08 May 2011

Greymouth's "Capital" Service


Capital Air Services, which had taken over the Wellington Aero Club's commercial operations on the 1st of April 1970, first considered flying to Greymouth in October that year after the collapse of Golden Coast Airlines. While nothing came of their investigations Capital’s aircraft were no strangers to Greymouth with their Piper Aztec, BN Islander and Piaggio aircraft supporting the off shore oil exploration on the West Coast in the early 1970s.

Leased from Australia's Motif Air, Piaggio P166 VH-GOB is seen at Greymouth on the 25th of May 1972.

By 1973 the company had added two Cessna 402s to its fleet and this type was to become the company’s main aircraft type. In November 1974 the Capital Air Services announced its intention to start a Monday to Saturday Cessna 402 service between Greymouth and Wellington via Westport and Nelson and a return Sunday to Friday service. The 7.15am departure out of Greymouth had business people in the capital by 9.30am, while the return service left Wellington at 4.00pm arriving back in Greymouth by 6.20pm. The route mirrored that of Cook Strait Airways on the late 1930s and the timetable gave Greymouth business people a reasonably full day in Wellington. With this, and subsequent route expansions, Capital added another two Cessna 402s to its fleet.


Greymouth Evening Star 27 November 1974
The new service was scheduled to begin on the 2nd of December 1974 but with no bookings for that day the inaugural flight was deferred until the following day. One of the early pilots on the run was well known Merv Dunn who had founded Phoenix Airways and who had flown for many years for Golden Coast Airlines.

The only Cessna 402A in fleet, at Greymouth on the 9th of January 1977. This aircraft was later used by Westland Flying Services on its Hokitika-Greymouth-Christchurch service. 

Support for the Wellington service grew gradually. In November 1975 the company applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to extend the service by adding a Greymouth to Christchurch sector. Opposition came from the Westport Borough Council and Buller County Council who feared the Capital service would compete with or compromise the recently reinstated NAC Friendship Westport to Christchurch via Hokitika service. Despite these objections the licence was granted and Capital commenced the Greymouth to Christchurch services on the 1st of February 1976. Capital was the second operator to try a Greymouth-Christchurch service following in the footsteps of Phoenix Airways who operated it in the early 1960s.

Greymouth Evening Star 29 January 1976

My first photo of a third level airliner taken before Ian Coates told me "mkae sure you can see the registration!" However enough of the letters N and Q can be seen to know it is Cessna 402B ZK-DNQ. It was taken at Greymouth in 1978.

The extension of the Wellington–Greymouth service to Christchurch meant the aircraft overnighted in Christchurch rather than Greymouth. An early 6.50am departure was made out of Christchurch with the plane arriving at Greymouth at 7.40am. After a 10 minute stop the flight continued on to Westport, Nelson and Wellington. At this time no airport on the West Coast had runway lights and so the afternoon southbound flight times were dependent on the plane being able to arrive and depart from Greymouth before the end of ECT (Evening Civil Twilight). For most of the year this meant the flight leaving Wellington at 3.00pm, with the winter flights leaving at 2.30pm. This has the plane arriving at Greymouth at 5.15pm or 4.45pm respectively. After a 30 minute stop the flight continued on to Christchurch.

The shock cessation of Capital Air Services’ operations throughout New Zealand on the 29th of June 1977 left Greymouth without an air service. While the service was resumed some 6 weeks later flights through Greymouth were radically changed. The new flights, which began of the 15th of August 1977, saw Westport dropped from the network. A morning flight from Wellington and Nelson arrived in Greymouth shortly after 11.00am before leaving Greymouth at 11.25am for Christchurch. The afternoon flight back through Greymouth operated at a similar time to NAC’s Friendship service through from Christchurch to Hokitika, Westport, Nelson and Wellington. The Capital service left Greymouth for Nelson and Wellington at 2.25pm while the NAC service left Hokitika for Westport, Nelson and Wellington at 2.45pm.


The fourth 402, ZK-EHT at Greymouth on 4th of December 1976

The previous morning schedule to Wellington and afternoon return had been very popular with Coasters and there had been a steady growth of passengers since it was launched in December 1974. The revised schedule, however, did not suit Greymouth business people and following representations Capital changed the timetable in November 1977. Once again a plane was based in Greymouth. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays it would make a return trip to Nelson and Wellington, while on Tuesdays and Fridays it made two return flights to Christchurch.

My first flight in a third level airline was supposed to be from Greymouth to Christchurch on one of these Friday evenings even though the NAC agent in Hokitika told me I should be supporting the NAC service. As it happened the flight was cancelled and I took the railcar to Christchurch.

Sufficient support was, however, not forthcoming. On the 15th of June 1978 the company announced that Capital Air Services would cease its West Coast services at the end of the month. Capital’s manager, Tom Wright, told the Greymouth Evening Star that the company had “used its best endeavours to provide an air service to the residents of Greymouth. Patronage has, however, not come up to expectations…. Since commencing in August last year, and considering the timetable was revised in November 1977 in response to the requests of citizens, losses on the West Coast operation exceed some $30,000.” The last Capital Air Services flight through Greymouth was operated by Cessna 402 ZK-EHT on the 30th of June 1978.

Farewell to Capital - the Greymouth Evening Star's photo on the last day of Greymouth's "Capital" Service. Photo : Greymouth Evening Star, 30 June 1978.
Once again Greymouth was left without an air service. Later operators tried where Capital had failed; Westland Flying Services, Coast Air and Coastair all tried direct Greymouth-Christchurch flights while Air West Coast briefly offered a service to Christchurch via Westport, but more importantly a link to Wellington.

The main posts on Capital Air Services can be found at...

Capital Air Services - Wellington Aero Club Origins
http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/04/capital-air-services-wellington-aero.html

Capital Air Services - Aero Club to Airline
http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/05/capital-air-services-aero-club-to.html







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