13 January 2013

Eagle Airways - From Flying School to National Commuter Airline

The Fledgling Eagle

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 aviation 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.

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 II
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 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. Its 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?g

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 New Plymouth are included. 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 there if traffic was offering on the normal Hamilton-New Plymouth service. The New Plymouth-Wanganui sector 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 Comanche 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 oeprated 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. 

The Eagle Spreads its Wings

By mid-1979 Eagle Airways were operating Piper Chieftain ZK-EIE and Beech Baron ZK-ECA on scheduled services from Hamilton to Palmerston North, Wanganui and New Plymouth with non-scheduled stops at Taumarunui on the flights between Hamilton and New Plymouth if traffic was offering. Piper Pa39-160 Twin Comanche C/R ZK-ERH was also used as a backup aircraft.

On the 28th of June 1979 Eagle applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to add one Embraer EMB110-P1 Bandeirante to its fleet and to operate it on between Hamilton and Auckland and Auckland and Whakatane. Eagle’s proposal was that the Bandeirante would leave Hamilton, Monday to Saturday, at 7.30 am to arrive in Auckland at 8.00 am and Whakatane at 9.05 am. The return service would leave Whakatane at 9.20 am to arrive at Auckland 10.10 am and Hamilton at 11.00 am. In the afternoon a Sunday to Friday afternoon service was proposed which would leave Hamilton at 4.30 pm to arrive in Auckland at 5.00 pm and Whakatane at 6.05 pm. The return service would leave Whakatane at 6.20 am to arrive at Auckland 7.10 pm and Hamilton at 8.00 pm. 

At that time Air New Zealand operated a midday service between Auckland and Whakatane and a mid-morning service from Auckland to Hamilton with the return service being flown in the early afternoon.  

By this stage the company was getting a 70% load factor on the Hamilton-Wanganui-Palmerston North-Hamilton route with the 9-seat Chieftain and a 46% load factor on the New-Plymouth-Hamilton service, though on the latter the smaller Baron was often used improving the load factor. The company expected the Bandeirante would break even with only 9 revenue seats, that is, with a 50% load factor.

The Air Services Licensing Authority approved the addition of an Embraer Bandeirante to Eagle’s fleet on the 20th of September 1979 but the application to operate the Bandeirante to Auckland and Whakatane was still pending.  Meanwhile the company had again applied to operate a non-scheduled route service Wanganui and Paraparaumu. This second application was again refused on the 1st of October 1979.

On the 8th of November 1979 the company withdrew its application to fly between Auckland and Whakatane after Bell Air were granted approval to operate their non-scheduled service on this route as a scheduled service. Instead Eagle changed its plans for the Bandeirante and instead looked to operate it on the existing services with from Hamilton to Palmerston North and to connect these flights with new scheduled services between Hamilton and Auckland. Approval to operate the Auckland-Hamilton route was granted on the 12th of December 1979.

In early 1980, in the face of a very regulated airline industry that was dominated by the national carrier, the company looked to coordinate its services with Napier-based Air Central and Nelson-based James Air. The plan was that all three operators would operate as contractors under the name Air United. This name was to be used for advertising and for coordinated timetabling. The three companies saw this as an opportunity to rationalise services and to make more efficient use of their aircraft, administration and maintenance resources. The thought was that the combined operations would be centred on Palmerston North which was serviced by all three airlines. In the end nothing came of the proposal.

Eagle Airways received its first turbo prop on the 31st of May 1980, just over 10 years after the company’s inception and less than 5 years after air services had started. Brazilian-registered Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante PT-SBF (c/n 110267) arrived in New Zealand after a ferry flight from Embraer's home at Sao Jose dos Campos in Brazil. The ferry flight tracked via Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon, to St Croix in the West Indies, and then via Florida, Texas, Monterey in California, Honolulu and Pago Pago to Auckland. The aircraft was flown by Airwork NZ's Auckland manager and chief pilot, Lew Day, and Eagle Air's chief pilot, Paul Wright.

Eagle Air's first Embraer Bandeirante, still in its Brazilian registration, PT-SBF, on arrival in New Zealand, Photo taken at Ardmore on 31 May 1980

The Brazilian-built turbo prop ushered in a new chapter in New Zealand aviation history and its arrival marked the beginning of modern commuter airlines in this country. It seems quite apt that the name Bandeirante means “pioneer.” Bandeirantes were the name given to Portuguese settlers and pioneers who expanded and moved their sphere of influence and control from the early coastal settlements of Brazil towards the inner and then unknown and uncharted zones of Amazon.  Eagle certainly was pioneering a new generation of air services in New Zealand, bravely investing some $1.2 million in the new aircraft and the associated set up costs.

The Bandeirante, which was registered in New Zealand as ZK-ERU, was immediately put to work on crew-training as well as being demonstrated around the country. While the Bandeirante had a maximum capacity of 21 passengers Eagle operated it in a 2-pilot, 18-passenger configuration with three-abreast seating. It had leather upholstery, full air-conditioning, indirect lighting and an enclosed toilet. The Bandeirante cruised at 430 kph and was New Zealand's first purpose-built commuter airliner and the most advanced commuter aircraft in country at the time.

The Bandeirante entered service on the 16th of June 1980. Its weekday schedule started with an early 6.45 am departure from Hamilton to Auckland. The plane would then fly a Auckland-Hamilton-Palmerston North and return service, leaving Auckland southbound at 7.30 am and leaving Palmerston North northbound at 9.15 am. Connections were made at Hamilton to and from Wanganui, with the Wanganui service being operated by either the Chieftain or Baron. At 11.15 am the Bandeirante would head south again this time flying Auckland-Hamilton-Wanganui-Palmerston North before returning Palmerston-North-Hamilton-Auckland. Connections were made at Hamilton to the New Plymouth service which was again operated by either the Chieftain or Baron. A repeat of the morning services was made in the late afternoon. The Bandeirante departed Auckland at 4.15 pm, to reach Palmerston North by 6.00 pm with the return flight arriving in Auckland at 8.00 pm. Again, connections to and from Wanganui were made at Hamilton. The Bandeirante then positioned back to Hamilton for overnight maintenance after a very busy day. These flights operated Monday to Friday with a single Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon/evening service.

Timetable effective 1 June 1980 - the first Bandeirante timetable

At the time of the launch of the Bandeirante service Eagle was in direct competition with Air New Zealand on the Auckland-Hamilton-Palmerston North sectors. Air New Zealand's services on these sectors were not financially viable. Between Hamilton and Palmerston North Air New Zealand’s service had an average of eight passengers a trip and loses of $636,000 a year, while between Auckland and Hamilton an average of 3.2 passengers were carried with an annual loss of $625,000 a year. The national carrier subsequently applied to relinquish its Auckland-Hamilton-Palmerston North-Wellington Fokker Friendship service. Air New Zealand’s cancellations of these services from October 1980 only improved Eagle’s economics.

My first flight on a Bandeirante was on ZK-ERU on 24 November 1982 from Auckland to Hamilton. The above photo is taken at Auckland and the one below after my arrival at Hamilton.

