03 May 2012

The Chatham Islands' Airports and Airlines - Index of Posts

Air services to the Chatham Islands began with a flying boat service, before “progressing” to  Bristol Freighter service using Hapupu airfield and a land based air service. The move to the current new sealed Tuuta Airport at Karewa Point allowed the introduction of pressurised turboprop aircraft as the Chathams look forward to the possibility of a pure jet service. 

The location of the three landing sites on Chatham... From left to right, the first landing ground Point Waikato flying boat base on Te Whanga Lagoon, the current Tuuta Airport and Hapupu aerodrome which was the Chathams' first aerodrome.

Waikato Point Flying Boat Base

During the Second World War a secret landing was established on the Chatham Islands following the sinking of the MV Holmwood. In the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand Journal of December 2007 J W Best outlined the development of the Air Force Base and the first visit of an aircraft to the Chathams. This was first used on the 29th of April 1941 when Tasman Empire Airways' Shorts S30 Empire ZK-AMA landed there while on a patrol for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. 

After the War the RNZAF operated irregular flights for passengers, mail and freight were operated to the Chathams. A permanent launch was sent to the Chathams which made the disembarking and embarking of passengers easier and a large improvement on the dinghies that had been earlier used. 

NAC operated the first of a series of four flights to the Chathams on the 9th of February 1949 but it was to be TEAL that inaugurated the Chathams' first regular bi-monthly air service on the 1st of December 1950. This service was also relatively short-lived and apart from a brief services operated by Ansett Airways of Australia and NAC using Hapupu airfield it was the RNZAF Sunderland flying boats which connected New Zealand with the Chathams.

In 1960 the Government apporoved £9650 being spent to improve the facilities on the Te Whanga Lagoon including the demarcation of the alighting area, mooring area and the taxiway (£1,250), provision of two flying-boat moorings (£2,000), replacement of the Civil Aviation Administration launch and its delivery to Te Whanga lagoon (£2,500), provision of fire extinguishing and rescue equipment for the proposed launch (£500) and provision of radio communication facilities and a non-directional beacon transmitter for navigation purposes (£3,000).

One of the launches that serviced the Sunderlands on the Chathams

The flying boat service continued until the 22nd of March 1967 when the Sunderland service was replaced with RNZAF Bristol Freighters flying into Hapupu airfield.

Sunderland day - The flying boat terminal at Point Waikato on the on the Te Whanga Lagoon, Chatham Islands

The following airlines operated services to and from the Point Waikato flying boat base on Te Whanga Lagoon.



Hapupu Aerodrome

In 1956 the Barker Brothers looked at developing an airfield at Hapupu despite the Chatham Island County Council thinking the site was too inaccessible. The Minister of Civil Aviation wrote to the Barkers stating that “If you are prepared to proceed at your own or local expense without Government support at this stage in constructing the NW-SE airstrip, then conditional on the Hapupu site being finally chosen for the aerodrome for Chatham Islands I will be prepared to recommend to Government reimbursement of agreed on and substantial cost of construction of the airstrip up to 60% of the cost with a top limit of Government subsidy of £2,000.” 

On the 25th of August 1956, the Barker Brothers replied that they had already commenced preparation of the Hapupu airstrip and this was ready for use by May 1957. The first flight into Hapupu was made by the Civil Aviation Administration’s Douglas DC-3 ZK-AUJ on the 15th of May 1957. The 4000x400 feet airfield was built along a slight ridge of sand and shell composition and  had “a well-drained surface, with a thick sole of grass." 

On the 14th of December 1957 NAC's Douglas DC-3 ZK-APA commenced the first of six flights between Christchurch and the Chatham Islands. Despite these flights being profitable the decision was made to go back to the flying boat service, the local MP Norm Kirk saying, "The access to the strip is 31 miles, most of which is swamp and fern country and negotiated by tracks and four-wheel drive vehicles, and even these experienced considerable difficulty in driving the last 15 or 20 miles." he said, "This trip necessitates travelling in old clothing and changing into other clothes at the airstrip. This usually takes place in the bush." The lagoon, he said, offered a more regular service immediately with no costly development involved.

When the flying boats were retired the Chathams' air service returned to Hapupu Aerodrome. After a familiarisation flight on the 3rd of May the 1967 RNZAF Bristol Freighters took over the Chathams service on the 10th of May 1967 with NZ5907 flying the first service. The RNZAF service was replaced by Safe Air on the 30th of January 1968 with Bristol Freighter ZK-CLT operating the first service. Hapupu Aerodrome was used until the opening of the current Tuuta Airport in June 1981.

The "yellow submarine" which connected Waitangi to Hapupu airfield driving across Te Whanga Lagoon

The following airlines operated services to and from Hapupu airfield.




Inia William Tuuta Memorial Airport, Karewa Point

By 1980 construction had begun on the new airport on Chatham at Karewa Point. The Government had planned that Air New Zealand's Friendships would replace Safe's ageing Bristol Freighters when the airfield opened but in November 1980 Safe Air and Air New Zealand jointly suggested to the Government that Safe Air use its Argosy aircraft on the Chathams run. 

On the 30th of June 1981 the new Inia William Tuuta Memorial Airport was opened on Chatham by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Robert Muldoon. Earlier on that day the first official landing of an aircraft carrying passengers and mail from New Zealand was made by SAFE Air Bristol Freighter ZK-CLT. 

Hugh Rennie writes, These were taken on the day of the opening of Tuuta airport on the 30th of June 1991. I arrived on the Air New Zealand Fokker Friendship, ZK-NAO. By then the scheduled Safe Air Bristol Freighter flight had arrived and left. At some point before it left, the Civair Fokker Friendship ZK-DCA carrying the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Muldoon and others landed. He “opened” the airfield before the Air New Zealand Friendship arrived; but waited for the new wharf function until the television crew arrived on “our” Friendship (a colleague and I had chartered it for the day).

I am not sure at what point the Associated Aviation Piper Aztec ZK-ERM landed, but it was before the Air New Zealand Friendship.  This photo also shows the air service bus (for passengers and freight) which in those days ran from Waitangi to Hapupu. That ceased soon after Tuuta became operational.

Passengers embarking the Air  New Zealand Friendship ZK-NAO at the end of the day for the flight back to New Zealand.

A turbo prop-pressurised air service came to the Chatham Islands on the 16th of June 1982 when Safe Air introduced Hawker Siddeley Argosy ZK-SAE operated a Christchurch to the Chathams service. Today Air Chathams' operates Convair 580 flights between the Chathams and New Zealand.

Airfield elevation 13 m AMSL
Runway 05/23, 1,360 m × 45 m sealed
Pilot activated (PAL) airport lighting, including Approach Lights, Precision Approach Path Lights (PAPI) and an airport beacon. 

The following airlines operated services to and from Tuuta airport.







Pitt Island's Waipaua Airstrip

Pitt Island's Waipaua airstrip has a 700 metre grass runway. It is used by Air Chathams' and aircraft that have serviced Pitt have included Cessna 180s, Cessna 206s, Cessna 337s, a Beech Queen Air and a Britten Norman Islander.

Pitt Island's Waipaua Airstrip

The facilities at Waipaua Airstrip

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