13 January 2013

Eagle Airways - Part 1 - The Fledgling Eagle

This is the first of a four part series of posts on Eagle Air. I also intend to do a series of posts on specific ports that Eagle has served. 

Eagle Airways, as we know it today, traces its origins back to Malcolm Campbell. In 2004, as Eagle celebrated its 35th birthday the Waikato Times recounted how Malcolm's interest in avaition developed. He was born in the Wairarapa town of Pahiatua, hardly an aviation hotspot unless you’re into planes that have been converted into slides. The town’s icon is a 60 year old American bright yellow Harvard II 918 which has graced the town’s playground in the middle of the main street for more than 40 years. But that was well after Malcolm’s time. His family moved from Pahiatua to Palmerston North to a house near the airport. When he was 11 the manager of the local tyre company, where he worked after school, took him up in a Tiger Moth to scatter pamphlets over the city and on Levin. He joined the Air Training Corps and got a flight scholarship on his 16th birthday which allowed him to train in a Tiger Moth. Two years later he entered compulsory military training with the air force, learning to fly Harvards. It was difficult for a young pilot to make a career out of flying because so many ex-World War II pilots were guaranteed jobs. So Malcolm worked for Burroughs office company for 10 years before an 18-month stint as a topdressing pilot in Rotorua with James Aviation flying Fletchers. He became an instructor, first in Rotorua and then in Hamilton. It was here he saw a business opportunity – a flying school he named Eagle Flying Academy. Malcolm and Joan mortgaged their home to get the venture off the ground in 1969. Joan, who handled the administration, worked out of a caravan next to the airport terminal.

Eagle’s first flying lesson was flown on 13th of December 1969. The fledgling training company started as a marginal undertaking, and its first three years were not easy. In 1971 the company unsuccessfully applied for an air service licence for an air charter service with one Piper Cherokee 160 and one Piper Cherokee 180 from Tokoroa and Hamilton. 1973 and 1974 were more successful years and this enabled the company to consolidate itself on a more solid financial base and to look for other areas in which to expand its operations. Previously, In 1974 Malcolm Campbell took on a new business partner, John Fairclough, and they together registered a new company Eagle Airways Ltd in December 1974 which was to look more towards providing an airline service.

Malcolm Campbell and Anna Pohlen, the company’s first customer, in Victa Airtourer
ZK-CXU. Source : Celebrating Eagle Airways’ First 35 Years

The flying school was sold in 1985 but over the years Eagle Aviation and the Eagle Flying Academy operated a number of single engine aircraft. Dave Paull lists the following;

ZK-BYQ         Piper PA22-108 Colt
ZK-CCS         Morane Saulnier MS880B Rallye
ZK-CGY         Morane Saulnier MS880B Rallye
ZK-CUB         Piper PA-28-160
ZK-CUD         Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee
ZK-CXU         AESL Airtourer 115
Eagle #1 - Victa Airtourer ZK-CXU taken at Hamilton. Photo : D White Collection
ZK-CZX         DH82A Tiger Moth
ZK-DAV         Cessna A150K Aerobat
ZK-DAY         Cessna 172L
ZK-DEL          Piper PA28-140E Cherokee
ZK-DEX         Piper PA28-180C Cherokee
ZK-DFL          Piper PA28-180D Cherokee
Piper Cherokee 180 ZK-DFL taken at Hokitika in 1978. I have always thought this scheme looked smart and I certainly liked the clear Eagle logo on the tail. Photo : S Lowe
ZK-DHM        Beech B.19 Musketeer Sport 150
ZK-DIY           Piper PA28-180 Cherokee Archer
ZK-DKC         Cessna 172M
Carrying small Eagle Flying Academy titles is Cessna 172 ZK-DKC as seen at Wellington. Photo : R Killick
ZK-DLB          Grumman American AA-5 Traveller
ZK-DOF         Cessna A150M Aerobat
ZK-DOU         Piper PA-28-151 Cherokee Warrior
ZK-DQZ         Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee Cruiser
ZK-ENV         Piper PA-28-181 Cherokee Archer 11
ZK-EOJ          Cessna 152

In 1974 Malcolm Campbell took on a new business partner, John Fairclough, and in December 1974 they together registered a new company Eagle Airways Ltd which was to trade as Eagle Air. It was this company that started to look more towards providing an airline service.
In 1975 IBM were looking to establish a data processing centre in Hamilton. At the time there was no twin-engined aircraft available for charter work based in Hamilton. Recognising this need Eagle Aviation Ltd applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority for an air charter and air taxi licence from Hamilton to any licensed airfield in New Zealand using a Beech Baron. The Authority granted such a licence on the 3rd of July 1974 but it was not until March 1975 that a Beech 58 Baron, ZK-ECA (c/n TH-553), was added to the company’s fleet.