In the year to the 31st of March 1980 Air New Zealand carried 46,865 passengers between Wellington and Palmerston North with an average load factor on the route of 55.8 per cent leading to a loss on the route of $679,900. By early 1981 the national carrier had scaled down its Palmerston North-Wellington services and Eagle saw the lack of an early morning service from Palmerston North to the capital and early evening return service as an opportunity to expand its operations. Eagle’s capital connection began on the 28th of September 1981 using Cessna 402B ZK-DSG which provided three return flights daily, Monday to Friday, between the two southern North Island cities.

Cessna 402 ZK-DSG was photographed at Greymouth on 9 September 1981, a few weeks before it launched the Wellington service

The Evening Post, 28 September 1981

Within two weeks, however, the new air link was struggling. Eagle co-director Mr John Fairclough told the Evening Post that “some flights on the run had been cancelled because there had been no passengers at all. On some of the trips we have taken only one person. It has gone as high as five. We're losing about $700 a day and as a private company we can't afford losses like that. We'll have operated two weeks at the end of this week. Multiply that by $700 a day." In November Eagle responded to the poor loadings by changing its Wellington-Palmerston North timetable to offer a better timetable for business people.

The following year saw the addition of another service to Wellington, this time from Wanganui. These Monday to Friday services started on the 13th of September 1982 using the Palmerston North-based aircraft. This aircraft flew from Palmerston North to Wellington before doing a Wellington to Wanganui and return service and returning to Palmerston North. The plane then did two return flights from Palmerston North to Wellington before a late afternoon/evening Palmerston North-Wellington-Wanganui-Wellington-Palmerston North service was operated.

Timetable Effective 13 September 1982

In the early 1980s two additional twins were added to the fleet. Piper PA34-200 Seneca ZK-DCI (c/n 34-7350317) was registered to Malcolm Campbell and John Fairclough in July 1981. It was mainly used for multi-engine IFR training for the Flying Academy but it was also, at times, used on scheduled services. In March 1983 a second Baron was added to the fleet. Beech C55 Baron ZK-UPB (c/n TE-29) replaced Cessna 402 ZK-DSG which was by this time being used by Air Albatross.

Piper Seneca ZK-DCI at Hamilton on my 21st birthday, the 3rd of August 1983. I was flying Whakatane-Hamilton-Westport-Hokitika on Bell Air's Beech 99.

Eagle's second Beech Baron ZK-UPB never carried titles. It is seen at Palmerston North on an Eagle service on 22 August 1983.

In June 1983 it was announced that Eagle had been sold to the NZI Finance. The year before NZI Finance had bought Napier-based Air Central and NZI Finance saw the purchase of Eagle Airways as an opportunity to strengthen the marketing and operational capabilities of each airline. Initially the two companies carried on operating as two separate entities until they were merged on the 3rd of October 1983 as Eagle Air Ltd under the “Now We are One” slogan. At about the same time Eagle developed an automated reservation system linked into the Air New Zealand booking network which enhanced its status as a major commuter airline.

The combined network covered ten cities throughout the North Island from Auckland to Wellington and including Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Palmerston North, Wanganui and New Plymouth. With the merger the Air Central name disappeared and Eagle Air inherited Air Central’s three AiResearch TPE Turbo-prop powered Mitsubishi MU-2s, ZK-EKZ, ZK-EON, and ZK-ESM and Cessna 402B ZK-EHS (c/n 402B0217). The route structure remained much the same with the exception of Air Central’s Palmerston North-Rotorua-Tauranga service which was dropped. Malcolm Campbell remained as managing while Air Central’s managing director, John Gardiner, became Eagles’ marketing manager. 

Inherited from Air Central was Cessna 402B ZK-EHS taken here at Palmerston North on 18 May 1984.

The Mitsubishis were expensive to operate and Eagle used them as little as possible and instead the company looked to re-equip. In late March 1984, in a move to standardise its fleet and improve services, Eagle Air sourced a second Bandeirante ZK-FHX (c/n 110225) in Fiji and three more Piper Chieftains, ZK-FIA (c/n 31-7752032), ZK-FIB  (c/n 31-7405407) and ZK-FIC (c/n 31-7405450). The fleet expansion cost the airline some $4.5 million. The three Piper Navajo Chieftains were fer­ried across the Pacific from the US in formation. The Mitsubishis were sold in Australia and departed New Zealand in early April 1984. This gave Eagle a fleet of two Bandeirante, five Piper Chieftains including leased ZK-EVD, a Cessna 402 and two Beech Barons. The leased Chieftain, the Cessna 402 and the Beech Baron ZK-UPB were withdrawn from the fleet shortly after.

With the introduction of the new aircraft Eagle introduced its first standardised fleet colour scheme which was worn by both Bandeirantes and Eagle’s four Chieftains.

In the new colour scheme... Above, Piper Chieftain ZK-EIE still carrying the old Eagle logo on its door at Palmerston North on 18 May 1984... EIE was the only aircraft in the new colour scheme that carried the old logo while below is Piper Pa31 Chieftain ZK-FIA at Palmerston North on 24 February 1985
Embraer Bandeirante ZK-FHX, taken at Palmerston North (above) on 21 February 1985 and at Christchurch on 8 September 1985 (below)

The arrival of the new aircraft led to Eagle’s services being rationalised. The new timetable effective from the 2nd of April 1984 was particularly geared to the needs of the business community and included a number of morning and evening flights to allow a full day for business meetings. Flights were centred on Hamilton and Palmerston North and were operated on what Eagle called a "wheel and spoke" basis. This saw Bandeirantes operating Eagle’s main trunk routes, namely Auckland-Hamilton-Palmerston North and Hamilton-Napier-Gisborne with the Chieftains and Barons offering connecting services from Hamilton and Palmerston North to other centres. This timetable saw the next phase of the withdrawal of the old Air Central network. Rotorua lost its direct connection to New Plymouth and received instead two flights each weekday, one to and from Gisborne and Napier and the other to Palmerston North. Tauranga’s flights were changed to two flights a day to Hamilton from where connections were made to Gisborne, Napier, New Plymouth, Wanganui and Palmerston North. Flights to New Plymouth were extended with four flights each weekday being operated between New Plymouth and Hamilton where connections were made to Auckland, Tauranga, Gisborne and Napier. New Plymouth also had two flights each weekday to Palmerston North where connections could be made to Wellington, Rotorua, and Gisborne. At the same time direct flights between Wellington and Wanganui were axed because of lack of demand. 

An Eagle advert showing some of the enlarged fleet and the enlarged route structure. Source: National Business Review, 24 September 1984

Over the next 18 months minor variations were made to the timetable. From mid-1984 Tauranga-based Pegasus Aviation was chartered to operate the Tauranga-Hamilton service for Eagle. This gave Tauranga passengers a much improved connection to the wider Eagle network without Eagle having to base an aircraft in Tauranga. From the 11th of February 1985 the Rotorua service was replaced by a twice daily service to Hamilton from where connections were made to New Plymouth, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Gisborne and Napier. Bandeirante services to Gisborne and Napier were also rationalised. On the 29th of October 1985 the Rotorua and Tauranga services were reduced to a single weekday service to Hamilton, with the Tauranga service again being operated by Eagle instead of Pegasus Aviation.

Eagle’s next major expansion took place in December 1985 following the collapse of Air Albatross. Initially Eagle offered a daily Bandeirante flight between Nelson and Palmerston North with the first service being flown on the 27th of December 1985. From the 24th of January 1986, in response to good forward bookings, Eagle increased these daily flights from one Bandeirante flight to three Chieftain flights with morning departures and evening returns, allowing a full day’s business in either Nelson or Palmerston North.

