13 May 2012

Rotorua Aerial Charter - Rotorua-Matamata-Auckland


James Aviation (Rotorua) Ltd was formed in January 1958 as a subsidiary company of James Aviation Ltd and it was charged with managing James Aviation’s Rotorua scenic and charter operation. In 1964 James Aviation (Rotorua) Ltd was purchased by Bill Evans before, a year later, on the 31st of August 1965, it was purchased by the Rotorua Aero Club. At the time its assets which included, at that time, three Cessnas, a confirmed order for a Cessna 206 floatplane due for delivery the following month, a hangar and office. The combined Aero Club and James Aviation scenic and charter operations was operated under the name Rotorua Aerial Charter.

By 1967 the Rotorua Aero Club was in a very buoyant position with more than 400 members, fourteen aircraft and five permanent flying instructors. Don Stafford, in his book Flying the Thermal Skies records that “The tourist industry was providing a flood of passengers and this, together with general charter work, aerial ambulance and photographic assignments kept the aircraft fully occupied” and that Rotorua Aerial Charter was becoming for the Club “as vital an interest as training pilots… The fourteen aircraft in use made their fleet one of the largest in the country. It included 8 Cessnas, a Mooney Mark21 and a DH89B Dominie, ZK-AKU (c/n 6662) which had been obtained from Patchett Tours Ltd. Though an older plane, the Dominie was a valuable part of the fleet. As a twin-engined aircraft it was acceptable to the Tasman Pulp and Paper Co., for carrying executives throughout the country. In addition, as a 6 seater it gave the club the chance to assess the potential of a minor airline role they were considering.”

In August 1967 the Rotorua Aero Club applied for a twice-daily return non-scheduled service, between Rotorua and Auckland via Matamata, using de Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-AKU (c/n 6662) which the Club had bought from Patchett Tours Ltd. The club's commercial charter and scenic flight division, known as Rotorua Aerial Charter, had been built up to a substantial operation, particularly after it had purchased James Aviation (Rotorua) Ltd from Bill Evans. On 1 November 1967 the licence application was granted with permission being granted for the use of a Cessna 172 aircraft whenever the Dominie was out of service for maintenance. The first flight took place on the 13th of November 1967.

The first flight took place on the 13th of November 1967 carrying a full complement of six passengers including the M.P. for the district Mr H. Lapwood and the entertainer Howard Morrison.

Rotorua Aerial Charter's timetable while the Dominie was operating the service

de Havilland DH89 Dominie ZK-AKU taken at Rotorua. 

In Flying the Thermal Skies Don Stafford recounts that on the 11th of March 1968 “the club's Dominie aircraft while over Waihi and en route to Auckland was suddenly diverted to Mount Maunganui. It was reported that weather conditions prevented the aircraft carrying on but a passenger, Mr J. Killick, said the pilot diverted because he was concerned about the condition of a wing on the aged plane. He claimed that the fabric was pulling away from the frame of one wing. The aero club secretary, Mr Wright reiterated, however, that weather conditions and not the condition of the wing had caused the change in plans. He added that to ensure public confidence the aircraft was being inspected by an engineer at Mount Maunganui but as yet no report was available. Within a day or two the report was made known and it revealed several cracked ribs in one wing which probably caused a ballooning effect on the fabric. However, the skin of fabric was not broken and repairs put the plane back in service almost at once.”

As it happened, the Aero Club’s manager Ian Palmer was already in the United States sourcing an Aero Commander 500 to replace the Dominie. Aero Commander 500 ZK-CWP (c/n 500-842) was subsequently purchased and ferried across the Pacific by Ian Palmer and G Arkleys flying from San Francisco via Hawaii, Midway Island, Wake Island, Tarawa, Nadi to arrive in Auckland on the 6th of April 1968. The Aero Commander was introduced on the daily air service between Rotorua, Matamata and Auckland on the 23rd of April 1968. When a stop was not required at Matamata the flight to Auckland took only 35 minutes, which was about half the Dominie’s flying time for the one-way trip.

The introduction of the Aero Commander quickly won favour with passengers and patronage grew. In May, the month following the introduction of the Aero Commander, more than 300 passengers in a month were carried for the first time. In July the service carried 340 passengers and the service was achieving 97 per cent regularity with a 52.4 per cent load factor.

The Aero Commander ZK-CWP at Wellington shortly after arriving in New Zealand in May 1968.

By 1969 the Rotorua Aero Club’s commercial operations were becoming more dominant and being a distraction to the Aero Club’s original purpose. After discussions it was announced on the 12th of February 1969 that the commercial operations should be sold. The Aero Club’s committee said "the Aero Commander service was disrupting club activities and with only limited utilisation of the aircraft and without capital to expand it was not making money. Club personnel and aircraft were being diverted for the service and were not readily available when required by club members.”

At the end of March the Rotorua Aero Club’s manager/instructor Ian Palmer had formed a new company, Geyersland Airways Ltd. This took over the Aero Club’s airline and tourist divisions. The new company also took over the Aero Commander, A Cessna 180A floatplane, ZK-BVG, and Cessna 172 ZK-CHP. The air service continued to be operated by the Aero Club until the aircraft and air service licence was taken over by Geyserland Airways Ltd in June 1969.

One of Rotorua Aero Clubs Cessna 172s, ZK-CHP taken at Timaru. 

The Dominie was sold to D W Gray of Auckland in mid June 1968 and the name for the non-scheduled service was changed to Geyserland Airways with Aero Commander carrying Geyserland Airways title in small script on the vertical fin/rudder. The air service continued to be operated by the aero club until the aircraft and air service licence was taken over by Geyserland Airways Ltd in June 1969.

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