23 December 2012

Dargaville's first air service started 55 years ago today

Despite having the destination of New Zealand’s first email flight in 1919 it was not until Christmas time 1957 that Dargaville received its first air service. Part of the problem was that Dargaville lacked a suitable aerodrome. In 1955 Doug Lock and Frank Brookes established Northern Aviation Topdressing Ltd and established a topdressing strip on Awakino Road. The site was cleared of tea-tree and scrub and levelled sufficiently for their purposes. Eventually, Northern Aviation Topdressing Ltd. moved to Whangarei and when the Dargaville Aero Club was re-incorporated in October 1956, the airfield—such as it was then became available to it. The club set about filling a large gully and this work cost the club some £550. Other work included the felling and topping of trees, sowing the grass and preparing the runways.  
It was to be some 12 months, however, before the airfield In mid-December 1957 the Auckland Aero Club’s Mr R. J. Selby flew their Cessna 180 to Dargaville to promote the Club’s proposed service. Representatives from the Dargaville Borough Council and Hobson County Council and a Northland Times reporter were taken on promotional flights.
The new service began on the 23rd of December 1957 when, at 9.00 am, the Auckland Aero Club’s Cessna 180, ZK-BUF, touched down on the Northern Wairoa Aero Club’s newly licenced aerodrome on Awakino Road. The first flight was flown by the Auckland Aero Club’s Mr R. Shand, and the first flight carried Mr A. P Jones, the secretary of the Auckland Aero Club, and the first commercial passenger, Mr W. J. Thomasen of Auckland.
Northland Times, 28 December 1957
The new service was designed to connect with the first southbound NAC flight out of Whenuapai at 8.00 a.m. This meant the Cessna would leave its Mangere base at 6.15 a.m. daily, arriving at Dargaville by 6.50 a.m. Transport left the local agent, McKay's Electrical, for the airfield at seven o’clock and the plane was scheduled to depart for Auckland at 7.15 a.m. If there were passengers for Whenuapai the plane landed there at 7.40 a.m. before continuing on to arrive at Mangere at 7.55 a.m. enabling any passengers for Auckland to be in the city by 8.30 p.m. The afternoon schedule had a 5.55 p.m. departure from Mangere at 5.55 p.m. picking up, as necessary, any passengers for Dargaville at Whenuapai. The plane arrived at Dargaville at 6.45 p.m. and returned for Mangere at 7.00 p.m. arriving there at 7.40 p.m.

The Auckland Aero Club's Cessna 180, ZK-BUF. Photo : D White Collection

The new service enabled Dargaville residents to fly to Invercargill in one day. With the summer evenings shortening the timetable changed on the 20th of February 1958. Advertising announcing this reported that “the use of the travelling public of Dargaville has not been as great as was anticipated and that it is hoped that the new timetable will better suit the needs of the air traveller.” The new timetable was not, however, as well suited for Dargaville people. The morning flight did not leave Dargaville until 9.00 a.m. and the return flight from Mangere left at 4.00 p.m. giving Dargaville business people a much shorter day in Auckland. This advertisement was the last mention of the air service in the Northland Times and the service appears to have petered out shortly after this.  
Northland Times, 19 February 1958

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