On the 1st of April 1986 NZI Financial Corporation sold Eagle to the Mutual Group of companies, though the sale was subject to regulatory approval. The Mutual Group owned, among other things, the New Zealand operation of Avis Rental Cars. The sale was confirmed in mid-May.

The beginning of April 1986 also saw changes to the company’s services. The Nelson service was upgraded to a thrice daily Bandeirante service and the Auckland-Hamilton-Palmerston North-Nelson service became Eagle’s trunk route with flights between Hamilton and Gisborne and Napier being operated by Chieftains. At the same time Wellington and Tauranga were both withdrawn from the network. The routes operated by Chieftains were consolidated with up to three flights a day being operated on these sectors. Eagle’s main problem, however, continued to be that it operated on routes between provincial centres. The only direct service it had to Auckland was from Hamilton. This meant it was forever trying to run an economic service on largely lean routes.   

From the 6th of October 1986, however, Eagle introduced a Monday to Friday direct Auckland-Palmerston North Bandeirante service. This was the first time Eagle had gone head to head with Air New Zealand since the introduction of the Bandeirante in 1980 and the new service from Auckland to Palmerston North was in addition to the Bandeirante flights from Auckland to Palmerston North via Hamilton. Also from the 6th of October Chieftains replaced the Bandeirantes again on the Nelson-Palmerston North route.

By now Eagle was well established as a solid operator though it hit the headlines in a dramatic manner on the 13th of April 1987 when Bandeirante ZK-FHX made a wheels-up landing at Palmerston North. The Bandeirante, with 13 people aboard, was on a scheduled flight from Hamilton. On its final approach to Palmerston North the duty air traffic controller noticed the aeroplane's port wheel was missing. The pilot, Captain Craig Mossman, was reported as saying that he had not realised anything was wrong and was ready to land the plane. "All indications from the cockpit showed everything was O.K. The undercarriage lights were all green showing the undercarriage was down and locked." The aircraft circled the airport for 40 minutes to burn fuel and allowing emergency services time to prepare before Craig Mossman and co-pilot Lance Slight carried out a perfect landing. No injuries were sustained by the crew or their 11 passengers. 

ZK-FHX after its wheels up landing at Palmerston North. Photo : The Press, 15 April 1987

A further re-equipment programme occurred in June 1987. A third Bandeirante, ZK-KIP (c/n 110286),  was purchased and its arrival heralded the introduction of a new colour scheme, the orange and brown being replaced by a largely white aircraft with a simple red, white and blue logo on the tail. 

In the Mutual Group colour scheme, the original Bandeirante ZK-ERU arrives at Hamilton on 20 May 1988

Three Eagle Bandeirantes at Hamilton in 1988. Photo : Darry Morgan

The arrival of the new Bandeirante enabled three Piper Chieftains to be sold. Only one was kept, ZK-EIE, and this was used to maintain the Hamilton-New Plymouth sector. At this time Eagle cut its service to Rotorua as well as the Hamilton-Wanganui service with the last flight being operated to Wanganui on the 3rd of July 1987. This service was later picked up by Air River City.

Beech Baron ZK-ECA at Wanganui on 22 February 1985. In its latter years it carried the small logo on the tail
Eagle Air brochure from about July 1987

In mid-July 1988 it was announced that Eagle Air and Nelson-based Air Nelson had joined forces with the intention of linking their regional services. Air Nelson and its sister company Motueka Air Services planned to merge from the 1st of August 1988. These two companies operated services between Wellington and Nelson and Wellington and Motueka with the intention to introduce a Nelson-Westport-Greymouth service from November 1988. As part of the cooperation between Eagle Air and Air Nelson, Eagle’s Nelson-Palmerston North service was handed over to Air Nelson with Air Nelson also planning to operate a Wellington-Palmerston North service. The revised timetable, effective from the 1st of August 1988, enabled Eagle Air to sell its remaining Piper Chieftain ending Eagle’s operation of piston-engine aircraft. The Hamilton-New Plymouth service, meanwhile, was operated by a daily Bandeirante flight. At the same time Eagle inaugurated its second challenge to Air New Zealand when it introduced a direct Gisborne-Auckland Bandeirante service.  

On the 12th of September 1988 the National Business Review carried an article saying the Eagle was looking at buying new aircraft to match the marketplace. The same article carried a statement from Eagle’s general manager, Don Good, who denied the rumour that there was a deal being struck with Air New Zealand or that Eagle was about to take over many of the national carrier's unprofitable routes. Four days later the rumour was to be proved true and Eagle was set to become a major player in the New Zealand domestic aviation scene.

Over the years Eagle operated a number of twin engine aircraft, including;

ZK-DCI           Piper PA34-200 Seneca (c/n 34-7350317)
ZK-DSG         Cessna 402B (c/n 402B0559)                  
ZK-ECA         Beech 58 Baron (c/n TH-553)
ZK-EHS         Cessna 402B (c/n 402B0217)      
ZK-EIE           Piper PA31-350 Chieftain (c/n 31-7552128)
ZK-ERH         Piper PA-39-160 CR Twin Comanche (c/n 39-140)
ZK-EVD         Piper PA-31-350 Chieftain (c/n 31-7405241)
ZK-FIA           Piper PA31-350 Chieftain (c/n 31-7752032)
ZK-FIB           Piper PA31-350 Chieftain (c/n 31-7405407)
ZK-FIC           Piper PA31-350 Chieftain (c/n 31-7405450)
ZK-UPB         Beech C55 Baron (c/n TE-29)      

In addition to these it also operated Bell Air’s Piper Aztec ZK-DUB for a couple of weeks.

The Eagle Soars - truly becoming a regional airline

On the 16th of September 1988 the face of provincial air services dramatically changed with the news that Air New Zealand had purchased a 50% holding in both Eagle Air and Air Nelson and that it was relinquishing a number of its Friendship services to the provinces in favour of these third level airlines. From the 31st of October 1988 Eagle Air inherited all Air New Zealand’s services from Auckland to Kaitaia, Whangarei and Gisborne, as well as the flights between Gisborne and Napier and some flights between Auckland and Tauranga. All these routes were to see an increase in frequency. Kaitaia’s single Friendship flight to Auckland was replaced by two Bandeirante flights. Whangarei went from a twice daily Friendship service to Auckland to five Bandeirante flights. Another withdrawal was the Gisborne-Tauranga-Auckland Friendship service leaving Tauranga with one Air New Zealand Friendship flight to both Wellington and Auckland. To complement the daily Friendship service between Auckland and Tauranga Eagle introduced three Bandeirante services. Gisborne’s two Friendship services to Auckland, including the service via Tauranga, were replaced with five direct Bandeirante flights.

