19 September 2011

Way to Go Golden Bay Air!

Golden Bay Air is one of the most dynamic and progesseive airlines in New Zealand. This article by Gerard Hindmarsh in the Golden Bay Weekly updates what they've been up to...

This year marks the first winter of continuous scheduled flights on Golden Bay Air’s Takaka to Wellington route, thanks to two recent additions—a six-seat twin-engine Piper Seneca aircraft, and a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) instrument approach procedure for Takaka Aerodrome.

Air service owners Richard Molloy and Lisa Sheppard say their $600,000 investment in improvements over the last year, which also included the construction of a two-aircraft hangar, was necessary to close the winter and weather gaps that stopped them achieving a year-round schedule. “Before we put in the GNSS approach we operated under Visual Flight Rules, which meant if the cloud base was less than 1,000 feet, or visibility less than five kilometres anywhere along our route, we couldn’t fly. Now we can take off and land in low cloud and low visibility on the main runway,” said Richard. This new approach procedure is linked to the rest of the country’s instrument navigation network, literally putting Takaka on the aviation map.

“Our new plane is more capable, too. In addition to state-of-the-art GPS navigation equipment required for GNSS procedures, it has weather radar and de-icing equipment, including pneumatic boots along the leading edges of the wings, heated propellers and windscreen, all to shed ice buildup. From now on we should only be delayed by very windy conditions or very low cloud or visibility.”

Over the last year, Golden Bay Air flew 3,200 passengers between Takaka and Wellington, running eight flights weekly over winter and up to four flights a day in peak season. That service represents around 90 percent of their work, the balance being Heaphy Track flights from Karamea, scenic and charter flights. They also operate a shuttle service and a rental car to complement their flight services. The two other planes that make up Golden Bay Air’s all-Piper fleet are both single-engined: a six-seat Saratoga (registration ZK-ZIG) and a four-seat Archer (ZK-ZOG). The company purchased its Seneca (ZK-ZAG) in Canada last year and had it shipped out to begin service in June this year.

Lisa says their airline is definitely more a commuter service than a tourist service. “Around 70 percent of our passengers are connected in some way to Golden Bay. Many fly with us to visit family, friends or their holiday homes, but quite a few are commuting for work. People tell us we make it possible for them to live in Golden Bay and work elsewhere. We appreciate the support of many long-term regular customers. There’s great potential on the tourism side, and we’ll be working hard to build that up over the coming years.”

While both Richard and Lisa have their pilot licences, they employ two pilots, Daryl Williamson (operations manager) and Alex Wilkinson, who are also based here. They are currently advertising for a third pilot for the busy summer season. Lisa flew solo when she was 17 and got her private pilot licence two years later. Her previous career in Wellington was with the Ministry for the Environment, managing work on climate change, seabed and foreshore and oceans policy, while Richard used to be a graphic designer.

They started their flying operation as Capital Air in 2005 in conjunction with the Wellington Aero Club, with flights to Takaka commencing in January 2006. After three years the operation was shifted to Takaka and renamed Golden Bay Air. Other operators before them on the same route included Takaka Valley Air Services and Vincent Aviation, whose last flights were in early 2000.

Richard and Lisa would like to see more improvements at Takaka Aerodrome, in particular an upgrade to the cross-wind runway, which is little used these days due to its poor surface condition. Originally it was laid with clinker from the Golden Bay Cement Company, but this has broken up. Resurfacing would allow more take-offs and landings during bouts of westerly winds, and instrument approaches and landings in strong northerly conditions, they say. “If the aerodrome infrastructure is brought up to scratch, this would give us the confidence to develop our service even further,” says Lisa. Adds Richard: “For some time now we have approached the council [the aerodrome owner] about upgrading the cross-runway, apron and taxiways, which get muddy during wet weather, but so far no joy. The volunteer Takaka Aerodrome Management Committee, which has been delegated responsibility by the council for the day-to-day running of the aerodrome, is very supportive, but they can only go so far, as they have to work within the income generated by landing fees and leases at the aerodrome. A lot does get done, like site preparation, gravel taxiways to the hangars and recent upgrades to the aerodrome power supply. But in the end the aerodrome is a strategic asset for the Bay with positive social and economic spin-offs, so it would be great to see the council engaging, without removing local control.”

Golden Bay Air’s twin engine Piper Seneca. From left; owners Richard Molloy and Lisa Sheppard, pilot Alex Wilkinson, pilot and Operations Manager Daryl Williamson. Photo: Gerard Hindmarsh.

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