16 October 2011

A Motiti Airline - Island Air Charter


With the grounding of the container ship Rena off Tauranga Motiti Island has been in the news a lot this week. This post, written by Bruce Gavin, looks at Island Air Charter, a company that has provided an air service to Motiti Island for 16 years and, that for a time, operated an air service to Whitianga and Great Barrier Island. Prior to this company being founded Motiti was serviced by Motiti Air Safaris and and Motiti Air Services.

In August 1995 Paul D. Ensor took over Cessna P206 Super Skylane ZK-DRD (c/n P206-0135) from Sunair Aviation Ltd of Tauranga. Operating as Island Air Charter, a major part of the business was providing the important air taxi link flying people, freight and mail to and from Motiti Island, 21 kilometres to the east. As well, air charter services were offered with a strong emphasis on providing a link between Tauranga and the islands of the Bay of Plenty such as Motiti and Slipper Islands and more distantly with Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Cessna 206 ZK-DRD still in Sunair colours but with Island Air Charter titles taken at Tauranga on 17 January 1996. 

Headquarters for Island Air Charter was initially a hangar at Tauranga Airport situated near where the Classic Flyers Museum was established in 2005. With the development of the Museum, Island Air moved to a new hangar near the southern end of the airport, from which it continued to operate in September 2011.

In November 1996 Cessna TU206A ZK-SUN (c/n U206-0511) was added to the fleet - this aircraft also acquired from Sunair Aviation Ltd. From May to October 1998 the registrations of the two aircraft were transferred to the Motiti Residents Club of Mt Maunganui, being transferred back to Paul Ensor on 7 October of that year.

Another of Island Air's ex Sunair Cessna 206s, ZK-SUN, taken at Tauranga on 2 December 1996
The following month Cessna 172N ZK-WFT (c/n 17267712) was added to the fleet but by early 2000 this aircraft’s registration had been transferred to Leslie Aviation Ltd of Rotorua. By September 2000 Cessna 172K ZK-WGE (c/n 17258978) had replaced it. In September/October 2001 Cessna U206C Super Skywagon ZK-JCB (c/n U206-0922) replaced Cessna P206 ZK-DRD but this aircraft in turn had left the fleet by February 2003.

Cessna 172, ZK-WGE, at Tauranga on 1 November 2001.
Ex ZK-SUN, Cessna 206 was registered as ZK-PAI. It is seen at Tauranga on 11 December 2005.

Cessna TU206A ZK-SUN (which was re-registered ZK-PAI in July 2004) and Cessna 172K ZK-WGE were joined by twin-engine Britten-Norman BN-2A-27 Islander ZK-WNZ (c/n 278), which was registered to Paul Ensor in October 2004. This aircraft provided a large increase in carrying capacity and with three aircraft Island Air needed extra business to utilise them efficiently. At the start of summer 2005 Island Air started advertising a regular summer service from Tauranga to Great Barrier Island via Whitianga. Return flights over the route were timed for Friday and Sunday afternoons with an additional Wednesday flight being added the following summer.

Still showing signs of being with Great Barrier Airlines and Wings Over Whales, Britten Norman Islander with Island Air titles on the engine cowls at Tauranga on 11 December 2005.

Barrier Bulletin, 4 November 2005
In November 2006 the Civil Aviation Authority suspended Island Air’s operating licence over concerns that unauthorised maintenance had been carried out on the company’s aircraft. Operations resumed together with the appointment of a new maintenance controller and chief executive. However the operator’s problems compounded the following month when Britten-Norman Islander ZK-WNZ suffered two forced landings on 22 and 28 December 2006. The second of these resulted in a forced landing on mudflats near Tauranga while on a ferry flight to Hamilton for maintenance. The aircraft was later airlifted to Hamilton by helicopter but was subsequently passed on to Great Barrier Airlines, broken up for spares and its registration cancelled. Court action in the in late 2007 resulted in Ensor being fined.

For further coverage on the forced landing and grounding see:

To continue operations, particularly the essential link to Motiti Island, the company initially utilised the licence of Mountain Air Ltd but in the first part of 2007 a more permanent arrangement with Sunair Aviation Ltd was in place with the registrations of both ZK-PAI and ZK-WGE being transferred to Sunair on 18 May 2007. In late 2009 this arrangement was in turn transferred to Adventure Aviation Ltd with registrations of both aircraft changing on 14 December 2009. More recently Cessna 206 ZK-PAI has been replaced by another Cessna 206, ZK-WWH.

The current fleet, Cessna 172 ZK-WGE and Cessna 206 ZK-WWH both taken at Tauranga on 19 June 2016

The problems of 2006 saw the removal of the Great Barrier Island service from the Internet but in September 2011 Island Air and its two faithful Cessnas continued to serve the Tauranga-Motiti Island run, as well as offering air charter and air taxi services from Tauranga, as it has done for over 16 years.

Compiled by Bruce Gavin


  1. Very Interesting. I live in Tauranga and this event is the biggest i think Tauranga has ever seen.

  2. my mum lived on harbourview drive for 35 years i had a great time visiting until she passed away in 2002 i did aq bit if training with ewan gray a most highly skilled instructer hopping around whitianga pauanui and waihi beach in his c 172 constant speed kite i remember my youth in the 50 s on my bsa 350 at the beach and the mount with my brother dickie we came down to queenstown in 1957 60 yrs ago wow bobby rout ex hamilton now invercargill