An expanding network... Eagle Air picked up Air New Zealand services to Whangarei, Kaitaia, Tauranga and Gisborne from 31 October 1988

An attempt to improve the colour scheme - a couple of cheat lines as seen on Bandeirante ZK-FHX at Hamilton on 11 April 1989

The new services required Eagle Air to increase its Embraer Bandeirante fleet from three to five and Eagle imported two second-hand Bandeirantes ZK-JCM (c/n 110305) and ZK-LBC (c/n 110345) from the United States. Despite the extent of the new services only minor changes were made to Eagle’s existing network. The most obvious of the changes was made to the Auckland-Hamilton-Palmerston North service which had previously been Eagle Air’s main route. This service was separated with the Auckland-Hamilton sector being primarily operated to ferry Bandeirantes to and from the Hamilton maintenance base and Auckland which was which was now the major hub. Meanwhile the Hamilton-Palmerston North flights operated in its own right without being supplemented with passengers to and from Auckland. The Hamilton-Gisborne-Napier services remained virtually unchanged as did the Hamilton-New Plymouth service but this service was deleted from the next timetable by the 1st of April 1990.

A couple of looks at one of the new Bandeirantes ZK-JCM. Above, it was captured at Gisborne on 11 April 1989 still wearing its previous colour scheme. Below, at Napier on 20 January 1992 ZK-JCM is seen in the new Air New Zealand Link colour scheme.

The initial reaction in the provinces to the change from the pressurised Friendship to the unpressurised Bandeirante was one of dismay. Soon, however, provincial centres realised the advantages of a much improved frequency that was still part of the national airline’s network and the new services began to grow. Passenger numbers increased to such an extent that within 12 months Eagle Air was operating six flights a day from Auckland to both Whangarei and Gisborne. With a growing demand for flights to and from Auckland other services were pruned. For a time the direct Hamilton-Gisborne service disappeared. The growth in business also prompted the purchase of a sixth Bandeirante. ZK-MAS (c/n 110214) was purchased from Mexico and it arrived in New Zealand on the 27th November 1989.

Newly arrived Embraer Bandeirante ZK-MAS at Hamilton on 16 January 1990. This was the only aircraft to carry these stripes on the fuselage.

Further expansion occurred on the 23rd of April 1990 when Air New Zealand withdrew its older 100 series Fokker Friendships and relinquished its services to Whakatane and Taupo. Both Whakatane and Taupo had a daily direct Friendship service to Auckland and as well as a Friendship service to Wellington that operated via Wanganui. Eagle Air inherited the services between Auckland and Taupo and Auckland­ and Whakatane. Whakatane lost its southern link to Wellington with passengers having to tranship at Auckland while Air Nelson took over the flights between Taupo and Wellington. The new timetable saw Eagle Air’s Bandeirantes operating three return services a day between Auckland and Whakatane and a twice daily service between Auckland and Taupo.

The rather tight 18-seat Bandeirante seating configuration. This was later changed to a one each side 15-seat configuration.

In the time following the takeover of these Air New Zealand services Eagle moved from being a third level airline struggling to survive against a dominant national carrier to a regional airline aligned with the national carrier. The change, however, did not come without casualties. The Northland Districts Aero Club had been a long time operator of an air service between Whangarei and Auckland and by mid-1988 it was using a GAF N22 Nomad on this service. Likewise, Bell Air was operating an excellent service between Whakatane and Auckland with a Beech 99. Both felt the impact of the increased Eagle Air services and both aligned themselves to Ansett’s regional operation, Tranzair. Sadly, despite the connection to Ansett, they were not able to compete with the Eagle Air-Air New Zealand partnership and both these air services were to disappear. 

The new look of Whakatane's air service... Bandeirante ZK-LBC at Whakatane on 22 January 1992

Air New Zealand withdrew its last Friendship services through Tauranga on the 17th of September 1990. The Wellington-Tauranga sector was taken over by Air Nelson but at the same time Eagle Air also increased its frequency between Auckland and Tauranga from three to five flights each weekday. Eagle also established a base at Tauranga which negated the necessity of a ferry flight from Hamilton.

By the 29th of October 1990, some two years after taking over the first Air New Zealand services, Eagle was operating six flights a day from Auckland to both Gisborne and Whangarei, five flights a day to Tauranga, four flights a day to Hamilton, three flights a day to Whakatane, two flights a day to Kaitaia and two flights a day to Taupo with a chartered Piper Chieftain. In addition to these three flights were operated each day between Hamilton and Palmerston North and the service between Hamilton and Gisborne was reinstated with two flights a day. By this stage Gisborne was Eagle’s second most important base with 16 pilots based there and light maintenance was also carried out at night at Gisborne. Bases were also established at Whangarei and Whakatane.

While the Gisborne-Auckland service was going well the unpressurised Bandeirante was not considered particularly suitable for this service. On the 4th of March 1991 Eagle Airways introduced Fairchild-Swearingen SA227AC Metroliner III ZK-NSQ (c/n AC706) to its fleet. This first Metroliner was leased from sister-company Air Nelson pending the arrival of Eagle’s own Metroliners and it started operating on the Gisborne-Auckland service. The Metroliner provided the advantage of pressurisation, better loading capacity, range and speed, with the flight to Auckland taking only 55 minutes in the Metroliner compared to the Bandeirante's one hour 15 minutes. In May 1991 Eagle received two Metroliners of its own. ZK-OAA (c/n AC546) and ZK-PBA (c/n AC547) were imported from the United States and took over all the Auckland to Gisborne services on the 1st of June 1991. On the same day Metroliners also inaugurated a one-month trial service between Gisborne and Palmerston North. This left Gisborne at 9.35am Monday to Friday, arriving at Palmerston at 10.20am. The return service departed Palmerston North at 5.10pm and to arrive at Gisborne at 5.55pm.

Eagle's first Metroliner ZK-NSQ was leased from Air Nelson. It was photographed at Nelson on 17 April 1991

One of Eagle's first Metroliners... ZK-PBA at Gisborne on 22 January 1992

From the 21st of May 1991 the Eagle fleet, along with the Air Nelson’s fleet was rebranded as Air New Zealand Link and the fleet repainted in the parent company’s teal and blue colour scheme. In a move to promote customer appeal Eagle also refurbished its Bandeirantes with avionics upgrades and new interi­ors that saw the seating being reduced from 18 to 15.

John Hambleton, Eagle’s sales and marketing manager, when describing Eagle Air in Wings in September 1991, considered the term "third-level" to be pejorative and "commuter" to have too strong a business connotation. "Regional is the extent of service, while commuter is frequency. Regional airlines take responsibility for the old Air New Zealand regions. NAC had a special thing, and I think it's being regained. "Eagle is here for the regions. We offer improved frequency of service and have become important in the route distribution. We're more flexible, with products specific to the route, and we can focus because we're not affected by the vast numbers flying the main trunk. We deal with the small people."

The summer schedule which came into effect at the end of October 1991 saw Eagle Air reduce the number of flights between Gisborne and Hamilton in favour of an additional Gisborne to Auckland flight. At this time Eagle were operating three flights each weekday between Gisborne and Napier to connect with Air Nelson services to and from Wellington. These supplemented the direct flights Air Nelson operated between Gisborne and Wellington. The Gisborne-Hamilton service was discontinued on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays because of the lack of patronage. The average load between Gisborne and Hamilton was only 3.5 per flight and so the Hamilton service only operated on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instead the aircraft was used to operate Gisborne-Napier-Palmerston North service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Another important milestone occurred on the 1st of November 1993 when Eagle Air took over Mount Cook Airline’s Auckland-Kerikeri service. Bandeirante ZK-MAS flew the first service from Kerikeri on that day.

