12 May 2013

Oamaru's 1960 Christmas Present - SPANZ's Oamaru Operation

The 2nd of December 1960 saw the arrival in the country of Airlines of New Zealand’s first Douglas DC-3, ZK-BYD. Airlines of New Zealand was to be the first major challenge to the National Airways Corporation, though the challenge was always going to be difficult with new carrier’s air routes being confined to secondary centres and not being permitted to compete on main trunk services. But for some of these centres this was to be a momentous move. Oamaru had previously had air services operated Southern Scenic Airways linking it to Dunedin and Queenstown and South Island Airways and Trans Island Airways linking it to Timaru and Christchurch. These services, however, were short-lived and didn’t adequately connect the town to a national network. Now Oamaru, along with Matamata, Masterton and Alexandra, was to be connected to a comprehensive network of cities and towns on both Islands for the first time.

Oamaru Mail, 21 November 1960

In announcing the imminent arrival of the new air service the Oamaru Mail reported on some of its features:  Airlines of New Zealand will introduce, for the first time in the Dominion "in-flight" ticketing and "carry-on" baggage - a modern method of air transportation used most successfully overseas. This means that the passenger can buy his ticket on board the aircraft and carry on his light luggage - placing the method of quick operation in the air-coach bracket. The light luggage, such as an over-night bag or attachĂ© case is check weighed at the steps of the aircraft and then stored in special compartments at the rear of the plane. When the passenger alights he is given his baggage within minutes of landing.

An exciting day for Oamaru - an early Christmas party and an early Christmas present.
Oamaru Mail, 6 December 1960

Oamaru had its first look at Airlines of New Zealand’s 32-passenger seat Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster on Saturday the 10th of December 1960. 1000 people gathered at Oamaru’s Hilderthorpe aerodrome to witness the arrival of the DC-3, ZK-BYD. At about 4.10pm the DC-3 joined the airport circuit and emerged from the bad weather to the north to come in for a perfect landing in sunny weather. The executive officers of the airline were met by the Mayor of Oamaru, Mr Bill Laney, the Waitaki Member of Parliament, Mr Thomas Hayman and heads of other local organisations.

The Oamaru Mayor, Mr Laney assured Airlines of New Zealand of Oamaru’s support. He said, “There had been an unfortunate experience in the past; but even so the people of Oamaru had supported the new company and be hoped that its service would long continue.” The Waitaki MP, Mr Hayman, congratulated the company and its crew on having enough foresight to establish a new service on secondary routes. Captain Rex Daniell, general manager of the airline, said “the company was well provided with aircraft and had the ability to make money. He felt that the planes were as good as could be offered on the type of airfield they would service and the crews would follow the best tradition of airline companies.” Before continuing on to Alexandra the DC-3 made two local flights, one for the airline’s shareholders and the other for the Aero Club which had hired the Viewmaster to offer the public a flight at £1 a head.

The most striking feature of the Airlines of New Zealand DC-3 was its Viewmaster windows. Ansett Transport Industries’ executive director, Ronald Walker, who was on board the inaugural flight told the Oamaru Mail that the two five-feet panoramic windows on either side of the fuselage give passengers a grand view. He was in New Zealand to promote air tours of New Zealand. He said that statistics showed that the average Australian tourist spent 10 to 14 days on tour in New Zealand and his company would provide 10-day package tours, which would enable Australians to see the beauties of the countryside, particularly the Alps and fiords of the South Island. The tourist has limited time available and it is necessary to show him as much as possible. Much of the country can be seen while the plane is in the air. It was not only the aircraft that impressed the Oamaru locals… When the Viewmaster landed at Oamaru airport the Mayor gave a special welcome to the two attractive hostesses who stepped from the aircraft!

Airlines of New Zealand's Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYD at Oamaru

On the day the air service was launched the Oamaru Mail also carried the news that the shareholding in the company had been increased and that Ansett Transport Industries Ltd had purchased £76,850 or 49 per cent of the company’s £156,850 capital. At the same time it was announced that a special resolution was passed by the meeting changing the name of the company from South Pacific Airlines (N.Z.), Ltd., to South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand, Ltd.

While the DC-3 arrived in Oamaru under sunny skies and the news of Ansett taking a major stake in the company was cheering news there were distant storm clouds brewing in the very week that Airlines of New Zealand started operations. The most significant of these was the arrival in the country of the National Airways Corporation’s first Fokker Friendship on the 12th of December 1960. This marked the beginning of the end for the unpressurised Douglas DC-3 with which Airlines of New Zealand were just beginning their service.

The other distant cloud appeared on the day Airlines of New Zealand began operations. Mount Cook Air Services Ltd was granted a licence to operate a scheduled DC-3 passenger and freight service between Christchurch, Mount Cook, Queenstown or Cromwell, and Te Anau. While Mount Cook Airlines never competed directly with Airlines of New Zealand/SPANZ it found a favour with NAC which SPANZ never did and ultimately Mount Cook was to take over or operate a number of SPANZ’s South Island services.

Services commenced on Wednesday the 14th of December 1960 and on that day Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYD flew from Auckland to Hamilton, New Plymouth, Nelson and Christchurch before flying A Christchurch-Oamaru-Alexandra-Christchurch triangle. At this stage the airline was anticipating that some 32 passengers would travel north from Oamaru each week. A couple of days later, on the 16th of December, the company’s second Viewmaster, ZK-BYE, arrived in New Zealand.

