28 April 2013

Rural East Coast Flyer - Marshall's Air Transport

Noel Marshall did his flying training with the Royal Australian Air Force before working for the Wellington Aero Club for three years and then as a topdresser pilot for Fieldair in Gisborne for seven years. His time on the East Coast convinced him of the need an air service in the district, which being fringed by hill and mountain barriers, was geographically isolated and had comparatively poor roads. On the 15th of February 1957 the Air Licensing Authority sat at Gisborne to hear his application for a licence to operate non-scheduled air passenger and freight services from Gisborne to anywhere in New Zealand using a Cessna 180. He told the authority he proposed to use the Gisborne aerodrome and various topdressing strips which had been approved by the Civil Aviation Department, including the first at Ruatoria.
The licence was subsequently granted and Noel formed Marshall’s Air Transport Ltd. Operations began on the 5th of June 1957 when Noel flew three passengers from Gisborne to Palmerston North in Cessna 180 ZK-BFD (c/n 30867). The Gisborne Herald reported that “the service will be on call for travellers from some of the remotest portions of the Coast as well as for those whose journeys from Gisborne do not fit readily into the schedules of previously established air transport.” In view of the fact that it was a passenger operation, authorisation to use the topdressing strips had to be obtained by the Civil Aviation Authority. The company expected to use 11 strips along the East Coast and the eastern end of the Bay of Plenty and expected that there would be particular demand for flights to and from Ruatoria and Opotiki. The Gisborne Herald reported that “Co-operation with land-owners in the preparation of operating strips has been a feature of Mr Marshall's organising efforts to date. He has found keen interest developing in the possibilities of his service as it affects people living in remote areas, and also in the alternative use of his aircraft for speedy freight deliveries.”

Marshall's Air Transport's Cessna 180 ZK-BFD. Photo : D White Collection

Another feature of Marshall’s Air Transport’s service was its servicing of the lighthouses at East Cape and on Portland Island at the end of the Mahia Peninsula. The Gisborne Photo News carried an account of one of Marshall’s Air Transport’s first flights lighthouse flights…

When an assistant lighthouse-keeper was needed urgently at Portland Island last month, the aeroplane once again demonstrated its speed and usefulness on the East Coast. In less than three hours a Cessna aircraft owned by Marshall's Air Transport Ltd., piloted by the proprietor, Mr Noel Marshall, travelled from Gisborne to the isolated East Cape, picked up Mr Chiles, the assistant keeper there, flew him to Portland, off the coast of Mahia Peninsula, and returned to Gisborne… The aircraft left Gisborne at 7.30 a.m., arrived at East Cape at 8.10 a.m., at Portland Island at 9.30 a.m., and after some time spent on the island, was back in Gisborne shortly after 10 a.m. East Cape, by road to Te Araroa and then by track and beach to the lighthouse, is at least eight hours from Gisborne by road, while Portland Island, accessible only by launch in good weather, is a full day's travel from here. Portland is a lonely island off the southern tip of Mahia Peninsula. In earlier days it was a haven for the whalers who frequented the East Coast. For navigators by sea it is an important landmark, marking the entrance to Hawkes Bay. The only inhabitants are the two lighthouse keepers and their families, who live in the small cluster of buildings. 

Marshall Air Transport's Cessna 180 ZK-BFD at East Cape

Noel Marshall at Portland Island with his Cessna 180 ZK-BFD and the assistant-keeper at East Cape, Mr Chiles (centre - who was taken to Portland) and the head keeper at Portland, Mr Sheppard (right). Source : Gisborne Photo News, 22 August 1957

By late 1957 Marshall’s Air Transport was operating three to four flights a week from Gisborne to Opotiki each week. On the 15th of December 1958 the company introduced a regular Monday to Saturday passenger and freight air service from Gisborne to Opotiki and Whakatane and return. Noel Marshall told the Bay of Plenty Beacon that the demand from the Opotiki flights had become such that a daily service was required… and there had been a lot of inquiries from Whakatane for a service to and from Gisborne… Operating from Darton Field in Gisborne, the 'plane will land on the Poroporo airstrip, now used by Bay of Plenty Airways which operates a Bay of Plenty to Auckland service. That was until the aerodrome was open, said Mr Marshall. He had been informed by the Air Department that that would be in April or May of next year. 

Marshall's Air Transport's timetable for the Gisborne-Opotiki-Whakatane service effective 15 December 1958

Sadly the company’s services were not economic and by July 1959 Marshall’s Air Transport Ltd was in liquidation. The assets of the company were purchased by Poverty Bay Airways Ltd, a new company established by Gerard Oman, another Fieldair employee. Poverty Bay Air began operations in August 1959 and the Cessna 180 continued to serve for this company and then later with Nelson-based Golden Coast Airways.

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