The plane that launched Eagle the airline, Beech Baron ZK-ECA at Hamilton on 9 November 1980. It didn't carry the Eagle logo on the tail until the early 1980s. Photo : I Coates

In October 1975 N.A.C. changed its timetable for flights between Hamilton and Wanganui. The change meant it was impossible for Hamilton business people to do a day’s business in Wanganui. Eagle Aviation saw this as an opportunity to expand and in October 1975 the company inaugurated a twice weekday return air taxi service from Hamilton to Wanganui and Palmerston North. The timetable was arranged to provide business people wanting to commute between the cities with a same day service with the morning flight to Palmerston North operating via Wanganui and thence returning to Hamilton direct from Palmerston North. The afternoon/evening service reversed what was flown in the morning.
Waikato Times 1 October 1975
The Baron flew the first flight on the morning of Friday the 3rd under the command of Paul Wright who was to be Eagle’s Chief Pilot for the next 15 years.

While the Eagle was airborne the regulations regarding an air taxi service did not make it easy to serve both Wanganui and Palmerston North. The regulations stipulated that before the air taxi service could operate there had to be passengers from Hamilton; in other words the plane could not fly empty southbound. Passengers could be set down at Wanganui on the southbound journey to Palmerston North, but, because Wanganui was not the terminus of the service, passengers could not be picked up there either for setting down at Palmerston North or for the return trip to Hamilton. On the afternoon service the company was only able to uplift those passengers it had flown south.  These limitations prevented air taxi operator’s rights which would enable them to operate a route or routes from any named aerodrome on its licence in the same manner as a scheduled or non-scheduled service from that aerodrome.

In March 1976 N.A.C. announced that it was going to withdraw completely from its Hamilton-Wanganui and Hamilton-Gisborne routes. Eagle Aviation applied to change the status of their Wanganui-Palmerston North air taxi service to a scheduled service as well as applying to operate a new scheduled service on the Hamilton-Gisborne route. The company also applied to add a 9-seat Cessna 402B to their fleet citing increased demand when N.A.C. withdrew its services. The company held that the addition of the Cessna 402 would enable it to cater more comprehensively to the demand so that fluctuations in demand in either the existing Hamilton-Wanganui-Palmerston North service or any future service could be adequately met with either the Beech or Cessna.

Waikato Times, 23 May 1976
The Air Services Licensing Authority was not impressed by Eagle’s application. Statistics provided by the company showed they had only attained an average load factor of 37.8% on their air taxi service to Wanganui and Palmerston North and the Authority felt this was insufficient to justify a scheduled service with Eagle’s five-seat Baron let alone a larger Cessna 402. Despite the assurance of Eagle Aviation’s manager that the company had adhered to the terms of its air taxi licence the Authority felt the company could have been in breach of the terms of its licence on a number of trips and that by doubtful means Eagle had established itself as an air taxi operator on the sector it now sought to have added to its licence as a scheduled operation. The Authority declined both of Eagle Aviation’s applications, the scheduled Hamilton-Gisborne service being awarded to Air North and the scheduled Hamilton-Wanganui-Palmerston North service being awarded to Capital Air Services. Ironically both of these companies ceased trading by the end of the decade while Eagle was set to become the dominant third level airline in the North Island. The Authority subsequently declined the application to add a Cessna 402 to the fleet.

