17 April 2011

Rex Air Charter - Waiheke Island Service

In 1968 there had been a major downturn in New Zealand's farming and Rex Aviation (NZ) Ltd had a large stock of unsold aircraft. Boardroom struggles eventually saw Miles King and New Zealand shareholders lose control of the company which passed to Australia.

The Ardmore/Auckland to Waiheke Island flights by Rex Air Charter were flown with single engine Cessna 172, 182, 206 or 207 four to seven seat aircraft. Waiheke Island’s Gulf News of 9 May 1975 announced a scheduled service from Waiheke’s Onetangi airfield to both Ardmore and Auckland International Airport. The Gulf News advised residents the "All seats must be booked and confirmed by phone to the Rex office at Ardmore, the reason being that without any bookings the aircraft will not run until the next timetabled service." Originally two return services a day were scheduled with extra flights operated on demand.

Gulf News, 9 May 1975

Cessna 182 ZK-DFF at Ardmore.

Cessna 206 ZK-DOA at Greymouth on 19 June 1976. 

In April 1976 the Ardmore operation was bought out by Dalhoff and King Aviation Ltd which continued to operate the air charter operations, including the Waiheke service, under the title of Rex Air Charter as part of its Dalhoff and King Flying School Ltd. On the 30th of April 1976 Mount Cook Airlines cut their amphibian service to Waiheke Island leaving Rex Air Charter as the sole operator of air services to the island for passengers and freight until Sea Bee Air became operational late that year. Scheduled services were increased to six return flights each day of the week with company also undertaking numerous ambulance flights in close cooperation with St. John Ambulance staff on the island.

Gulf News, 23 July 1976

The Onetangi airstrip was leased by the company from a local land owner and the company erected a small removable shelter by the roadside for “the comfort and convenience of customers.” It was not, however, without its problems. Continual wet weather later in 1976 meant the company had to restrict the number of flights in and out of that airstrip to three per day to avoid further deterioration of the surface of the airstrip. In the winter of 1977 portable emergency runway lighting was funded by the community and this enabled Rex Air Charter to successfully operate Air Ambulance flights at night. While Sea Bee Air’s amphibian service to Waiheke did provide some competition a more serious threat came in the form of a faster ferry service to Auckland provided by a hovercraft and hydrofoil and much late the fast cats. Services, over time, were gradually cut as demand lessened.

The service boasted a couple of pilots who became identities on the Waiheke run by the number of flights they flew. Alvan Treweek flew over 1800 services to Waiheke Island and after he left in August 1978, Bryan Cox logged in excess of 2000 trips. Writing on the Cessna 207, the largest aircraft used on the Waiheke Island run, Alvan Treweek said, "The 207 performed remarkably well. In winter landings on Waiheke, on touchdown full power had to be applied to prevent becoming bogged. Takeoffs with MAUW we’re always tricky, whether to take off uphill with a headwind or downhill with a tail wind. Local knowledge and experience saved the day. I can recall some hair raising moments. Of course this was around 40 years ago, things were different."

Rex Air Charter timetable effective 4 August 1980

Rex Air Charter Cessna 206 ZK-EJE at Hokitika in August 1982. 

During 1981 ownership of the flying school was passed to Motor Holdings NZ Ltd, which continued to operate its air transport operations as Rex Air Charter until about November 1982. From this time their charter operation was rebranded and operated and flew under the title of its subsidiary Motor Holdings (Air Services) Ltd. The Waiheke service, however, continued operating under the Rex Air Charter banner.

Rex Air Charter's Waiheke Island timetable, 1 September 1982

In August 1984, following the withdrawal of the Auckland Aero Club from its Ardmore-Claris service, the company announced in Great Barrier Island's Barrier Bulletin that "Motor Holdings (Air Services) Ltd, who also trade under the name Rex Air Charter, have undertaken steps to commence an air service from Ardmore to Claris and return." The intention was to increase the number of charter flights and then extend the Waiheke service to Great Barrier Island. Competition, from Ardmore Air Charter, meant that the service never developed and advertising for the charter service lasted only a few months.

The Cessna 207 was the largest aircraft used on the scheduled service to Stonyridge airstrip. ZK-ETC is seen at Timaru on 10 March 1984 wearing both Rex Air Charter and Motor Holdings' logos. 
Cessna 207 ZK-ETC all loaded up at Stonyridge airstrip for a flight back to Ardmore in January 1985. 

Rex Air Charter timetable effective 1 July 1985

Gulf News, 11 April 1986
The Rex Air Charter banner finally disappeared from the Waiheke service on the 31st of May 1986 when it was rebranded as Waiheke Air Services, a trading name for Motor Holdings (Air Services) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Motor Holdings Ltd transport group. Brian Sutherland, the airline’s manager, told the Gulf News, "In choosing this name we clearly show our commitment to serving the island's air transport needs for the future."

Cessna 206 ZK-EXG at Hokitika on 9 January 1984.

Aircraft used on the air service included

Cessna 172 - ZK-DFX, DJO, DNM, DRL, DXJ, DXM, DXN, EJI
Cessna 177 Cardinal - ZK-DIG, DWU
Cessna 182 - ZK-DPO
Cessna 206 Stationair - ZK-DRH, DXB, EFI, EJE, EJG, EJH, EKI
Cessna 207 - ZK-DSE, ETC

For the continuation of this air service to Waiheke Island see: http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/08/wings-of-gulf-waiheke-air-services.html


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

  2. I have a photo somewhere of us putting my grandmother on EJE at Stony Ridge in the early 80's, probably around summer of 1982-83. She lived in Pukekohe at the time, her neighbour would drive her to Ardmore and she'd fly over to stay with us a while over the summer break. My recollections of the strip was that it was set on top of a rolling hill so when the aircraft taxied to the end to takeoff we would not see it again from our vantage point at the 'carpark' on the other side until it came roaring up over the hill, and hopefully by that time it would be airborne!

  3. I would love to see that photo... I didn't manage to find any photos of aircraft on Stonyridge airfield