20 February 2011

Air Napier - the East Coast Airline


Gary Peacock started flying in 1968 at Motueka, gaining his commercial pilot's licence in 1980. By the early 1990's he was flying part time for N B MacDonalds Services Ltd who had a databank and NZ Post contract delivering mail and bank data begtween Napier, Wairoa, Gisborne and Tauranga.

In April 1993 United Aviation took over N B MacDonald Services’ courier run while Alan Coombe, Gary Peacock and John Finlay purchased  Piper Seneca Pa34-200T ZK-MSL. United Aviation chartered the Seneca to continue to operate the evening Databank run from Napier to Wairoa, Gisborne and Tauranga with the aircraft overnighting at Tauranga and returning early the next morning. The aircraft was then available for daytime charter work from Napier. Two months later, however, Electronic Data Services closed their branch in Tauranga ending the courier service.

Air Napier Ltd was formed in 1994 with Gary Peacock eventually becoming the sole shareholder.

Above, Piper Seneca ZK-MSL in its original Air Napier colour scheme at Napier on 19 December 1993 and below, at Gisborne on 14 November 2007 in its present scheme. 

In 1997 the company expanded into flight training with the purchase of two Piper Pa38-112 Tomahawks, ZK-TAW and ZK-WAJ. The training was further expanded in 1999 when the Napier Aero Club was looking for an organisation to provide flight training. Air Napier registered an interest and upon acceptance of their proposal moved into the Aero Club rooms from where they provided pilot training and the operation of their air charter business. During these years Air Napier gained CAA 135 certification for air transport operations and CAA 141 certification for flight training. Eventually Cessna 152’s became the mainstay of the training operation while a Piper PA-28-181 Archer, ZK-FIX, and at various times, Cessna 172 aircraft were and continue to be used for general charter work.

With the grounding of United Aviation in 1997 Air Napier began operating a courier run from Palmerston North through Napier and Wairoa to Gisborne in the morning with a return evening service flying the reverse route as far as Napier, the continuing to Paraparaumu before returning to Palmerston North. In 1998 Air Napier purchased Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee 6 ZK-ELK. Piper Pa23-250 Aztec ZK-JEI was also used from late 1998 till September 1999. These flights were mainly for NZ Post.

Air Napier timetable, November 1999

Above, Piper Pa32 Cherokee 6 ZK-ELK in its original scheme, at Gisborne on 9 February 2001 and, below, in the new scheme again at Gisborne on 25 November 2011. 

Pionair Direct's Piper Aztec ZK-JEI which was used by Air Napier in 1998 and 1999. Taken at Napier on 8 January 1999.

To meet the demands of this service Piper Pa31-310 Navajo ZK-DOM was added to the fleet in February 2000 and Piper Pa34-200T Seneca II ZK-WUG in October 2002.

Above, Piper Navajo ZK-NPR in the scheme it operated in for Flight Corporation taken at Napier on 8 February 2001 and at Gisborne in its present scheme on 31 August 2010. 

The timetable for the "new" service which was introduced in 2001.

At the end of April 2002 the company relocated to a larger purpose built hanger and administration facility adjacent to the Napier control tower. The modem building gave each instructor an office while trainee pilots had a large lecture room with separate rooms for flight planning. A lounge area was provided for passengers or trainee pilots while waiting for an aircraft. 

In early 2001 Air Napier introduced a Monday, Wednesday and Friday twice daily commuter service between Napier and Gisborne to get an increased share of traffic on the route. The service was not successful and did not last long.

The Air Napier timetable as found on their on the 8th of November 2006. The timetable is no longer a feature of the website.

At times the freight flights between Napier and Gisborne involve two aircraft with one flying direct with the other flying via Wairoa. In September 2008 there were changes made to the East Coast courier services when NZ Post lost the last of their bank contracts to NZ Couriers. Air Napier became the sole courier freight carrier between Napier and Gisborne, with flights direct or via Wairoa, carrying both the NZ Couriers and NZ Post courier freight. Southbound, at Napier, the freight was transferred to a Sunair flight to carry it to Paraparaumu. Air Napier continued to fly passengers to and from Wairoa to both Napier and Gisborne connecting at these centres to Air New Zealand Link flights.

For a photo essay on Air Napier's service from Gisborne to Napier via Wairoa see : http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/air-napiers-east-coast-express.html

In addition to the East Coast passenger and scheduled freight services Air Napier continued to offer charter services, medical transfers, aerial photography and surveying, private and professional flight training and providing servicing for international private jet flights to the Hawkes Bay. In 2012 Air Napier took over the contract to convey medical staff between Napier and Wairoa. This involved a Seneca flying to Wairoa on most week days. 2012 also saw the introduction of Cessna 162 Skycatcher ZK-SKC to the training fleet.

In mid-2016 Air Napier sold its training aircraft and ceased flying training.