On the 5th of July 1976 Eagle Airways introduced a three-day a week air taxi service between Hamilton and Napier. The short-lived service operated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Eagle Airways timetable showing the thrice weekly service between Hamilton and Napier. Ca. 5 July 1976
Despite being refused the scheduled Hamilton-Wanganui route Eagle continued to operate its air taxi service and later in 1976 reapplied to change its air taxi service as a scheduled service using a Cessna 402. The company claiming the route was profitable and self-supportive. A later amendment was to made to the aircraft type applied for, changing to a Beech Queen Air instead of a Cessna 402. The Air Services Licensing Authority again expressed its concern about Eagle’s development of its service. It felt Eagle was running, for all intentional purposes, a scheduled operation under an air taxi licence. Capital Air Services and N.A.C., the scheduled operators from Hamilton to Wanganui and Palmerston North felt Eagle was eroding their loadings. In this period of aviation history in New Zealand the scheduled operator was always given precedence even though the scheduled operator’s timetable may not have been suitable for the needs of the travelling public. By this time Eagle was experiencing a 70% load factor on the Baron. Meanwhile in its first two months of operation on the Hamilton-Wanganui service Capital Air Services was struggling. It’s midday flights had a load factor of only 22.9% in July and 36.8% in August, far short of the satisfactory factor of about 70%. Ultimately the Authority had to decide whether there was sufficient traffic available to warrant two scheduled operators on the route?

On the 22nd of October 1976 the Authority decided that while operators are not entitled to a monopoly they are entitled to protection if competition could seriously affect their operations. It felt Capital was entitled to retain the protection it had in respect of the limited amount of traffic offering on the Hamilton-Wanganui-Palmerston North route. It said the existing Capital Air Service’s scheduled service and Eagle Airways’ air taxi service satisfactorily met the requirements of the business people travelling on the route. The application for a scheduled service and addition of a Cessna 402 was declined.

Capital Air Services’ woes continued and in April 1977 it applied to withdraw from the Hamilton-Wanganui-Palmerston North service. Seeing its opportunity Eagle returned to the Licensing Authority again seeking a scheduled service to Wanganui and Palmerston North. Eagle insisted that they were experiencing grave difficulties in providing a good service, particularly to Wanganui, under the air taxi rules. They submitted that the 5-seat Baron was often full and prospective customers were turned away. The Company proposed to carry on the same morning and evening services, Monday to Friday, on the triangular route with a morning run on Saturdays and an evening run on Sundays. It noted that at periods of low demand, only one round trip only may be required by the public and so the company applied for a minimum of one round trip per day, but with the clear statement of intention that it will undertake two round trips per day. The company’s load factor had increased from 29% in its first three months to 71% in the following six months. In making its application Eagle applied to initially use a Cessna 402 to be followed some months later by a slightly larger 11-seat Beechcraft Queen Air.
Piper Chieftain ZK-EIE on maintenance at Hamilton on 24 November 1982. This was my first visit to Hamilton and I flew down from Auckland on Eagle's Bandeirante ZK-ERU. From the terminal I walked around the southern end of the airport to photograph the aircraft on the other side. While there it started to bucket down. Having noticed earlier some people walk across the runway I went to the phone at the base of the tower explained who I was and asked if there was any chance of getting clearance to walk across... "No problem," was the reply, "I'll flash you a green light when you are clear to cross." Somehow I don't think that would happen any more!

This time Eagle’s application was successful and on the 19th of April 1977 it was granted approval to operate scheduled services on its Hamilton-Wanganui-Palmerston North and Hamilton-Palmerston North routes with either the Beech Baron or a Cessna 402. In May 1977 the Herald reported that Eagle had ordered a Beech Queen Air but it was, however, a $250,000 Piper Pa31-350 Chieftain, ZK-EIE (c/n 31-7552128) which Eagle Air introduced as its 9-seater. The Chieftain began operating the services to Wanganui and Palmerston North on the 30th of September 1977. About the same time the licence conditions were changed so the company could operate two direct return flights each day to Wanganui with the Beech or Palmerston North with the Chieftain when bookings were heavy. This gave the airline the flexibility it needed to provide a service this met its passenger’s needs. 

Between August and October 1977 Eagle also ran an air taxi service between Gisborne and Hamilton. During the slow collapse of Air North both Eagle Air and Air Central applied to operate this route as scheduled services and in late March 1978 the Licensing Authority favoured Air Central’s application.

On the 4th of October 1977 the company introduced a new air taxi service between Hamilton and New Plymouth. This Monday to Friday service operated in the middle of the day.  The first flight was again flown by Paul Wright in the Piper Chieftain.

The timetable effective 1 October 1976. The existing Gisborne air taxi service and the new air taxi service to Gisborne are enclosed. Within a short time copied of the timetable were hand amended scratching out the Gisborne service.

