05 August 2012

Air Timaru - "The Friendly Line"

Air Timaru (Holdings) Ltd began operations in 1979 when it traded as Air Charter Timaru. In October 1980, following the announcement that Air New Zealand would withdraw its midday Wellington-Timaru-Wellington service on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the company acquired a Piper Pa23-250 Aztec E, ZK-DIO (c/n 27-7305073), from the Owens Group and applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to commence non-scheduled flights from Timaru to Wellington and Timaru to Dunedin and Invercargill. The company planned to offer a midday service from Timaru to Wellington three days a week, on Tuesdays Thursdays and Saturdays, the days when Air New Zealand only offered a single return flight, and a Monday, Wednesday and Friday return service from Timaru to Dunedin and Invercargill. 

Air Timaru's Piper Aztec, ZK-DIO, at Christchurch in April 1981.

On the 15th of October 1980 the ASLA granted Air Timaru a licence for non-scheduled services between Timaru and Wellington and Timaru and Invercargill and charter services from Timaru. The Authority felt Air Timaru failed to show that a non-scheduled service between Timaru and Dunedin and a taxi service from Timaru were necessary or desirable and these licences were not issued.

The flights to Wellington and Invercargill began on the 17th of November 1980 and in the first three months of operation the services carried 170 passengers. The Wellington service proved unsuccessful, people choosing to change their flight time and travel on Air New Zealand rather than travel on the much smaller Piper Aztec. The service to the capital was withdrawn from the timetable from the 28th of February 1981 due to insufficient patronage on a regular basis.

Timetable Effective 17 November 1980

In the five months from March from July 1981 229 passengers were carried on the Timaru-Invercargill sector with a load factor of 36%. During this time, in April 1981, Air Timaru applied to amend its routes with the addition of a Christchurch-Timaru service and including Oamaru as a stopover on its Timaru-Invercargill service. This would also enable the airline to operate a Christchurch-Oamaru service. The ASLA pointed out to the company that they would not be able to overfly Timaru en route Oamaru-Christchurch without specific authorisation and so the Christchurch-Timaru service was never operated. Approval was finally given to include Oamaru in the Timaru-Invercargill service on the 31st of August 1981 and Oamaru was included in the service from the 11th of September 1981. The Oamaru stop, however, this was never going to greatly improve the economics of the service and it ended on the 1st of January 1982, the company opting to focus on scenic and charter work.

Timetable effective 11 September 1981

The following year, in June 1982, the company successfully applied to use Whirlwide Helicopters’ Piper Pa31 Navajo ZK-DCE on its air charter licence.  In July 1984 Air Timaru (Holdings) Ltd was taken over by Whirlwide Helicopters Limited. The Piper Aztec, ZK-DIO, was withdrawn and replaced by Whirlwide Helicopters’ Cessna 206 ZK-WWH. In essence the takeover was of the name and charter licence only as no assets changed hands. Subsequently, on the 17th of December 1987, Air Timaru was sold to Tekapo-based Air Safaris and Services (NZ) Ltd. Air Safaris initially operated Air Timaru exactly as it was in the past with the same aircraft and operations personnel, but with the hope that Air Safaris ownership would stimulate extra work. By this time the Navajo ZK-DCE had been replaced by another, ZK-KPL, and Air Safaris took over ownership of this aircraft which went on to carry Air Safaris’ titles.

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