22 April 2012

"Reliability and Service" - Te Anau's Ritchie Air Services

Ian Ritchie was born in 1921 and learnt to fly with the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the Second World War. His war service saw him flying Blenheims, Beaufighters, and later, Mosquitos on night and low-level bombing raids over Germany. After the war he did some part-time commercial flying and instructing. In 1950, in partnership with Ron Bush, he established Gore-based Southland and Otago Aerial Topdressing Ltd.

In 1960 he formed Ritchie Air Services which, based in Gore, offered an air transport service as well as operating the first training school for agricultural (topdressing) pilots in New Zealand. Operations started with de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth, ZK-BFM, and later in 1960 Cessna 180 ZK-BQJ was added to the fleet. Soon after, the Gore branch of the Southland Aero Club was formed into the Southern Districts Aero Club and Ian Ritchie was its first Chief Flying Instructor.  

The de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth ZK-BFM, taken at Invercargill on 22 September 1962, just five weeks before its demise.

Cessna 180 ZK-BQJ at Invercargill. Photographer unknown.

On Labour Weekend 1960 and over the summer of 1960/61 Ritchie Air Services started operating scenic flights from Te Anau. This was the forerunner to the company receiving, in 1961, a licence to operate air charter and air taxi services not only from Gore, but Te Anau, Manapouri and Milford Sound as well.

The arrival of the first twin-engine aircraft, de Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-ALB in July 1961 provided greater capacity and passenger acceptance and regular flights began Te Anau and Milford Sound soon after. In June 1962 the company’s base was relocated to Te Anau and the tourist flights over the scenic route between Te Anau and Milford Sound became the major feature of the company’s operations. There were timetabled departure times from Te Anau to Milford Sound and return. These were primarily tourist flights and were been dependent on loadings and the weather.

Ritchie Air Services' first de Havilland DH89B Dominie, ZK-ALB. Photographer unknown.
De Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-ALB in a later colour scheme at Christchurch, ca 1968. Photographer unknown.. 
...and on a scenic flight
Ritchie Air Services timetable as at December 1962. Source : South Island Travel Guide December 1962

In October 1962 the Tiger Moth was destroyed in an accident at Centre Island in Foveaux Strait. This aircraft was replaced with another Tiger Moth, ZK-BRC, which went on to be part of the Mount Cook Airlines fleet for many years. While the scenic flying became the main focus of the airline it continued to remain busy with aerial topdressing, supply dropping and flying whitebait out of the remote West Coast bays.

A second de Havilland DH89B Dominie, ZK-AKY, was added to the fleet on the 18th of May 1964. It was sold to Ritchie Air Services by NAC, complete with spares, for the princely sum of £1000 pounds.

Newly arrived from NAC, Dominie ZK-AKY in NAC colours with Ritchie Air Services titles on a publicity shoot. Photographer unknown.
Reflecting Ritchie Air Services ownership by Tourist Air Travel Dominie ZK-AKY carries TAT title on the tail and Ritchie Air Services titles on the fuselage. Photo taken at Dunedin on 8 October 1965. Photographer unknown.
De Havilland Tiger Moth ZK-BRC and De Havilland Dominie ZK-AKY at Te Anau on 17 March 1966

The company merged with NZ Tourist Air Travel Ltd on the 11th of December 1964 but Ian Ritchie continued to run the Ritchie operation as well as being a director of NZ Tourist Air Travel. The company also kept its own identity and soon after the merger Cessna 206 Super Skywagon ZK-CHQ was added to the fleet.

Ritchie Air Services' Cessna 206 Super Skywagon ZK-CHQ
Cessna 206 Super Skywagon ZK-CHQ at New Plymouth for repairs after an unfortunate landing in 1963.
Photographer unknown
On the 12th of March 1965, the Cessna 180, ZK-BQJ, was on a scenic flight from Te Anau over Milford Sound when it crashed near Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland. Sadly, the pilot and his three passengers were found dead the following day. The aircraft was subsequently replaced with another Cessna 180, ZK-BMS.

In August 1966 Ian Ritchie severed his links with the operation and joined the Civil Aviation Authority in Wellington. NZ Tourist Air Travel was taken over by the Mount Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Company Limited on 1 January 1968 and by this time the Ritchie name had all but disappeared.

Ian Ritchie- founder, managing director, chief pilot and chief flying instructor
Bill Black- pilot
Eion Buckham- pilot
Gary Cruikshank- pilot
Russell Gutschlag- pilot
Ken Leahy- pilot
Noel Mangin- pilot
Roy McIvor- pilot
David Wilkes- pilot

ZK-BGI Cessna 180 c/n 180-31018 leased
ZK-BMS Cessna 180 c/n 180-31975
ZK-BQJ Cessna 180 c/n 180-32372
ZK-CHQ Cessna 206 Super Skywagon  c/n 206-0314
ZK-BFM de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth c/n 86233
ZK-BRC de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth c/n DHNZ115
ZK-AKY de Havilland DH.89B Dominie c/n 6653‘Tui’
ZK-ALB de Havilland DH.89B Dominie c/n 6655

Taking Off Pioneering Small Airlines of New Zealand 1945-1970 by Waugh, Richard, Gavin, Bruce, Layne, Peter and McConnell, Graeme. Craig Printing Limited, Invercargill 2003. Particularly Pages 177-192 Chapter 11 ‘Hokonui Highflier- From Tiger Moth to Tourist Airline’ written by Peter Layne

This basis of this post was originally compiled by Bruce Gavin and I have added some more to it.


  1. You Have done a fantastic job Steve

  2. Ian once told me of a time when he decided to stroll out to his aircraft ahead of his passengers. Feeling in need of relief he undid a couple of buttons and contemplated the hills for a moment at the tip of the port wing. A feeling of Being watched intruded into his thoughts. Every window of his little de Havilland was filled with interested faces, his passengers had been eager to see the sights so had embarked early.

  3. I think ZK-ALB in 1961 was the first plane I ever flew in. Over Te Anau I can recall as clear as ever looking out the window and commenting on the Puddles below which were hidden lakes south of the South Arm of Lake Te Anau... I was about 5 years old I reckon. Father was a friend of Ian Ritchie so I suspect when he got his new plane (ALB) the four of us went for a flight. If I was a year or two out then it could have been AKY in 1964 and I would have been 8years old. I think it was the earlier one in 1961 though.
    WJ Matheson - Invercargill - Queenstown

  4. Thanks for your comments... they bring life to a history

  5. Flew into Milford many times in the 60's in BQJ before sadly it crashed in Mar 65. WHen I was in Miford in 2000 there was still a bsic fuselage frame of a Dominie that was taking off with a trainee pilot when he set both engines the same and it flew off the side of the runway. Bits lay there for quite a few years after the crash also in the 60's until only the frame was left

    1. I note it was a Dragon Not a Dominie. They do look the same though Result was the same