While the Bandeirantes and Metroliners were the mainstay of Eagle services, at times Eagle also used other aircraft. Between late 1993 and early 1995 Eagle Air chartered aircraft from two other North Island companies to give them extra capacity.
Kiwi West Aviation was a New Plymouth-based company which had commenced scheduled services between New Plymouth and Hamilton and New Plymouth and Palmerston North using a Beech Queen Air Excalibur on the 25th of January 1993. The Palmerston North-Plymouth flights were not well supported and they ended in mid-July. The efforts of this new airline were not lost on Eagle Air who continued to have an interest in linking Hamilton with direct flights to other North Island regional centres. From the 1st of November 1993 Eagle Air, under the Air New Zealand Link banner, re-introduced weekday services between Hamilton and New Plymouth, Hamilton and Gisborne and a daily service between Hamilton and Wanganui using Kiwi West Aviation’s Excalibur ZK-TAK and Auckland-based Menzies Aviation’s GAF N24 Nomad ZK-ECM.  

On the 1st of December 1993 Air New Zealand bought the remaining 50% of Eagle Airways shares giving it full ownership.

In 1994 Menzies Aviation’s Nomad was mainly used on Eagle’s services between Auckland and Hamilton and Auckland and Whangarei. Later Menzies Aviation replaced this aircraft with a Bandeirante of their own which also was registered ZK-ECM. This was often used as a backup aircraft for Eagle services.

Even with the extra capacity passenger numbers were increasing and Eagle Air took delivery of a seventh Bandeirante, ZK-TRM (c/n 110436), in April 1994. In August 1994 Eagle Air took delivery of two further Metroliners, ZK-RCA (c/n AC637) and ZK-SDA (c/n AC641), both of these being imported from the United States. This enabled Eagle to take over Air Nelson’s flights between Gisborne and Wellington. Gisborne’s flights to Auckland were increased to up to seven flights a day with all Gisborne’s remaining Bandeirante services being replaced by Metroliners. This gave Gisborne up to 266 seats a day compared with the 167 seats offered before the withdrawal of the Friendship services. 

The Eagle Air network circa late 1994. When did Eagle start into Rotorua???

Meanwhile Kiwi West Aviation took over the running of all the services from Hamilton to Gisborne, Wanganui and New Plymouth. To facilitate this a second Excalibur, ZK-TIK, was imported from Australia. Both Excaliburs were painted in Air New Zealand’s teal and blue colours but carried Kiwi West Aviation rather than Air New Zealand Link titles. On the 29th of March 1995 one of the Excaliburs, ZK-TIK, was operating Air New Zealand Link flight 2337, from Hamilton to New Plymouth. Shortly after take-off the plane experienced a twin engine failure and crashed in farmland at Ngahinapouri. Sadly, the two pilots and four passengers were killed. The accident report indicated an error in fuel tank selection due to the two aircraft having slightly different fuel systems. This was followed by a failure to execute a forced landing. The Kiwi West Aviation inter-provincial services were cancelled forthwith. 

With Eagle Air now operating the Gisborne-Wellington service there was a decreasing need for a Napier-Gisborne service. Eagle Air had been flying the Metroliners on the route with an average load factor of 26 per cent which equated to four or five passengers. Eagle withdrew from the Napier-Gisborne route on the 13th of August 1995 with United Aviation taking over the service the following day with a Piper Chieftain. At the same time Eagle added an additional Gisborne to Auckland flight.

In November 1995 Eagle Air took over Air Nelson’s flights between Wellington and Blenheim. This necessitated the purchase of two more Bandeirantes, ZK-DCH (c/n 110364) and ZK-NDC (c/n 110379), both of which arrived from the United Kingdom in October 1995. 

Bandeirante ZK-NDC at Woodbourne on 22 September 2000
1996 saw two big changes. The first was the retirement of Eagle Airway's founder and general manager Malcolm Campbell. In May 1996 when Eagle acquired two ex-Air Nelson Metroliners, ZK-NSW (c/n AC508) and ZK-NSX (c/n AC542). This extra capacity freed up Bandeirantes to facilitate expansion of the Wellington-Blenheim service. Daily return services increased to 12 flights on Mondays to Thursdays with 14 flights on Fridays! Within six months of taking over the Air New Zealand Link operation from Air Nelson Eagle had increased the service by 40 per cent.

The acquisition of the Metroliners also enabled Eagle to commence a new direct service between Whakatane and Wellington on the 4th of June 1996. The Metroliner flights left Whakatane early in the morning and returned in the early evening. During the day this Metroliner also did a couple of Cook Strait services to Blenheim. 

Further expansion from Blenheim came on the 29th of October 1996 when Eagle introduced direct flights between Blenheim and Auckland and Blenheim and Christchurch. The Metroliner did an early morning Blenheim-Christchurch return service before heading north to Auckland. The pattern was repeated in the afternoon.

Ex Air Nelson Metroliner ZK-NSX pulling into the gate at Christchurch on the first day of services from Blenheim on 29 October 1996

1996 saw Air New Zealand introduce the Pacific Wave colour scheme though this was not carried through to the Link Carriers until 1998. Most of the Metroliners were repainted in the new scheme. Initially these had the 'Link' title on the tail but from late 2000 three Metroliners had the colour scheme modified with Air New Zealand's koru being painted on the tail and the word Link on the rear of the fuselage. Five of the Bandeirantes were repainted in the new scheme.

Above, the first Eagle aircraft to appear in the new Pacific Wave colour scheme was Metroliner ZK-OAA seen here at Christchurch on 10 March 1998. This positioning of the titles and Pacific Wave on the nose was unique to ZK-OAA and ZK-PBA and it was only worn for a brief time.

A more normal scheme is seen below on ZK-PBA at Tauranga on 17 September 1998... the Air New Zealand titles and Pacific Wave are behind the passenger door

The final variation, and the most attractive, the Koru on the tail and Link titles at the rear as seen on ZK-SDA at Gisborne on 9 February 2001.

In September 1998 Ansett New Zealand withdrew its service to Whangarei. To help meet the demand for additional seats Eagle increased its Whangarei services by 14 per week, bringing the number of Bandeirante flights to Whangarei to 69 flights per week! This compared with Air New Zealand’s previous service of 14 Friendship flights a week. These were the halcyon days for Eagle Air. While still part of the Air New Zealand group it was more independent and was able and willing to respond to provincial needs. 

The collapse of CityJet in November 1999 enabled Eagle to source some additional Bandeirantes. In April 2000 the company bought four Bandeirantes. Two were added to the fleet; ZK-TZM was reregistered ZK-CEF (c/n 110238) and ZK-TZN was reregistered ZK-VJG (c/n 110298). Both ZK-KML (c/n 110248) and ZK-TZL (c/n 110378) were withdrawn from use and broken up for spares. 

Both ZK-CEF and ZK-VJG (pictured) only wore the new Link colour scheme. ZK-VJG is seen at Woodbourne on 22 September 2000.
In February 2001 it was announced Eagle Airways would replace its Bandeirante and Metroliners with 16 new Beechcraft 1900D 19-seat aircraft. It was also announced that Eagle would pick up all Air Nelson’s Metroliner services, thus Eagle was to serve Wanganui, Westport, Hokitika and Timaru as well as picking up flights between Wellington and Taupo.

