16 June 2013

NAC’s Greymouth Service


Updated 16 June 2013

Greymouth's NAC service was a service that was not supposed to happen.

By January 1947 the limitations of the Greymouth airfield were becoming obvious to civil aviation authorities and those entrusted with planning for the establishment of the New Zealand National Airway Corporation which was expected to operate under its own licence from the 1st of April 1947. The take over of Air Travel (NZ) Ltd’s West Coast services from Hokitika to South Westland and to Nelson was progressively delayed until the 1st of October 1947. At this time Air Travel was operating a Hokitika-Greymouth-Westport-Nelson service. 

Meanwhile, on the 9th of July 1947, the Greymouth Evening Star reported that Greymouth's aerodrome had been declared unsafe for use by passenger planes and that Greymouth would be without an air service from the following month when NAC was then expected to take over Air Travel (NZ)'s air services. Over 20 Greymouth and Hokitika residents gathered in the Greymouth Town Hall for a meeting with the chairman of the National Airways Corporation, Sir Leonard Isitt, and its general manager, Mr F. Maurice Clark. Sir Leonard explained that The Director of Civil Aviation had decided, he said, that in his opinion neither the Greymouth nor Hokitika aerodromes should be used by Dominie aircraft. Since the licences for the fields had been granted, new regulations were being observed. These called for aerodromes to provide sufficient room in which a plane could stop when taking off and for one-engined take-offs. It was a severe test and neither of the West Coast fields at present came within the range. “I agree that the margin of safety is really not sufficient,’’ said Sir Leonard, “but there are several ways of overcoming these difficulties. One is to operate a Fox Moth to Greymouth, another is to get a new aircraft from overseas to comply with these restrictions, and yet another is to enlarge the aerodrome at Greymouth. After the director's views were made known to me, I arranged a conference with the chief pilot, Mr N. Suttie, and the operational, manager, but the result was that it was felt that no attempt should be made to operate Greymouth with Dominie aircraft or operate Hokitika with Dominie aircraft unless the loads were restricted,” he went on. “This is what we propose to do in the meantime.” Sir Leonard went on to explain that authority had been given for the purchase of aircraft suitable for the service and which could use the Greymouth airfield .with safety. A new type which was suitable was at present being developed in Australia, he added. “This means that Greymouth probably will suffer some considerable inconvenience in the near future so far as air services put of the town are concerned,” Sir Leonard continued, “and it would appear that to all intents and purposes the residents will have to use Hokitika to make the north-bound connection. I sincerely regret this and, if I can see any scheme to get round the problem I will be prepared to support it, but I am responsible for the safety of this service and cannot ignore the recommendations of my technical advisers,” he added. 

At the same meeting, Mr F. Maurice Clark, general manager of National Airways Corporation said “the corporation proposes to reduce fares and freight charges on these services,” said Mr Clark, who explained that later on the extra fares from Hokitika would not be added to the fares that passengers would have to pay in travelling from Greymouth to connect with the plane at Hokitika. The reduction in the fare, he said, would be in the vicinity of 10s. “You have the word of the Corporation that it will increase its services on the West Coast in line with the amount of traffic offering and the support accorded it from Greymouth and Hokitika,” said Mr Clark, and each town will be given full consideration in the ultimate service to be run from this district.”

Details of the West Coast air service to be operated from the 1st of October 1947 were announced in the Greymouth Evening Star on the 15th of September. The general manager of the National Airways Corporation, Mr F. Maurice Clarke, announced that instead of the single daily trip made at present, two flights to and from the province will be made by a six-seater aircraft each day. Though passengers from Greymouth will now have to travel to Hokitika to connect with the plane service, the fares charged those booking from Greymouth will be as if the connection was actually made here and will be 10s below that paid by Hokitika residents. Greymouth passengers will be able to connect at Hokitika by railcar to and from Greymouth except, that there will be no connection to Greymouth for passengers arriving on the second flight at 5.40 p.m

Further details followed on the 26th of September... Passengers booking from Greymouth will travel by railcar to connect with the aeroplane at Hokitika and this expense will be met by the corporation. The actual, plane fare will be 10s lower than that for Hokitika passengers, in spite of the extra travelling. Similarly, freight from Greymouth will be taken to Hokitika and loaded on to the plane at the usual Greymouth rates. This decision of the corporation has removed some of the objection to the closing of the Greymouth aerodrome, until its size has been increased, but the time lost in the extra and slower travelling remains a serious handicap to Greymouth passengers. The new West Coast air service will commence operations as from next Monday, instead of Wednesday, but it will be conducted by Air Travel Ltd, until October 1. As a result both plane services, to and from the province, will call at Greymouth to pick up passengers and freight on both Monday and Tuesday. After then, however, the plane will leave Hokitika and fly direct to Westport.

By the 8th of  October the effect of the operation of the West Coast air service by the National Airways Corporation, with its elimination of Greymouth as a stopping place, has been widely and adversely felt in the Grey district. Passengers have suffered inconvenience and delays and mail and freight have been delayed. This was apparent from comments made at last evening’s meeting of the Westland Progress League, which decided to take further steps to have the former service restored and to express its dissatisfaction at certain aspects of the new system. The chairman of the N.Z. National Airways, Sir Leonard Isitt, advised the league that it was beyond his control to retain at Greymouth the former air services. He stated that the airfield did not measure up to safety standards, and the question of bringing it up to the required standard, was a matter of Government policy. He agreed to support any proposal to develop the aerodrome to required standards

The first northbound NAC West Coast air service was flown on the 1st of October 1947 and was scheduled to fly Hokitika-Westport-Nelson, overflying Greymouth. It was flown by Commander J F Cane in De Havilland 89A Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS (c/n 6423). This flight was disrupted with ZK-AHS developing engine trouble at Westport.

