08 July 2012

United Pacific Airlines - the airline that fits your schedule

United Pacific Airlines was registered as a company on the 15th December 1978 and obtained its first aircraft, ZK-UPA, a Beechcraft 65-C90 King Air (c/n LJ-525) in June 1980. The $1,000,000 aircraft was equipped for search and rescue and ambulance work as well as having a bar and galley for executive flights. United Pacific leased the aircraft to James Aviation Limited and it was placed on the register in their name on the 24th of June 1980. James Aviation used it on air charter and air taxi services from Auckland under United Pacific's name with UPA acting as the reservation agent for James Aviation in connection with that service.

Beech C90 King Air ZK-UPA, taken at Ardmore in September 1981.

In mid-1981 application was made to the Air Services Licencing Authority to transfer this air charter and air taxi licence to United Pacific Airlines and this was granted on the 23rd
 of October 1981.

Evening Post, 19 February 1980

About the same time the company approached the Auckland Aero Club expressing their interest in acquiring the goodwill of the air service operated by the Club between Auckland, Dargaville, Kaikohe and Kaitaia. Negotiations proceeded over the next few months leading to an agreement being reached on the 29th of October 1981 whereby UPA acquired from the Club, subject to the Air Services Licensing Authority’s approval, the Club’s scheduled service from Ardmore and Auckland International airports to Kaikohe on 3 return trips per week as well as the non-scheduled services from Ardmore and Auckland International to Dargaville and Kaikohe, and from Kaikohe to Kaitaia for the sum of $ 20,000. As part of the agreement the Club was obliged to provide UPA with a pilot and a six seat Partenavia, UPA having priority to the use of the aircraft. Application was made to the Air Services Licencing Authority for the transfer of licences to UPA and these were duly granted on the 1st of December 1981.

Services began on the 11th of January 1982. A Sunday to Friday service was operated by the Partenavia from Auckland to Kaikohe and Kaitaia with the return service being operated on Mondays through to Saturdays. The north and southbound flights also called at Dargaville on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, subject to traffic offering and fine weather.

United Pacific Airlines' timetable effective, 1 February 1982

From the 27th of April 1982 UPA ceased to operate its Kaitaia-Kaikohe-Auckland services on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving three flights per week between Kaikohe and Auckland, the minimum frequency permitted. However, if there was no traffic offering UPA would often overfly Kaikohe on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday flights thereby operating a direct service between Auckland and Kaitaia. The Tuesday and Thursday flights, which had previously operated via Kaikohe were operated as a direct service between Kaitaia and Auckland. These direct flights were a breach of its licence.

Auckland Aero Club's Partenavia, ZK-ERA, which was used on UPA's Northland service. Photo taken in Christchurch in March 1980.

The airline returned to the Air Services Licencing Authority to resolve this licence issue requesting the addition of a minimum two Ardmore/Auckland-Kaitaia scheduled services per week and one scheduled Kaikohe-Kaitaia service per week. The company’s application was refused. Rather than pursue a daily service UPA reduced its schedule to three scheduled flights a week to Kaikohe combined with the non-scheduled service onward from Kaikohe to Kaitaia. This provided a late afternoon flight to Kaikohe and Kaitaia with the return service operating early the following morning.

The service always struggled to attract passengers. During the period April to October 1982, the service had an average load factor of 45.3 per cent on the run from Auckland to Kaikohe and 51.9 per cent on the run from Kaikohe to Auckland. These percentages included passengers continuing on to and coming from Kaitaia. With such poor load factors it was inevitable that the company would seek to cease its Northland services. UPA made such an application to the Air Services Licensing Authority in December 1982 citing the substantial losses it had incurred since commencing the service at the beginning of that year. From April to September the company’s Northland services had lost about $44,000 - more than $7,000 a month.

While United Pacific Airlines’ airline operation may have ceased the air charter and air ambulance work with the Beech King Air continued. The aircraft was registered to United Pacific Airlines on the 20th of June 1983. 