With introduction of the Beech 1900D Eagle Air was set to become Air New Zealand’s 19-seat aircraft provider and so enter the most recent chapter of its development. The introduction of the Beech 1900 will be subject of the last post on this history of Eagle Air.

Eagle Air's retired turboprop fleet  
Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante
CEF      (c/n 110238)
DCH      (c/n 110364)
ERU      (c/n 110267)
FHX      (c/n 110225)
JCM      (c/n 110305)
KIP        (c/n 110286)
KML      (c/n 110248)            Used for spares
LBC      (c/n 110345)
MAS      (c/n 110214)
NDC      (c/n 110379)
TRM      (c/n 110436)
TZL       (c/n 110378)            Used for spares
VJG       (c/n 110298)

Fairchild-Swearingen SA227AC Metroliner III
NSQ      (c/n AC706)
NSW     (c/n AC508)
NSX      (c/n AC542)
OAA      (c/n AC546)
PBA      (c/n AC547)
RCA      (c/n AC637)
SDA      (c/n AC641)

Mitsubishi Mu-2G
EKZ       (c/n 519)
EON      (c/n 513)
ESM      (c/n 528)

Eagle, the High Flying Link Carrier

The introduction of the pressurised Beech 1900D with its stand up-cabin brought a new level of passenger comfort and appeal to Eagle Air’s customers. Before the introduction of the Beech into Hokitika Doug Roberts, Eagle Airways’ general manager, told the West Coast Times that the Hokitika service “was going from two star to four star. The Beech 1900s were more comfortable, people could stand up in them, had a toilet, plenty of room and reclining leather seats. The higher rate-of-climb the aircraft had would shave five minutes off both the Westport and Hokitika service flight times.”

Ahead of the delivery of the 16 brand new aircraft an American registered Beech 1900D, N84802 (c/n UE-53) arrived in Hamilton on the 9th of May 2001. This older aircraft was used for crew and engineer training and remained on the American register until the 24th of September 2001 when it was placed on the New Zealand register as ZK-JNG (c/n UE-53). By this time it had been joined by another a second Beech 1900D, ZK-JND (c/n UE-302). which was registered on the 28th August of 2001. The 28th also saw the first day of Eagle Air’s Beech 1900 service with ZK-JND operating Eagle Air flight 2134 from Auckland and Gisborne. ZK-JNG was used for the first time on an Eagle service on the 24th of September 2001 while the first of Eagle’s own, brand new aircraft, ZK-EAA (c/n UE-424) entered service on the 20th of October 2001 operating Eagle Air flight 2020 from Blenheim to Wellington. By the end of 2001 three of Eagle’s new Beech aircraft, ZK-EAA, EAB and EAC were in service while three Metroliners, ZK-PBA, OAA and SDA had been retired. Over the next 12 months the remaining new Beeches entered service at about the rate of one a month. The initial fleet of 16 aircraft registered ZK-EAA to ZK-EAP marked the end of the Beech 1900D production line.

The two "temporary" Beech 1900Ds... ZK-JND and ZK-JNG taken at Woodbourne on 1 November 2011

With the introduction of the Beech 1900 Eagle Air being the 19-seat operator for Air New Zealand Link and so took Air Nelson’s Metroliner services. On the 15th of July 2002 Eagle Air took over the Wellington-Taupo service, the first flight from Taupo being crewed by Captain Brett Moffat and First Officer Aaron Murphy in ZK-EAK. On the same day Eagle also changed the routing of its Auckland-Taupo service to include a stop at Rotorua on the southbound flight with the return flight from Taupo operating direct to Auckland.

The 15th of July also saw the first Beech service to Westport and this service was also operated by ZK-EAK. A few days later, on the 20th of July, Eagle operated its first Wellington-Timaru-Wellington service with ZK-EAG and on the 21st of July ZK-EAA operated Eagle’s inaugural Wellington-Nelson-Wellington service.

In theory the 22nd of July 2002 was also Wanganui’s turn to receive the Beech 1900s, however, due to aircraft unavailability Eagle’s first flights to the River City were flown by Airwork (NZ)’s Fairchild Metro 23, ZK-POF.

The 9th of August 2002 marked the end of an era with ZK-VJG flying Eagle Air’s last Bandeirante service. The last flight, Eagle Air 447 from Wellington to Blenheim marked the end of the company’s 22-year history with the Embraer Bandeirante.

Hokitika was the next Air Nelson port to change to Eagle Air. The inaugural flight was flown on the 11th of August 2002 with ZK-EAH flying the Sunday evening flight from Christchurch to Hokitika, the previous flights of the day being operated by Air Nelson. Timaru moved to a full Eagle service from the 8th of September 2002 while the following day Eagle introduced a new direct Whangarei-Wellington service with ZK-EAI flying the first flight. The same day Eagle introduced a Wellington-Napier-Wellington service. On the 13th of October 2002 Wanganui finally received its Beech 1900 service with ZK-EAL operating into Wanganui on the last flight of that day. 

The first of Eagle Air's own Beech 1900s, ZK-EAA at Hokitika on 5 July 2010

On the 9th of November 2002 Eagle’s fleet replacement came to a close with Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-RCA operating the company’s final Metroliner services. ZK-RCA, under the command of Captain Brian Scott and First Officer Brent Elton, flew a Hamilton to Auckland sector, before operating a return service to Rotorua and then a final Auckland to Hamilton service.

From February 2004 Timaru picked up an additional weekday flight and from the 19th of March 2004 a raft of additional services were introduced, including a new early morning weekday service between Auckland and Tauranga, an additional Auckland to Hamilton service in the middle of the day, new early afternoon flights on Thursdays and Fridays between Auckland and Napier, additional flights from Monday to Wednesday between Gisborne and Wellington and Blenheim and Wellington. In addition to these the morning Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo service was changed to operate a dedicated flight to both centres while Saturday services were introduced between Wellington and Westport and Blenheim and Christchurch making both these services daily. A Saturday afternoon service from Christchurch to Invercargill and return was also introduced.

Beech 1900D ZK-EAB arrives into Auckland on 21 June 2008
However, the most dramatic addition to Eagle’s services on the 19th of March 2004 was the introduction of a daily service to a new port, Wanaka. Daily flights were operated to and from Christchurch with the inaugural flight being operated by ZK-EAP. On Sundays through to Fridays the flight left Christchurch at 10.45 am arriving at Wanaka at 11.45 am with the return sector leaving Wanaka at 12.05 pm to arrive back at Christchurch at 1.00 pm. The Saturday schedule operated about two hours later.

Beech 1900 ZK-EAD taxis out at Whangarei on 5 July 2011

While Eagle’s Beech 1900s were D models there was for a short time a C model operating their services. From the 11th of October 2004 Vincent Aviation’s Beech 1900C ZK-VAE was chartered to operate a twice daily Wellington-Blenheim-Christchurch return service. In the years following the Beech 1900C was also used regularly on services to Blenheim, Westport, Timaru, Nelson, Palmerston North and Hamilton.

From the 12th of December 2004 Hokitika received a fourth flight from Christchurch By this stage Eagle Air was each year operating some 55,000 flights nationally carrying over 750,000 passengers!