Meanwhile the Hamilton-New Plymouth air taxi service operated its first five months with a 43% load factor on the Baron with 4 or 5 additional charter flights being operated on the route each month. The company felt that the service would improve if it was operated on a scheduled service and successfully applied to the Licensing Authority for the route to be made a non-scheduled service from April 1978 and a scheduled service from May 1978. Eagle continued to operate this Monday-Friday service maintaining the existing timetable which saw either the Baron or Chieftain leaving Hamilton at 11.30 a.m. and arriving at New Plymouth at 12.10 p.m. with the return service departing New Plymouth at 12.30 p.m. and arriving back at Hamilton at 13.10 p.m.

At the same time the company also successfully applied to for a non-scheduled Hamilton-Taumarunui-New Plymouth-Wanganui service. Taumarunui appeared in the company’s scheduled for the next year, with the aircraft landing their if traffic was offering on the normal Hamilton-New Plymouth service. The New Plymouth-Wanganui sector was never operated.

The timetable effective 2 April 1979 including the non-scheduled service to Taumarunui.
The company looked to expand further south in October 1978 applying for a Wanganui-Paraparaumu service using an additional Piper Chieftain. With a population of some 200,000 in the area between Porirua and Levin the company thought there was a potential for a link to Wanganui and Hamilton. The company argued that numerous enquiries had been made for an early morning and evening service to and from Paraparaumu citing the problems associated with Wellington’s weather and the travelling into the capital’s airport and parking there. The company proposed extending the morning and afternoon/evening services from Hamilton to Wanganui south to Paraparaumu, returning on the same route. The Licensing Authority did not share Eagle’s enthusiasm and the licence was not granted. Early the following year a similar application for a non-scheduled service between Hamilton and Auckland was also refused. In 1979 the company re-applied to operate to the Wanganui-Paraparaumu service again and they were again turned down.

In 1979 carless days were introduced in New Zealand in the face of the second oil shock. Airlines faced similar challenges and in in June 1979 the company applied to add two aircraft to its fleet. Piper Pa39-160 Twin Commanche C/R ZK-ERH (c/n 39-140) was leased from Sea Bee Air in mid-1979 and subsequently was registered to Eagle from the 10th of March 1980 to the 6th of April 1981. This enabled the Eagle to conserve fuel and to remain within the company’s fuel allocation. The aircraft was used mainly on charter and air taxi services in place of the Beech Baron, however, the aircraft was also occasionally used on scheduled services.

The Dominion, 7 July 1979

Bruce Gavin photographed Sea Bee Air's Piper Twin Comanche ZK-ERH a few months before Eagle Air  it. Photo taken at Wanganui on 23 February 1979.

Eagle’s second application for a new aircraft was the addition of an 18-seat Embraer Bandeirante. This was the watershed moment for Eagle Air. Until this point Malcolm Campbell’s Eagle Airways had been constantly been going back and forwards to Licensing Authority trying to claw out niche in an overly protected and unimaginative airline industry. Looking to the future Malcolm had an insight into the role a commuter airline could play in developing the provincial air services in a way Air New Zealand with its Friendship fleet could not achieve. The arrival of Eagle Air’s Bandeirante and, at about the same time, the arrival of Bell Air’s Beech 99, ushered in a new chapter in airline services in New Zealand. The Bandeirante was to transform what had been a fledgling air taxi operator into a true commuter airline. This coming of the age of the Eagle will be the subject of the next post. 

Part 2 can be found here : http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2013/05/the-eagle-spreads-its-wings.html


  1. Malcolm Campbell deserves a Knight-hood and Joan his wife to be called a Lady.
    He is a well deserving Pioneer of New Zealand's Airways and Services.
    From a very early age he had a dream .
    Together they made it come true.

    When he was 10 years of age the middle child of a family of 6 children without a father he said...

    "One day Sister I am going to own my own Airline!'

    His role model became Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

    He worked toward it and he owned an Airline.

    A true Scholar Officer and Gentleman.

  2. I was one of Malcolms first student pilots, having followed him from Waikato flying school, with Malcolms training I took my first solo flight at 4.5 hrs, I have never forgotten CXU or Malcolm though my flying got put off by a Fathers Knocking and a wife.

  3. I followed Malcolm from Waikato Flying school to be one of his first students, he was an amazing instructor and had me fly my first solo flight at 4.5 hrs training. We organised a joy riding day for the local farmers from The Maori Affairs airstrip at Arohena, a great time was had by all.