United Pacific Airlines' Beech King Air ZK-UPA at Hokitika on a charter on 9 April 1984

The NZ Herald of 17 August 1984 carried a report on the air ambulance operation. The extract below highlights just one of the many mercy missions.

Wings of Mercy Whirr in the Night Sky

Long after airports have closed for the night, and sent passengers on the last flight home, the skies often begin buzzing anew with a different kind of air service. At any hour of the day or night, sick people are flown executive-style, safely cocooned in the air ambulance run by United Pacific Airline, to get speedy emergency treatment for their ills. It is a service which is becoming increasingly used by hospitals needing to transfer patients at short notice or to ferry the critically ill from remote places. There is an added air of emergency about an air ambulance call. To warrant its use the need has to be great and time of the essence. On Tuesday night I took a back seat to watch the drama as pilots Guy MacWiIliams and Craig Brownrigg ferried a critically ill baby from Auckland to Wellington Hospital. The two had a few hours' warning of this flight - unlike many of their missions. Even so, they had completed a full day's work and were settling in for a night's recreation when they were "bleeped" and warned to expect a mercy flight that night. The "cargo" this time was to be 'a, day-old baby, born five weeks premature and with a lung disorder. The baby was born at Middlemore Hospital and would normally have been transferred to the intensive care unit at National Women's Hospital. But overcrowding at National Women's - and the same state of affairs at Waikato Hospital - meant that only Wellington Hospital could offer the intensive care the sick child needed. The flight was scheduled for 10 pm, but the late arrival of baby, mother, doctor and nurse delayed take-off an hour and a half. Waiting is something you get used to, says Mr MacWilIiams. One pilot will do all the pre-flight checking to get the aircraft ready; the other will do the flight planning and obtain the weather information. But the moment the ambulance arrives, Mr MacWilliams and Mr Brownrigg assume the roles of pilots, baggage carriers and nursemaids. Transferring the mass of equipment, and a baby connected by a mass of tubes to life-support systems, can be tricky. And with rain teeming down and winds blasting across a bleak, dark landscape, the job is both unpleasant and potentially disastrous. As oxygen and air tanks are lugged inside, the doctor In charge, Dr Peter Nobbs, pumps furiously to keep oxygen circulating through the baby's ailing lungs. There are moments of panic as nurse, doctor and ambulance men set up a mini Intensive care unit in the confines of a small cabin, when ideally the baby should be lying snug in hospital. On this flight, the mother, Mrs Lyn Ramsay, accompanies her child. She has barely seen the son she named Andrew since he arrived by caesarean section on Monday night. She held him straight after the birth, but since then has touched only his knee. A lost figure sitting with a sort of stunned look on her face, she feels that somehow she has lost all control of her life. At every flurry of activity around Andrew she shivers and looks away. She is upset that the two of them have to go through all this, yet thankful that there is still some avenue of hope when the necessary care is unavailable close by. The flight itself is uneventful. The plane, a Beechcraft C90 King Air, has turbine engines delivering smooth flight and the cabin is pressurised so that air pressure remains constant and strain on the patient is kept to a minimum. The aircraft can land on short runways which makes the most remote town within reach. Going to Wellington, a well-drilled plan of operation is set in motion. Radio contact is made with air traffic control who pass on the estimated time of arrival to ambulance services at Wellington. The capital turned on a fine, cloudless night and. only an odd spot of turbulence rocked the plane. The landing, after only an hour and 20 minutes in the air, was as smooth as any sick baby could wish for. Again the machinery of an efficient emergency operation gets into gear. The ambulance is there within seconds of the aircraft's taxing to a stop and baby, nurse and doctor are off to Wellington Hospital neo-natal unit.

United Pacific Airlines ceased its air charter and air taxi operations in early 1988. The King Air, however, remained in New Zealand until 1992. It was cancelled from the register on the 25th of November 1992 and flew out two days later en route to the USA where it was registered as N70MT.


  1. Pozdrawiam z Warszawy. Bardzo ciekawy blog.

  2. Is that bug in the background of the first photo ?