By the end of 2005 more than 10,000 people had flown on the Wanaka service and Air New Zealand announced the addition of five extra flights a week over the summer holidays. From the 26th of December 2005 Kaitaia again moved to two flights each weekday with a single flight on Saturdays and Sundays. Initially these flights were operated by a 19-seat Jetstream 32 leased from Air National. The weekday services were Auckland based with a northbound flights leaving at 8.20am and 5.05pm and return flights leaving Kaitaia at 9.25am and 6.10pm.

Beech 1900 ZK-arrives at Kaitaia, Eagle's most northern port, on 31 March 2009

In these years Eagle Air was trying its best to improve frequency and reduce fares, not an easy task with a sophisticated 19-seater aircraft. However, it often ran into disputes with airport companies struggling to make their airports viable. One such case was Taupo and in April 2006 flights were reduced between Taupo and Auckland because of a dispute with the Taupo District Council. Simon Rowbotham, council's chief executive, say the airline's demand cover a number of issues, including the removal of the Unicorn navigational system at the airport. "If Eagle Airways are not prepared to grow the Taupo passenger air market and work with us in a positive way to achieve that growth we will actively seek alternatives." Eagle, however, pointed out that it costs Taupo $700,000 a year to run its airport while Whakatane operated theirs for $200,000.

Flying from Auckland to Kerikeri on 5 July 2011

In other areas Eagle was expanding. An additional return service was offered between Wellington and Whangarei from the 26th of April 2006 as were new direct services between Nelson and both Hamilton and Palmerston North. An early morning service was offered from Nelson to Hamilton and return before the aircraft flew on to Palmerston North. A reverse service was flown in the late afternoon, early evening. These additional services were operated using Vincent Aviation’s Beechcraft 1900C.

Services were further expanded from the 6th of August 2006. Eagle Air launched a new service between Christchurch and Oamaru using 19-seater turbo-prop British Aerospace Jetstreams operated by Air National. The service saw a Sunday to Friday evening service southbound with early morning northbound flights operated Monday to Friday and on Friday evenings. The first flight arrived into Oamaru on the evening of Sunday the 6th of August 2006 and was operated by Jetstream ZK-ECI, the Spirit of Waitaki with 14 passengers aboard. The Jetstream also employed to operate the weekday morning service from Christchurch and Hokitika and a number of weekend services to Hokitika. This enabled additional Beech 1900 flights to Wanaka for the ski season. 

The arrival of the first flight into Oamaru on 6 August 2006... Source : Otago Daily Times
A late running Beech flight meant both the early morning Beech flight to Hokitika and the later Air National Jetstream were on the ground at the same time on 25 January 2006

Again in early 2007 services were expanded. From the 12th of February Hokitika received a fifth weekday service to Christchurch, Taupo received an additional service to Wellington and weekday flights between Wellington and Westport were doubled enabling passengers from either centre enough time at their destination to conduct their business before returning home the same day. Vincent Aviation’s Beech aircraft were often used for the morning sectors. Wanganui was also linked south to Wellington for the first time since 2002 and this allowed connections to South Island centres.

Eagle Air’s operations were not without incident. On the 18th of June 2007 Beech 1900 ZK-EAK made a spectacular and successful wheels-up landing at Blenheim Airport after landing gear failed. The 15 passengers and two crew were unhurt. In September 2007 engineers discovered a problem with an undercarriage component which grounded the fleet for some days. Another incident which gained national headlines occurred on the 8th of February 2008 when an Eagle Air flight, being operated by Air National was hijacked between Blenheim and Christchurch. A knife-wielding Somali woman demanded that the pilots fly the plane to Australia. In the course of the incident the pilots and a passenger were stabbed. The plane landed safely in Christchurch. It was later revealed the woman had psychiatric issues.

The spectacular wheels-up landing of Beech 1900 ZK-EAK at Woodbourne on 18 June 2007. The landing can also be seen on Youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZZvNmt57rE
Photo : Marlborough Express

From the 19th of May 2008 Eagle Air launched a new direct service between Whakatane and Wellington. Early morning weekday flights were offered from Whakatane returning in the evening. A Sunday evening flight to Whakatane was also operated as well as a Friday night flight back to Wellington. This service was usually operated by Vincent Aviation’s Beech 1900 ZK-VAD. Meanwhile, Eagle Air’s direct Hamilton-Nelson and Palmerston North-Nelson flights ended on the 24th of December 2008.

2007 and 2008 saw fleet expansion with two second-hand Beech 1900Ds added to the fleet. ZK-EAQ (c/n UE-363) was imported from the United States and added to the fleet in March 2007 while ZK-EAR (c/n 388) was imported from Australia and was added to the fleet in July 2008. April 2008 saw an infrastructure expansion with the opening of Eagle’s new $ 1.5 million maintenance hangar at Hamilton. 

The two "new" - second hand Beech 1900Ds... Above ZK-EAQ departs Hokitika on 11 January 2008 while below, ZK-EAR is on final approaches to Runway 34 at Wellington on 7 January 2013

In February 2009 Masterton was the added to the Air New Zealand network with flights to and from Auckland operated by Eagle Air. The new schedule was designed primarily to meet the needs of business customers with a 7.05am Monday to Friday departure from Masterton and an early evening Sunday to Friday return service. The airline also offered a service departing Masterton on Friday evenings. Over 300 people gathered to see ZK-EAI arrive with the first flight into Masterton on the evening of the 15th of February and for the subsequent terminal opening. The first flight out the following morning had a full complement of 19 passengers. 

The inaugural flight from Masterton being prepared for departure, 16 February 2009. Photo : Eagle Air

The 2009 economic recession had a detrimental impact of Eagle’s operations. In April 2009 Timaru lost eight flights a week due to a drop in demand, followed by two more flights the following month. A schedule changes made to the Christchurch-Oamaru service from the 18th of May 2009 with the loss of the conveniently timed northbound early north and evening return service. There was immediate dismay from the local community and despite attempts to offer a better timetable changes proved disastrous for the North Otago service which gradually declined until it was completely dropped on the 31st of December 2009. The final service was operated by Beech ZK-EAL.

A twice daily Monday and Friday service was introduced between Christchurch and Westport on a six-month trial basis from the 6th of July 2009. This was aimed at moving staff, consultants and contractors for state-coalminer Solid Energy who partially underwrote the new service by guaranteeing a minimum seat occupancy for each flight. The first service was flown by Captain Alistair Marshall, first officer Dan Bolton in Beech ZK-EAJ. The service operated until the 18th of December 2009 with the company stating the six month trial had shown it was not viable. Sadly the introduction of this service caused the demise of Coastair which was already operating a marginal service on this route.

A brace of Beech 1900s - ZK-EAF (nearest) and ZK-EAL taxi for departure at Auckland on 29 April 2010

Eagle Air is often accused of a lack of cheap fares on its flights. The Westport News in May 2010, for example, reported that flying to Sydney may cost you less than flying from Westport to Wellington, with enough money left over to buy a decent book at the airport. While by an large Eagle Air offers a standard of provincial air service second to none in the world. Its greatest competitor is the car, with people often happy to drive some hours to get a cheap air fare from one of the main airports. The overheads of operating a 19-seat Beech 1900 as compared to a 171-seat Airbus 320 make the offering of many cheap seats difficult if not impossible. Changes in the management of Eagle Air have this helped this either. It seems to have lost its innovative edge as management has become more controlled by Air New Zealand.