On the 11th of March 1961 Timaru and Invercargill were added to the Airlines of New Zealand network. The normal schedule saw afternoon flights operated south from Christchurch to Timaru, Oamaru, Alexandra and Invercargill on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The DC-3 overnighted in Invercargill before returning along the same route the following morning. Many years later Oamaru was again linked to Invercargill by Air Timaru - http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/08/air-timaru-friendly-line.html

The timetable effective 11 March 1961


A third Viewmaster, ZK-CAW, was added to the fleet in October 1961. Normally Airlines of New Zealand’s flights south of Christchurch were operated thrice weekly though daily flights were offered in peak holiday periods. With the prospect of prosperous 1961/1962 summer the company entered a three month for a fourth DC-3, G-AMKE, from British company, Air Links. At about the same time as this arrived the company, from the 17th of December 1961, introduced Dunedin to its network. The frequency of the Christchurch-Timaru-Oamaru-Dunedin-Alexandra-Invercargill service was increased to six flights a week. The Dunedin stopover, however, did not prove economical and Dunedin was dropped from the 17th of March 1962 and the service reverted back to a thrice weekly service. Another change to the southern route was made at the end of the year when, from the 21st of December 1962, Gore was added as another stopover. 

The beginning of 1964 saw a change of name and branding. The “A of NZ” markings on the tail gave way to the SPANZ roundel.

A changing colour scheme - the A of NZ markings have disappeared from the tail but the new roundel has not yet been applied. Douglas DC-3 ZK-CAW at Oamaru in January 1964. Notice the built in door stair - this was a unique feature to ZK-CAW

From the 22nd of March 1965, after much lobbying, SPANZ was granted a contract for the carriage of air mail. First day covers were issued to mark the event. The original contract was to other provincial destinations on the SPANZ network and mail was not carried to any of the main centres. That changed on the 10th of May 1965 when mail was carried to and from Christchurch for the first time.

The first day of SPANZ carrying air mail... 22 March 1965

Oamaru-Christchurch airmail from 10 May 1965

Despite receiving good passenger approval and loyal support from the smaller centres SPANZ always struggled. By late 1965 the writing was on the wall and the end loomed. Representations were made for Government support. Meanwhile, the Minister of Civil Aviation had given Oamaru an assurance that it would have an air service if SPANZ failed completely.

Not long before the end - SPANZ Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYE at Oamaru on 26 December 1965. ZK-BYE was to fly the last Oamaru-Timaru-Christchurch service two months later

Towns like Oamaru, however, were very appreciative and loyal to the SPANZ air service. Oamaru, while still advocating for a replacement service made it clear that their preference remained for SPANZ to continue. A public meeting of SPANZ’s North Otago supporters was held at Oamaru on the 15th of December 1965. The Oamaru Mail reported that “accusations of Government indifference, monopolistic attitudes, and collusion with other airlines (to the detriment of SPANZ) flew thick and fast.” The tenor of the meeting is captured in one of the motions passed that was sent to Government - This meeting deplores the lack of action on the part of Government – avowedly a private enterprise Government – to take reasonable steps to save SPANZ. We deplore also the fact that the Government through the Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr McAlpine, condoned the antagonistic policy of the National Airways Corporation. This antagonist policy largely contributed to the downfall of SPANZ which is in marked contrast to the spirit of co-operation shown to Mt Cook Airlines. This meeting requests the Government to take immediate steps to ensure the continued operation of SPANZ over its present route structure. This meeting has no confidence in the present policy of Government as regards air services in New Zealand which favours State monopoly; and requests a full investigation with a view to reform. The Waitaki MP, Mr Allan Dick, told the meeting that he himself had been a supporter of SPANZ since its inception but there was opposition to the company from the Labour Party, the majority of Government caucus, and local bodies such as Taupo and Rotorua and that the liabilities of SPANZ were nine times those of the assets. SPANZ was never an economic success. It lost £30,000 in its first year, £80,000 in 1962, £40,000 in 1963, £78,000 in 1964. When the company went into receivership in November 1965 its total loss was £382,086.

Douglas DC-3 ZK-CAW, George Bolt, refuelling at Oamaru on 26 December 1965


A few days later it was announced that there would be no Government assistance for SPANZ. Subsequently, Captain Rex Daniell, the airline’s general manager, was reported as saying “South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand is now dead” and the receiver announced that SPANZ’s services would end on the 28th of February 1966.

The final timetable up to the 28th of February 1966

On that day Captain Rex Daniell captained the last northbound flight through Oamaru to Christchurch in the aptly registered ZK-BYE while Captain Graham Gribble captained the final flight in from Christchurch and onward to Alexandra, Gore and Invercargill in ZK-CAW.

Oamaru Mail, 28 February 1966

Later the same afternoon Mount Cook Airlines’ Douglas DC-3 ZK-BKD positioned into Oamaru to commence the new NAC service the following day.


  1. Good post. Some photos I hadn't seen before. Hopefully the future brings another such Christmas present to Oamaru!

  2. Great post. Some amazing old artifacts in there!

  3. Good post and I have a photo of an Air Link DC3 in Timaru but your email address is invalid. Graeme

  4. Hi Graeme... Definitely westland831@gmail.com
    Would love to see the photo of the Air Link DC-3