On the 10th of November 2016 the Wairoa NDB was decommissioned and the courier flights between Napier and Gisborne no longer landed at Wairoa.

Air Napier changed hands on the 2nd of November 2018 with Gary Peacock selling the Napier-based airline to Shah Aslam who immediately signalled growth for the airline. Regular dedicated passenger flights were reintroduced between Napier and Gisborne from the 30th of January 2019. Within days the company was "blown away with inquiries about the new service — particularly with an unexpected call from Gisborne for a possible 'school run' by air." Chief operating officer Mike Brown told the Gisborne Herald that "the aim of last Wednesday’s soft-launch was to establish what demand there was for the Napier-Gisborne route, as well as potential new link from Gisborne to other regions. The amount of email we’ve had and phone calls, we had to put extra staff on over the last few days, has been phenomenal. I mean we got asked for a ‘bus route’ because there are so many kids going to private schools in Hawke’s Bay and they are only spending one day a week with their parents, the rest of the time they are at school or sitting in a car. So, there are all these new things that have come out of it.” Brown said the airline was also open to working with community groups. “So far the response has been extremely good — phenomenal to be honest. “It’s been very refreshing — from the Mayor to the unique set up with Eastland Group and the i-Site guys. Everybody is singing off the same song sheet and that makes it easier for people like us.

During the Covid pandemic of 2020 Air Napier kept operating their courier freight service between Napier and Gisborne but the dedicated passengers flights ceased. After lockdown the dedicated passenger flights did not resume. The courier service continues to operate using the Navajo, a Seneca or the Cherokee 6 as loads depict.

In late November 2022 Air Napier started advertising that a seat was available on the southbound courier freight weekday flights from Gisborne to Napier at a premium price of $595. At this time the service was largely operated by the company's Piper PA31 Navajo ZK-NPR.

Air Napier publicity, 30 November 2022

On the 15th of March 2023 Piper PA34-220T Seneca ZK-NAP departed New Zealand on route to Australia via Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands. It was cancelled from the New Zealand register on the 6th of April 2023.

In addition to the regular courier flight to Gisborne the Wairoa medical flights continue to be an important part of Air Napier's operation. In 2019 Air Napier also operated 205 flights into Wairoa Airport, most of these flights would have delivering medical personnel to the Wairoa Hospital. These were usually operated by Piper Senecas but following Cyclone Gabrielle in early 2023 the Piper Navajo ZK-NPR was more often used. The Cyclone meant a lot of extra work for Air Napier and in 2023, the airline flew to Wairoa 1,689 times. Also during 2023 Air Napier moved 186,597kg of urgent or overnight freight.

In May 2024 Air Napier announced that after 30 years of operation, it had officially added a jet to its Air Operations Certificate. Cessna 510 Mustang ZK-LCA had been registered to Air Napier on the 2nd of February 2024 but then obtaining the AOC took some time. The aircraft is used for nationwide jet charters.

Photo : Air Napier webpage

As to the future, Air Napier has involvement in a couple of projects including sea-gliders and Maeve Aerospace 01 electric aircraft. When developed, the Maeve 01 aims to fly at 264 knots per hour with a range of 460 kilometres. The aircraft will be capable of carrying 44 passengers and recharging in 36 minutes. 

Air Napier remains a small airline but it has big ambitions. One wonders what its future will bring.

Aircraft Used

Cessna A150L
ZK-DNO (c/n A1500448)

Cessna 152
ZK-EKM (c/n 15280954)
ZK-NPD (c/n 15280188)
ZK-NPE (c/n 15284064)
ZK-NPG (c/n 15284064)

Cessna 162
ZK-SKC (c/n 16200172 )

Cessna 172
ZK-CHN (c/n 17251986)
ZK-ENU (c/n 17268288)
ZK-NPA (c/n 17280577)

Cessna 510 Mustang 
ZK-LCA (c/n 510-0011)

Piper Pa23-250 Aztec
ZK-JEI (c/n 27-2638)

Piper PA28-181 Archer
ZK-FIX (c/n 28-7990559)

Piper PA31-310 Navajo
ZK-NPR (c/n 31-777)

Piper PA32-260 Cherokee 6
ZK-ELK (c/n 32-7600009)

Piper PA34-200T Seneca II
ZK-MSL (c/n 34-7770224)
ZK-WUG (c/n 34-7970329)

Piper Seneca ZK-WUG taken at Wairoa on 23 January 2013. 

Piper PA34-220T Seneca
ZK-NAP (c/n 34-49128)

Piper Seneca ZK-NAP at Gisborne on 7 November 2016

Piper PA38-112 Tomahawk
ZK-TAW (c/n 38-78A0716)
ZK-WAJ (c/n 38-81A0058)


  1. Oh I've done part of my training in Air Napier under Gary Peacock and Karen was their administrator.