c/n 465). Unlike the previous Convairs ZK-JDQ was not converted to an all freighter configuration and the absence of the large cargo door made it a less desirable aircraft for Air Freight’s operations. The following year it was replaced with General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580 ZK-KFU (c/n 17). This aircraft had received a freighter conversion and so ZK-JDQ was reduced to being the spare aircraft, though it did a regular Friday night run, before it was sold in late 1996.

Convair ZK-JDQ at Auckland on the 26th of March 1994. It never carried Air Freight titles or colours.

Being an all freight operation Air Freight NZ did not issue a public timetable but in 1995 the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand’s Aerolog publication listed their regular timetable as follows;

AFN31 Auckland-Christchurch dep 2145L, arr 2335L
AFN32 Christchurch-Palmerston North dep 2030L, arr 2130L
AFN32 Palmerston North-Christchurch dep 2300L, arr 2359L
AFN33 Auckland-Christchurch dep 2250L, arr 0040L

AFN31 Christchurch-Auckland dep 0030L, arr 0220L
AFN32 Christchurch-Palmerston North dep 0045L, arr 0145L
AFN32 Palmerston North-Christchurch dep 1500L, arr 1600L
AFN33 Christchurch-Auckland dep 0150L, arr 0340L

Aerolog reported that the flights carried freight on contract to Parceline, the linehaul division of the Freightways Group. Parceline customers were NZ Couriers, Post Haste Couriers and Castle Parcels. 

In November 1999 Freightways Express bought Fieldair Holdings. This enabled Freightways to have complete control over the courier supply chain and not to be reliant on major carriers. 

Meanwhile, in October 1999 Air Freight NZ Ltd took over Vincent Aviation’s courier operation to the East Coast using Piper Pa23-250 Aztecs ZK-DGS (c/n 27-7304959) ZK-EVP (c/n 27-8054053), ZK-FMU (c/n 27-2970). These aircraft were all registered to the company the previous month. Again, with no published timetable, it is difficult to know what the aircraft did but the service seemed to follow a similar pattern to Vincent’s operation, with the Palmerston North based aircraft stopping at Napier and Wairoa and spending the day at Gisborne. The service primarily carried courier freight for NZ Couriers and the related operations of Freightways Ltd. The register records ZK-DGS being sold in April 2000 and Zk-FMU in September 2000. In June 2002 EVP was sold and the East Coast service passed to Sunair.

Piper Aztec ZK-DGS on the Air Freight service to Gisborne on the 13th of October 1999, as it had been the day before. Given the aircraft had been registered to Air Freight in September 1999 I guess Air Freight took over from 1 October 1999.
Later in the same day I caught up with the another Air Freight Aztec, ZK-FMU at Palmerston North.  
The third Air Freight Aztec, ZK-EVP at Gisborne on 9 February 2001

Convair 580 ZK-KFH with the simplifed tail logo taken at Auckland on the 19th of August 2008.

In August 2003 General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580 ZK-KFJ (c/n 114) was added to the fleet. Sadly, on the 3rd of October 2003, a second fatal accident hit the company when ZK-KFU broke up in flight 8 kilometres north of Paraparaumu. It crashed into the sea in stormy and turbulent weather conditions. Wreckage was found in the following two weeks and the bodies of the two pilots were recovered. The accident report indicated the aircraft experienced heavy icing shortly before the crash.

Air Freight (NZ)'s ill-fated Convair 580 ZK-KFU at Auckland on 7 October 1998

Replacing the ill-fated ZK-KFU was a leased General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/5800 ZK-KFS (c/n 277) which entered service on the 1st of November 2004. The Convair 5800 was a stretched version of the Convair 580. It was equipped with larger engines and two fuselage plugs to increase the overall length of the aircraft by over 4 metres as well as having an electronic flight instrumentation system.

The difference in the size of the Convair 580 and Convair 5800 is seen in these two photos which also illustrate the current colour scheme. Above Convair 580 ZK-KFL at Auckland on the 21st of June 2010 and below Convair 5800 ZK-KFS at Auckland on the 29th of June 2008.

Air Freight NZ continued to operate its night time freight flights with four Convair 580s and one stretched Convair 5800 on its core Auckland-Palmerston North-Christchurch and Auckland-Christchurch freight services until June 2015 when parent company Freightways announced a major  fleet upgrade that would see it transition from the fleet of Convair freighter aircraft to Boeing 737-400 freighter aircraft.

Freightways announced that its subsidiary, Fieldair Holdings Limited, would form a joint venture company with Airwork Holdings Limited who would operate the three Boeings replacing the five Convairs and Airwork's two Fokker Friendships. The age of the turboprops and changing air freight patterns precipitated the change. It was announced that the customers of the new joint venture company, which became known as Parcelair, were to be Freightways' express package businesses and NZ Post’s Express Couriers Limited business.

The stretched Convair 5800, ZK-KFS, was the first aircraft to be withdrawn from Air Freight NZ service. It operated its last scheduled flights on the night of the 30th/31st December 2015 when it flew Christchurch - Palmerston North - Christchurch - Palmerston North - Christchurch, It then positioned from Christchurch to Palmerston North where it underwent an overhaul before being returning to its lessor, Kelowna Flight Craft in Canada.

Air Freight NZ ended Convair 580 operations and all operations on the 20th of August 2016. The final flight was flown by Convair ZK-KFH which flew from Christchurch to Palmerston North (AFN646) and return (AFN647). 

The sun goes down on Air Freight NZ's Convair 580 ZK-KFH as it rolled at Auckland on 26 January 2010

Air Freight (NZ) and its Convair fleet provided a good and reliable air freight service since its introduction into New Zealand in 1989 and its closure marks the end of another chapter in our country's air freight history.

While the air freight service is no longer flying Air Freight continues to operate the Lifeflight air ambulance in Wellington having taken over the contract in October 2014 following the collapse of Vincent Aviation. Air Freight (NZ) operates two BAe Jetstream 32s, ZK-LFW and ZK-LFT, in the air ambulance role.

BAe Jetstream 32, ZK-LFW at Christchurch on 30 November 2014

The Freighter Fleet over the Years:

Convair 580

ZK-FTA         General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580 (c/n 168)
ZK-FTB         General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580 (c/n 180)
ZK-JDQ         General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580 (c/n 465)
ZK-KFH         General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580 (c/n 42)
ZK-KFJ          General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580 (c/n 114)
ZK-KFL         General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580 (c/n 372)
ZK-KFU         General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/580 (c/n 17)

Convair 580 ZK-KFJ at Auckland on 30 September 2008

Convair 5800

ZK-KFS         General Dynamics Allison Convair 340/5800 (c/n 277)

Piper Aztec

ZK-DGS        Piper Pa23-250 Aztec (c/n 27-7304959)
ZK-EVP         Piper Pa23-250 Aztec (c/n 27-8054053)
ZK-FMU        Piper Pa23-250 Aztec (c/n 27-2970)


  1. ZK-KFL has now resumed the nightly freight flights AKL-CHC

  2. Hi Steve. Interesting blog. Just to let you know that Airfreight is still going. They operate two Jetstream 32's (ZK-LFW and ZK-LFT) for Lifeflight in Wellington.

    1. Thanks Dave... I have updated the post accordingly

  3. zk fta has now been scrapped and kfj is now next on the chopping block.