19 February 2012

Gisborne's Aotearoa Airlines

Having returned from flying in Malay­sia Steve Stanaway and his wife Donna established Aotearoa Airlines Ltd in early 1997. Both had previous experience in the aviation industry: Steve as a Metroliner training captain for Eagle Air at Gisborne and Donna also having worked for Eagle Air and at Air New Zealand's travel centre. The company planned to establish twice-daily services to Napier and Hamilton from its Gisborne base. Before beginning operations market research indicated there was a demand for direct flights to Hamilton and that local business people wanted direct flights rather than having to transit and wait in Auckland for connecting flights.

Gisborne Herald, 17 January 1997

In preparation for the service Northern Commuter Airlines made their Piper Pa31-350 Chieftain, ZK-NCA (c/n 31-7405203), with the company using Christian Aviation's Air Operators Certificate. The aircraft was repainted and local business, Gisborne Aero Maintenance, was charged with looking after the aircraft’s maintenance requirements. Ardmore-based Christian Aviation, experienced Chieftain operators, not only provided the Air Operator’s Certificate, but were also engaged to help manage flight operations during the early stages of the company’s operations to ensure a quality service. Three other pilots were also employed. A check-in counter and reservations office was established at the Gisborne airport terminal.

Aotearoa Airlines' Piper Chieftain ZK-NCA at Hamilton on 16 April 1997.

Services between Gisborne and Hamilton began on the 10th of February 1997 with the inaugural service being flown by Captain Alex Blunt and First Officer Martin Wenzlick. The company offered two return services being each weekday, morning and evening, between the centres and the initial response to the service was positive and bookings were steady.

Gisborne Herald, 11 February 1997

Following the collapse of United Aviation that had operated the Napier Gisborne service a number of people requested Aotearoa Airlines to fill the gap. On the 28th of July 1997 Aotearoa Airlines responded to the need and offered two return flights each weekday to Napier. Timetables were altered to fit in the new service allowing customers to connect with the airline's existing Gisborne to Hamilton flights.

During the year an approach was made to the airline by the elders of the Ruatoria community seeking a regular air service to their area On the 4th of August 1997 Aotearoa Airlines introduced a morning and afternoon return service between Gisborne and Ruatoria on weekdays using Cessna U206C Stationair ZK-JCB (c/n U206-0922). Flights were scheduled to connect to Air New Zealand Link flights to and from Auckland and Wellington. Steve Stanaway told the Gisborne Herald his company was committed to the East Coast area and could see its tourists potential. “The airline sees this expansion as a positive development for both the Gisborne and Ruatoria communities, particularly in the build-up to the Year 2000.”

Aotearoa Airlines' timetable, effective 28 July 1997

Cessna 206 ZK-JCB which was used for the Ruatoria service. Photo taken at Hokitika on 27 August 1993.

On the 3rd of September 1997 the Gisborne Herald carried the news that Aotearoa Airlines had ceased operating due to several factors which made it unviable to continue. Steve Stanaway said “he made the decision to stop operations late last week due to load factors being uneconomic and high maintenance costs being unsustainable.”

People Included:
Louise Abbott - Traffic
Alex Blunt - Pilot
Ashley Coldham - Pilot
Mike Ellis - Pilot
Rhys James - Pilot
Darryl Robertson - Pilot
Donna Stanaway - Director
Steve Stanaway - Pilot, Director, General Manager
Katrina Tauroa - Traffic
Martin Wenzlick - Pilot

On 9 September 1997, a few days after the service ended the Chieftain was at Nelson.  

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