01 May 2011

Capital Air Services - Aero Club to Airline

The first post focussed on Capital Air Services' Wellington Aero Club origins...

See - http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/04/capital-air-services-wellington-aero.html

A third post focuses on Capital's services through Greymouth:
See - http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/greymouths-capital-service.html

The Development of the Airline

From 1965 to 1976 the Wellington Aero Club's/Capital Air Services' twin engined charter work increased from barely 200 hours per annum to well over 800 hours per annum.  However the sole reason for adding the Piaggio aircraft to the operation, was because the original Piper Aztec was unable to cope with all the charter requests. In addition, the Aztec did not have the payload available for a significant portion of the charter work e.g. newspaper contracts at the weekends. 

In July 1970 courier freight permitted the beginnings of the regular services, Initially these operated to Blenheim on an air taxi basis and Nelson was included soon after. These services continued on an air taxi basis until November 1971 when a non-scheduled licence was issued over the Wellington-Blenheim-Nelson route for the delivery of the Dominion newspaper to the South Island. This work is still being undertaken. In 1971 the "Dominion" newspaper service commenced and also in 1971 Data Bank Systems started using Capital Air Services' Cook Strait flights to carry their courier freight.

Taken over from the Wellington Aero Club was Piper  Aztec ZK-CEU seen here at Wellington

Some passengers were also carried on the courier flights when weight and space permitted but passengers were certainly carried on the return Nelson to Wellington sector. The Aztec rapidly proved that it did not have the payload available for a significant portion of Capital Air Services' charter work or the weekend newspaper flights so to support the increased business Capital Air Services Ltd acquired Piaggio P.166B ZK-DAI (c/n 410) in 1971 and this was used until January 1973.

A front angle view of the gull shaped wings - Piaggio P166 ZK-DAI at Greymouth on 7 October 1971
A rear view of DAI shoing the pusher engine configuration taken at Wellington on 13 January 1973

With much activity in the off shore exploration for oil and gas reserves at this time Capital Air Services won at various times contracts to supply air services to the oil exploration operators. To service these contracts Capital Air Services leased at various times Cessna 402A VH-ELT (c/n 402A-0075), Piaggio P.166B VH-GOB (c/n 400) and Piaggio P.166C VH-FSC (c/n 414).

Leased Piaggio VH-FSC. 
Leased Piaggio VH-GOB at Greymouth on 7 October 1971

Timetable, 1974

To cater for the growth of the Cook Strait operations the company leased Britten Norman BN-2A-3 Islander ZK-DKN (c/n C278) in 1973 to see if the type was suitable for its operations. As a result of the trial Capital Air Services decided instead on the Cessna 402 as being more suitable with its first of the type Cessna 402B Utililiner ZK-DNQ (c/n 402B-0222) registered to it on the 12th of July 1973. At the same time the company made frequent application to the Air Services Licensing Authority to expand its operations and in the process received many knock backs. Eventually progress was made and the restrictions to carrying passengers removed. Frequencies of flights between Wellington and Blenheim and Wellington and Nelson increased and the company’s second Cessna 402B Businessliner ZK-DSG (c/n 402B-0559) was registered on 14 May 1974, this aircraft replacing the Piper Aztec ZK-CEU. Over the next two years the company extended its network from Nelson to Palmerston North, and introduced and on the 3rd of December 1974 it extended its south from Nelson to Westport and Greymouth. The aircraft overnighted at Greymouth enabling West Coast people to do a full business day in Wellington.

BN Islander ZK-DKN at Greymouth on a charter on 22 March 1973.
Capital Air Services' first Cessna 402, ZK-DNQ at Greymouth on a charter on 25 February 1974.

Sale of the Company to new Owners and Expansion

The increasing financial and managerial demands placed on the Wellington Aero Club became acute so the aero club sold Capital Air Services to two Nelson businessmen and James Aviation Ltd of Hamilton effective from 1 December 1975. Expansion of routes and the size of fleet continued, and on the 1st of February 1976 the West Coast route was extended by the addition of a Greymouth-Christchurch sector and a new well sector between Christchurch and Blenheim was added. Later in the year, on the 5th of July 1976, the Nelson-Palmerston North route was extended with a short-lived six-day a week onward service to Wanganui and Hamilton. Night freight flights from Wellington to Auckland and Wellington to Christchurch were also started. By the end of 1976 the company had leased Cessna 402A ZK-DHW (c/n 402A-0065), which was later purchased, and Cessna 402B Businessliner ZK-EHT (c/n 402B-0340) to supplement the other two Cessna 402s to cater for the expanded business.

Cessna 402A ZK-DHW at Greymouth on 15 March 1976.

The height of the Capital network with flights stretching from Hamilton to Christchurch. Timetable effective 2 January 1977
Receivership, Grounding and New Lease of Life

However the rapid expansion and operating a number of uneconomic services and contracts had financial and operational repercussions, which were to come to a head during 1977. About this time Murray Turley made the decision to leave the company to go market gardening [But his loss to aviation was to be brief] and Tom Wright succeeded him as General Manager. In April 1977 the company’s operations base was shifted from Wellington (the main originating point for its business) to Nelson using the old airport fire station as its administration and freight headquarters. The overnight freight services were discontinued as uneconomic and a proposed Wellington-Masterton service was shelved.

On 29 June 1977 the company was placed in receivership by the Wellington Aero Club, which held a debenture in Capital Air Services Ltd, and the aircraft were grounded. Within a few weeks a reduced operation, with James Aviation Ltd as manager, was restarted with air charter services on 8 August 1977, and timetabled services a week later on 15 August with Westport being dropped from the network. James purchased the debenture from the Wellington Aero Club and the fined down operation continued to operate as Capital Air while tenders were sought by the receiver for taking over the operation as a going concern. A reported shortfall of $820,000 was reported in the Dominion newspaper of 17 October 1977.

Cessna 402B ZK-DSG at Greymouth in 1974. 

James Aviation Limited was the successful tenderer for the assets of Capital Air Services as a going concern and took over running as sole owner in early 1978. Flights to Christchurch and Greymouth cut, the last flight from Greymouth being operated on the 30th of June 1978. From 1 July 1978 the airline was renamed James Air with concentrating on routes between Wellington and Blenheim and Nelson and also from Nelson to Palmerston North.

Aircraft Used by Capital Air Services Limited included:

BN Islander

ZK-DKN Britten Norman BN-2A-3 Islander (c/n C278) - Leased

Cessna 337

ZK-DRO Cessna 337G Super Skymaster (c/n 337-01590) - Leased from Rex Flying School, Paraparaumu

Cessna 402

VH-ELT Cessna 402A (c/n 402A-0075) - Leased
ZK-DHW Cessna 402A (c/n 402A-0065)
ZK-DNQ Cessna 402B (c/n 402B-0222)
ZK-DSG Cessna 402B (c/n 402B-0559)
ZK-EHT Cessna 402B (c/n 402B-0340) - Leased from Dennis Thompson International Ltd

Piaggio P.166

VH-FSC Piaggio P.166C (c/n 414) - Leased
VH-GOB Piaggio P.166C (c/n 400) - Leased from Motif Air Ltd
ZK-DAI Piaggio P.166B (c/n 410)

Piper PA23 Aztec

ZK-CEU Piper PA23-250 Aztec A (c/n 27-217)
ZK-DHB Piper PA23-250 Aztec (c/n 27-2735) - Leased Dec 1972/Jan 1973. Later purchased

Leased Cessna 402 VH-ELT taken at Mascot in 1970.

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