07 October 2012

North to Kaikohe on Air North

On the 30th of May 1972 Air North took over the scheduled services operated by Geyserland Airways including the six return flights each week service between Auckland and Kaikohe. At that time Air North was operating Aero Commander 500, ZK-CWP (c/n 500-842-97), and Aero Commander 680FL Grand Commanders ZK-DBQ (c/n 680FL-1330-15) and ZK-DHF (c/n 680FL-1429-71) the latter being used as a backup aircraft. At the time of the takeover Air North was providing the only scheduled air service to the Bay of Islands and as such it provided an important link for passengers to and from the mid-North/Bay of Islands area as well as providing an air mail service to the region.. Its first competition arrived on the 4th of November 1972 when Mount Cook Airlines introduced an Auckland-Bay of Islands service from Mechanics Bay to Paihia using a Grumman Goose.
NZ Herald, 27 December 1973

One of the low slung Aero Commander 680s, ZK-DBQ taken at Palmerston North

More serious competition for air service to the Bay of Islands appeared in January 1975 when Mount Cook Airlines introduced a Britten Norman Islander service to Kerikeri replacing the Grumman Goose service to Paihia. Undoubtedly this had an effect on Air North’s Northland service. Meanwhile the company were planning to introduce a 15 seat De Havilland Heron to service the growing demand on the Auckland-Rotorua service. The Kaikohe run was operated in the middle of the day as an extension the service from Rotorua. The Heron was introduced to the Kaikohe service from December 1975.

Passengers Mrs Dianne Lindsay and daughter Meredith, from Washington DC, are assisted aboard Air North’s new 15-passenger Heron aircraft at Kaikohe airfield by the airline’s agent, Me Colin Finnerty (left) and pilot Dennis Goldsmith. Northern News, 2 February 1976

With the larger Heron being used on the Kaikohe run the company were keen to increase the patronage to Northland so in April 1976 Air North applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to alter its Auckland-Kaikohe route to include Whangarei. The application was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the economics of the route began to deteriorate. In November 1976 company statistics showed that 70 passengers flew out of Kaikohe and 91 flew into Kaikohe. When the application to include Whangarei was unsuccessful the Heron was introduced to the Kaikohe run from December 1976.  

Northern News, 19 February 1976

In February 1977 Air South Pacific Limited oved to take over Air North. The company was owned by Christchurch lawyer, John Rutherford, and a Rotorua surgeon, Arthur Hackett. Ian Palmer, the then Managing Director of Air North, remained with the company as chief pilot. By mid-1977 the company was struggling and the Auckland-Kaikohe service was proving to be uneconomic. This was largely due to a drop in passenger loadings following Mount Cook Airlines’ introduction of its Hawker Siddeley 748s into Kerikeri in March 1977. The competition from the 48-seat pressurised HS 748 operating just a few miles away was hugely problematic for Air North. This was accentuated by the fact that part of the deal in upgrading the Kerikeri airport to Hawker Siddeley standard was that it became a private airfield which Air North prevented from using it. This was especially problematic for the airline during winter when Kaikohe’s grass airfield was often unserviceable due to water on the aerodrome or soft ground conditions. On these occasions the Air North service had to divert to Whangarei and the passengers were taken to and from Kaikohe by ground transport. Subsequently, the company applied to reduce the frequency of its Kaikohe flights.
Competition for Air North… Mount Cook Airlines introduces its HS 748s to the Bay of Islands service… to add insult to injury Mount Cook had to use Kaikohe aerodrome for its initial flights as the redeveloped Kerkeri airport was not ready. The irony was that Air North were never allowed to use Kerikeri. Northern News, 21 March 1977

The July 1977 Air North-Akarana merger heralded changes to the Kaikohe service.  The company told the Northern News “that if the new company's policy of flying small aircraft into areas with low demand does not prove profitable, then the future of a scheduled air service to Kaikohe must be in doubt.”

One of Air North's heavies... DH Heron ZK-EKO at Auckland on 22 August 1977.

A director of the company, Dr A. H. Hackett, announced the reduction of the service in the Northern News on the 25th of August 1977.  “Up until now," he said, "we have gone into Kaikohe from Sunday through to Friday. Our new schedule, which will come into effect this week, will provide for flights to Kaikohe on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. I would hope that we will be able to expand this to a daily service in the summer. The important point about the Air Services Licensing Authority decision is that it allows us to cut back to three flights a week if a lack of winter traffic makes the service uneconomic. Our long term aim, however, is not to reduce our services but to expand them." Mr Hackett said Air North expected to have a new fast 10-seater Piper Navajo Chieftain aircraft operating in three or four weeks time and that should considerably reduce flight time.  And by the end of the year it was hoped that a new Beech 99 jet aircraft would provide a further improvement in the service. Dr Hackett had earlier told the Air Services Licensing Authority hearing that his company had lost thousands of dollars on flights to Kaikohe.

The promises of a “fast” Piper Chieftain and Beech 99 “jet aircraft” never eventuated and the service continued to operate as it was, though financially and operationally the company was finding it more and more difficult to cope. On the 19th of June 1978 Air North changed its name to Nationwide Air Limited and this marks the beginning of the final chapter of the Air North story.

A full profile of Air North can be found at http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/08/air-north-big-enough-to-serve-small.html


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