The grass surfaces and susceptibility to flooding of both Hokitika’s Southside airfield were always problematic. On the 19th of July 1948 the Greymouth Evening Star reported that Hokitika has now been disqualified as a landing ground for Dominie pasenger aircraft which are the type used on the Coast air service, and, as a result of a decision to use Fox Moth aeroplanes on the southern section of the service, Greymouth will again become a port of call. The revocation of the licence of the Hokitika aerodrome for the use of Dominie aircraft will apply from August 9, when Fox Moth planes will commence trips to Westport which will then be the southern terminus of the Coast air service as far as Dominie aircraft are concerned. The Fox Moths will pick up passengers at both Hokitika and Greymouth. There will be a consequent decrease in the number of passengers that can be handled, but it is understood, two trips are scheduled for most days between Hokitika-Greymouth and Westport, where larger planes will take up the service to Nelson and Wellington. The new schedule will be only a temporary measure, which will be abandoned on the completion of the new aerodrome at the rear of the Hokitika township, which is expected to be in use early next year. It is not known yet whether the Fox Moth service will be conducted by the Grey Aero Club, which operates with this type of plane, or directly by the National Airways Corporation.

On the 22nd of July 1948 the Greymouth Evening Star reported that Grey district air service passengers for Westport. Nelson and the North Island, will, as from August 9, leave from the Greymouth aerodrome at 11.35 each morning, under the new National Airways Corporation schedule providing for the use of Fox Moth aircraft only on the West Coast. The air passengers for Greymouth will be able to disembark here at 1.25 p.m. Advising the need to re-arrange the West Coast air services and to utilise Fox Moths between Westport and Okuru, the general manager of the Corporation Mr F. Maurice Clark, has informed the Westland Progress League that Greymouth will be reinstated as from August 9, as a point of call on the regular route between Hokitika and Westport. “Until, such time as the Greymouth airfield is extended,” he added, “there is little we can do to provide an adequate air service with a larger type of aircraft. The timetable, which is to be introduced on August 9, provides for the daily departure of the north-bound plane from Hokitika at 11 a.m. after arriving at Greymouth 20 minutes later, the plane will pick up passengers to depart at 11.35. On arrival at Westport at 12.15, passengers and luggage will be transhipped to the large Dominie plane, which will continue the flight to Wellington, and at 12.45, after picking up south-bound passengers, the Fox Moth will leave for Greymouth and Hokitika arriving at 1.25 and 2 p.m. respectively. An advantage of the new “feeder” service to Grey district passengers, is that a journey to and from Westport will take less than two hours, compared with nearer five previously.

On the 9th of August 1948 the Greymouth Evening Star reported on the new NAC service through Greymouth. A Fox Moth plane, formerly operated by the National Airways Corporation on the South Westland schedule, was used on the north service for the first time today when the change over took effect, and one passenger was taken from Hokitika and another from Greymouth. The passengers for Nelson and the North Island were transferred at Westport to a Dominie passenger plane, and the Fox Moth returned to Hokitika, stepping at Greymouth to set down a passenger. These flights introduced Greymouth to the NAC network.  

NAC Cook Strait and West Coast services timetable effective 9 August 1948, the first time Greymouth appeared in the NAC timetable.

The Corporation offered a Monday to Saturday through service from Hokitika through Greymouth, Westport and Nelson to Wellington. The de Havilland 83 Fox Moth feeder flight would leave Hokitika around 11.00 am arriving in Greymouth 20 minutes later. After a ten minute stop the flight would continue on to Westport to connect with the Lockheed L10 Electra service from and to Nelson and Wellington. Seven weeks after the Greymouth service started, from the 27th of September 1948, the aircraft used on the Westport-Nelson-Wellington sector was changed to the larger 15-seat Lockheed L18 Lodestars. Upon the arrival of the plane from Wellington the Hokitika based Fox Moth would fly the return flight to Hokitika via Greymouth arriving there at 1.25pm and Hokitika at 2.00pm.

Fox Moth ZK-AGM about to depart Greymouth for Westport. Photo : D Walker

NAC operated three Fox Moths, ZK-AEK (c/n 4033), ZK-AGM (TS2810, ZK-ASP (c/n 4097). All three Fox Moths saw service with Air Travel, the latter being previously registered as ZK-ADI before being impressed into RNZAF service as NZ566.

The Fox Moth service was temporary, however, as construction was well underway for a new airport at Hokitika. 

The last scheduled daily air service flight to was to made on the 15th of December 1951. The Press reported that With no bookings for to-morrow from Greymouth and little likelihood of there being any made, Miss J. Woods, a nurse, was the last passenger to leave Greymouth on the old service.

The new Seaview airport opened on the 17th of December 1951. The opening also marked the extension of the Lodestar service to Westport southward to Hokitika and the introduction of the larger Lodestar marked the end of NAC services to Greymouth. From this point on a road link between Greymouth town centre and Hokitika Airport was established to connect with NAC’s scheduled flights.

Fox Moth ZK-AGM at Greymouth with Commander Frank Molloy in overalls. Does anyone know the occasion and who the other people are in the photo.

Preparing the NAC service... mail bags and luggage

The Greymouth "terminal" facilities...

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