From the 30th of August 2010 Eagle increased its flights between Christchurch and Wanaka and Christchurch to 11 flights a week with same day return flights being offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This impacted on flights to Hokitika with more flights being operated by Jetstreams and the cancelling of two flights each week on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. The expanded Wanaka flight timetable did not achieve the necessary support and by the end of 2011 the schedule had been reduced to a daily flight. Cuts were also made to the Whakatane-Wellington flights over the 2011 winter. 

In January 2012 two Beech 1900s were repainted in the "All Blacks" scheme... Above, on 12 January 2012, ZK-EAG was positioned around to the Air New Zealand maintenance hangar to greet the arrival of big brother Boeing 777-300 ZK-OKQ in the same scheme. Below, a closer shot of the second Beech 1900 in the scheme, ZK-EAK arrives at Taupo on 14 February 2013. Plans to paint a third Beech in the scheme were scrapped after the 2012 grounding of the Beech fleet.

August 2012 saw more disruptions to the Eagle fleet when hairline cracks were found in the tail area of an aircraft during routine maintenance inspection. Once again this led to the grounding of the fleet for some days causing massive disruptions.

On the 30th of January 2013 Eagle Air ended its Christchurch and Wanaka service. Airline manager Carrie Hurihanganui said the service had always struggled commercially and rising costs forced the move. The last flight was operated under the command of Captain James Coppard in ZK-EAG.

The final flight to Wanaka : Source : http://www.odt.co.nz/news/queenstown-lakes/244194/eagle-air-takes-resort-last-time

Further cuts were announced in September 2013. On the 24th of December 2013 the final Wanganui to Wellington service was cut due to lack of demand along with increased costs. On the 7th of February 2014 Auckland to Masterton service was cut with Beech 1900D ZK-EAK operating EAG025 from Auckland to Masterton  and EAG026 from Masterton to Auckland. Again lack of demand was cited along with increased operating costs leading to the route being no longer economically viable. From the same day Westport lost two flights a week.

Was it a good investment? The Masterton airport terminal as seen on 15 April 2009... Will it have an airline serving it after the 7th of February 2014?

Changes to the runway length requirements meant the Beech 1900s were increasingly unsuitable for air services into Whangarei. The final services, EAGLE 856/857 from Auckland to Whangarei and return were operated on the 9th of February 2014. The Whangarei-Wellington service continued to be operated by Eagle until April 2015.

On the 11th of November 2014 Air New Zealand announced that following a comprehensive review of its regional network that there would be a progressive phasing out of its Beech 1900 fleet which would be replaced by Bombardier Q300 services. The company stated that Beech fleet had been losing more than $1 million a month. The company also announced it would withdraw from Kaitaia, Whakatane, and Westport entirely and from the Whangarei-Wellington, Taupo-Wellington, Palmerston North-Nelson and Hamilton-Auckland routes.

Kerikeri's last Beech 1900 flights were operated in February 2015. ZK-EAB did the last overnight service flying in on 7 February as NZ2674 and flying out on 8 February as NZ2661. Then later in the day ZK-EAM flew the last two Auckland-Kerikeri return flights as NZ2654/NZ2689 and NZ2662/NZ2665.

On the 28th of April 2015 Eagle Air operated its final services from Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport with all three centres losing their Air New Zealand service. The final Westport services were operated under the command of Captain Andrew Mercer and First Officer Jason McDonald in Beech 1900D ZK-EAN on flights (EAG587/EAG588).

Air New Zealand flies out of Westport on 28 April 2015 for the last time. Beech 1900 ZK-EAN

Beech 1900 ZK-EAE operated the final flight from Whakatane to Auckland (EAG532) and the final return flight from Auckland to Kaitaia (EAG602 and EAG603). Beech 1900 ZK-EAI operated the final Taupo-Wellington service (EAG501).

The final flights into Taupo, Rotorua, Tauranga and on the Auckland-Hamilton route were operated by Beech 1900 ZK-EAB the 8th of February 2016.

The final flight to Taupo. Beech 1900 ZK-EAB on 8 February 2016

The arrival of the final Auckland-Hamilton service - ZK-EAB at Hamilton. Eagle Air first flew the Auckland-Hamilton route in 1980 with Embraer Bandeirante ZK-ERU. 

On the 1st of May 2016 Eagle Air operated its final South Island services. Beech 1900D ZK-EAC operated the final services between Christchurch and Hokitika while Beech 1900D ZK-EAH operated the final services from Blenheim flying to Christchurch and return.

After earlier being replaced by Bombardier Q300s on the Auckland-Wanganui route the Beech 1900 was again redeployed to operate the Wanganui service. The final services EAGLE 761/762 from Auckland to Wanganui and return were operated on the 12th of June 2016.

Eagle Air pulled out of Gisborne on the 31st of July 2016. The final Eagle service was operated from Gisborne to Wellington by Beech 1900 ZK-EAN (NZ2237/Eagle 237).

Eagle 237 taxis out from Gisborne on the last flight to Wellington on 31 July 2016.

All good things have to come to an end, and the end came for Eagle Air on the 26th of August 2016 when Beech 1900 ZK-EAH flew the final services. The morning services, NZ2101 from Hamilton to Palmerston North, NZ2425 from Palmerston North to Wellington, NZ2435 Wellington to Palmerston North and NZ2102 from Palmerston North to Hamilton were flown by Captains Alan Breen and Barry Brown. The final afternoon services from NZ2105 Hamilton to Palmerston North, NZ2421 Palmerston North to Wellington, NZ2426 Wellington to Palmerston North and NZ2106 Palmerston North to Hamilton were flown by Captains Peter Reid and Chris Mortimore.

The final flight, NZ2106, Eagle 106 from Palmerston North to Hamilton
Fuelling up for the Eagle's Air final flight, Beech 1900 ZK-EAH at Palmerston North on 26 August 2016
Boarding Eagle 2106 for Hamilton - Captain Chris Mortimore greets Captain Alan Breen... 
ZK-EAH after its final flight to Hamilton on 26 August 2016. Drinks in the Koru Lounge followed. Through the window I saw EAH being towed silently away like a heare driving into the darkness.

For more on the final flight see :

Malcolm Campbell's Eagle Air was marked with courageous innovation and enterprise. Its impact on the history of regional air services in New Zealand has been huge. It is with real sadness that we bid it farewell.

Raytheon (Beech) 1900D Fleet

EAA (c/n UE-424)
EAB (c/n UE-425)
EAC (c/n UE-426)
EAD (c/n UE-427)
EAE (c/n UE-428)
EAF (c/n UE-429)
EAG (c/n UE-430)
EAH (c/n UE-431)
EAI (c/n UE-432)
EAJ (c/n UE-433)
EAK (c/n UE-434)
EAL (c/n UE-435)
EAM (c/n UE-436)
EAN (c/n UE-437)
EAO (c/n UE-438)
EAP (c/n UE-439)
EAQ (c/n UE-363)
EAR (c/n UE-388)
JND (c/n UE-302)
JNG (c/n UE-53)

Eagle Air founder Malcolm Campbell and Eagle Air's General Manager in 2004 Doug Roberts with the original Airtourer and one of the Beech 1900 fleet. Photo : Eagle Air


  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.