12 February 2012

Capital Air Services - Wellington Aero Club Origins

Capital Air Services was an airline that was born out of the Wellington Aero Club. This post was originally written by Bruce Gavin and it explores the aero club origins of Capital Air Services. It has been reposted as more information has come to hand.

With its important position as the country’s capital city as well as being a major commercial centre Wellington has always been a very important factor in the development of New Zealand’s air services. These reasons plus the city bordering on Cook Strait and its geographical situation being approximately in the middle of New Zealand have further heightened its importance for the growth of air services.

As modern cabin aircraft suitable for air taxi work became available from the early1930s the Wellington Aero Club began to cater for a growing commercial market. In addition to its fleet of basic two seat open cockpit DH.60 Moths the aero club became the owner and operator of larger air taxi and air charter aircraft during the 1930s. Prior to World War II these aircraft included at times Waco QDC ZK-ACV (c/n 3580), Waco UIC ZK-AEL (c/n 4336) and Percival P.10 Vega Gull ZK-AFI (c/n K.63) but during the war these aircraft were impressed into the RNZAF and the aero club’s operations were suspended.

After the war the Wellington Aero Club resumed operations and aircraft used for air taxi and air charter operations included Percival P.44 Proctor 5 ZK-ARP (c/n AE97) and various Austers. In 1947 the aero club obtained its first twin-engine aircraft in the form of Miles M.65 Gemini 1Bs ZK-ANT (c/n 6322) and ZK-AQO (c/n 6472). Also in 1947 the Wellington Aero Club began flying the weekly Saturday evening Sports Post newspaper from Wellington to Blenheim and Nelson-its first regular air service. If possible these flights were made on Saturday evening if sufficient daylight was available but in winter were completed on Sunday mornings.

The two Wellington Aero Club's Miles Geminis at Wellington... ZK-ANT (above) and ZK-AQO (below)

Growth into a Commuter Airline and the Role of Murray Turley

During the 1950s and 1960s more modern American built single engine Cessna aircraft including Cessna 180s ZK-BKG (c/n 30376) and ZK-BUS (c/n 30949) and Cessna 172 ZK-BWW (c/n 36894) replaced these earlier machines. It was also during the 1960s the Wellington Aero Club’s executive realised that the co-operative aero club model was not suitable for the development of an expanding commercial aviation business as it diverted committee and staff attention away from the club’s membership and potentially left aero club members liable for financial losses.

Cessna 180 ZK-BUS at Wellington carrying Wellington Air Taxi titles

For this reason in 1963 the Wellington Aero Club registered a wholly owned private company named Capital Air Services Ltd although the company remained dormant and did not become operational until 1 April 1970 when the aero club’s commercial air service licences were transferred to it. It was also during the 1960s growth of the aero club’s commercial business began to be actively promoted by Murray Turley who was to become Capital Air Service’s General Manager and a major influence in the development of the growth of IFR commuter air services in the Cook Strait region and New Zealand. It was also during this time that the Wellington Aero Club leased six seats Cessna 205 ZK-CEZ (c/n 205-0134) in addition to their own Cessna 205 (c/n 205-0412) and twin engine Cessna 310 ZK-CFG (c/n 310G-0085) at times and as well purchased its own twin Piper Pa23-250 Aztec ZK-CEU (c/n 27-217).

In the mid '60s the 'Sports Post' flights were flown on a volunteer basis, mostly by NAC pilots many of whom had learnt to fly at the Wellington Aero Club. The Aztec, ZK-CEU, and later to the Cessna 310, ZK-CFG, were often used to transfer patients from all over New Zealand to Dunedin where highly specialised brain surgery procedures were carried out. The Cessna 310, which had been owned originally by Fletcher's, was mostly flown by the Peter Duggan-Smith who wrote the book, "Don't tell My Mother."  At the time of his final flight in Cambodia in 1974 Peter had accumulated more than 17,000 flying hours in no less than 70 types of piston-engine aircraft.

Cessna 205 ZK-CEZ at Rotorua on 28 October 1964.
Wellington Aero Club's Piper Aztec ZK-CEU.

On the 1st of April 1970 the Wellington Aero Club’s commercial operations were taken over by Capital Air Services Ltd which began to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Club.


  1. Any chance of an article on SAFE Air and the Bristol Freighters?

  2. Seem to remember C205 CFF [?] was used as well.In the mid '60s the 'Sports Post' flights were flown on a volunteer basis by mostly NAC pilots many of whom had learnt to fly at WAC.
    CEU was used quite a bit to transfer patients from all over NZ to Dunedin where there was some medical specialist facility [can't remember what]
    CFG was mostly flown by the indomitable Peter Duggan-Smith and was owned by Fletcher's originally.
    A Golden Age...

  3. Thanks Ian...
    You are right, ZK-CFF was used by the Club... I will update the post from what you have written and publish it next Sunday.
    Thanks again, Steve L.

  4. Hi Steve
    Spent many a Sat night loading the Sports Post as a teenager with the prospect of a flight in the morning.
    Didn't know then that in a few years I would be flying C205s in much more demanding conditions in PNG :-)
    Peter D-S didn't write the book - it was put together by a Canadian friend. I caught up with him in Vancouver in later life before he passed away from skin cancer.
    One of the characters of NZ aviation who defined the golden age of the 60s...

  5. My name is Tony Duggan-Smith and I am Peter's son from before he returned to New Zealand in the '60's. Glad to see he is remembered fondly. He may not have written his book technically but without his stories it would have been pretty flat! I have been more of an artist/musician/film maker through my life but the sense of adventure is always riding high as I am sure it was with him till the end. Great to hear his name mentioned with fondness!