06 May 2012

Rex Air Charter - West Coast Service


Harry Jenkins, a Pukekohe bulldozer-driving contractor, started learning to fly with the Waikato Aero Club, gaining his PPL in 1960 and his commercial and instructor ratings in 1966. Moving into the aviation industry he started flying for Paraparaumu based New Zealand Aero Sales. When this company was sold he started the Paraparaumu Flying School, a branch of Jim Bergman's Auckland Flying School which was later to Rex Aviation. Under his leadership the training and charter business expanded and a new air service was established.

On the 31st of January 1972 Paraparaumu based Rex Air Charter Ltd and Westland Air Ltd (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/05/westland-air-and-its-air-taxi-services.html)  started a new air service connecting Paraparaumu and Wellington with Westport, Greymouth and Hokitika. Initially, the service operated from Paraparaumu south to Hokitika three times a week with the southbound flights leaving on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The aircraft overnighted at Hokitika and flew the northbound flights on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. Harry Jenkins, manager and chief pilot of Rex Air Charter, told the Greymouth Evening Star on the 31st of January 1972 that "the timetable would remain flexible until a pattern was established according to demand... If required stops will be made at Greymouth and Westport before going on to Wellington Airport where the scheduled arrival time is 9.50am. Mr Jenkins said the aircraft would bypass Greymouth or Westport if there were no passengers or freight to collect. ‘The whole thing is quite flexible.’” He also suggested in the Hokitika Guardian that “the service would also fill the gap left by NAC when it cuts its connection between Hokitika and Westport on May 30 1972.”

However, the new service was a surprise to Civil Aviation authorities. Rex Flying School Ltd, which traded as Rex Air Charter, was licenced to operate an air charter and air taxi service licence from Paraparaumu with one Cessna 177 and one Cessna 207, but it was not permitted to operate from Wellington. Westland Air’s licence allowed it to operate air charter and air taxi services licence from Westport, Greymouth and Hokitika with two Cessna 172s. Neither of the operators was licenced to operate a service as described in the local press reports.

The Civil Aviation Division of the Ministry of Transport acknowledged that theoretically the service could be conducted under the two air taxi licences. But they felt that if there was to be a regular service then it should be classified as non-scheduled service and appropriate licences needed to be sought. This fact was made known to both companies.

Meanwhile, the service was not proving particularly successful. Only 24 people used it in the first month, with Westland Air completing one return flight between the West Coast and Wellington and Rex Flying School flying five flights. The companies made the decision to reduce the service to two flights a week, on Mondays and Fridays southbound and Tuesdays and Saturdays northbound.

Greymouth Evening Star 2 February 1972

Just days after the service started Cessna was photographed at Greymouth on the 4th of February 1972.

Westland Air subsequently withdrew from the partnership with Rex Air Charter. With Rex not being able to operate from Wellington it was dropped as a destination, as was Hokitika. Rex continued to operate the service for a number of years using its air taxi licence and an on a seat charge basis.

The service initially used Cessna 207 ZK-DFD (c/n 207-00188) with Westland Air Ltd’s Cessna 172D ZK-CFD (c/n 172-50279) and Cessna 172F ZK-CKN (c/n 172-52194) as back up aircraft. Occasionally, when lighter loads were carried, Cessna 177B Cardinals ZK-DAO (c/n 177-01530) and ZK-DIG (c/n 177-01876) were used. Later Cessna 337G Super Skymaster ZK-DRO (c/n 337G-1590) was also used on the service.

Over the summer months, with the longer daylight evenings, the company operated a different schedule. The southbound flights were unchanged by the northbound service returned straight to Paraparaumu without overnighting.

The Dominion, 30 January 1974

Cessna 337 Super Skymaster ZK-DRO at Greymouth on 11 July 1974.

The Paraparaumu operation of Rex Air Charter was bought by Dalhoff and King Aviation Ltd who turn sold it to the Wellington Aero Club and Capital Air Services in late 1974.  Capital Air Services was subsequently granted a licence to take over Rex Air Charter’s service to Westport and Greymouth. Capital began services to the West Coast from Wellington and Nelson on the 2nd of December 1974. Ironically, the same day, there was an advert in the Greymouth Evening Star for the Rex Air Charter service for the service that no longer existed.

Greymouth Evening Star, 2 December 1974

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