09 March 2014

Lakeair and Mitsubishis for sale

Lakeland Aviation Ltd was a Taupo-based company formed in 1971 by Ron Fincham and three other shareholders. Initially the company focussed on training and charter work. Licences in the early year confined much of the charter work to Turangi with lesser operations from Taupo but gradually the Taupo licence restrictions were removed. A particular focus for the company was flying hunters into the airstrips of the Kaimanawa Ranges. This focus was enhanced with the involvement of Ron Connell who had a number of aviation enterprises including South West Helicopters Ltd which did deer hunting and recovery from bases at Taupo and Fox Glacier and Ron became one of Lakeland Aviation’s shareholders. By the late 1970s Lakeland Aviation was also operating its first twin-engined aircraft, Partenavia P68B ZK-LAL (c/n 70).

Partenavia P68 ZK-LAL at Christchurch in August 1980
Taupo Times, 16 April 1981

Ron Connell’s interest in the company grew and he eventually took it over. At the same time he had diversified into aircraft and helicopter sales. In 1980 he imported New Zealand’s first Mitsubishi Mu2 for Wairarapa Airlines. It was planned to use the Mitsubishi Mu2B, aptly registered ZK-WAL (c/n 037), on services from Masterton to Auckland and Christchurch and to use Partenavia P68B ZK-LAL, which Lakeland had sold, as a backup aircraft. Delays were experienced getting the Mitsubishi ready for service and it eventually transpired that the aircraft was unsuitable for operation from Masterton’s Hood Aerodrome and so it was never used on this service.

In 1980 it was widely anticipated Air New Zealand would relinquish a number of its unprofitable provincial services. With this in mind Connell imported a larger 10-seat Mitsubishi Mu2B-30 model (or Mitsubishi Mu2G as they were commonly known) to New Zealand in November 1980. Registered N671MA, this aircraft was demonstrated to a number of operators including Hokitika’s Westland Flying Services in December 1980. The aircraft later was registered as ZK-EKZ. Another Mitsubishi Mu2G, N88BC arrived in March 1981. This was to become ZK-EON.

For sale - two Mitsubishi Mu2Gs still in their US registrations... Above, N671MA (which became ZK-EKZ) at Hokitika in December 1980 and below, N88BC (which became ZK-EON) at Christchurch in April 1981.

The Mitsubishis, however, did not attract any sales and so in March 1981 Lakeland Aviation Ltd successfully applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to operate a scheduled Taupo-Auckland-Taupo service using a Mitsubishi Mu2B-30 (Mu2G) to be operated under the name of Lakeair. Air New Zealand did not object to the granting of the licence. One provision was that the nine-seat twin engine plane be granted a certificate of air worthiness. A company spokesman, Mr Daryl Devereaux, told the Taupo Times the certificate was a formality and would be obtained later that month. He said the company hoped to begin offering the service in May.

The service commenced on the 4th of May 1981. Return flights between Taupo and Auckland were offered in both the morning and late afternoon, Monday to Friday, with a daily return service being operated on Saturdays and Sundays. Mitsubishis were the mainstay of the operation. Mitsubishi Mu2B ZK-WAL (c/n 037) operated the early services until the G-model Mitsubishi Mu2B-30 N671MA was placed on the New Zealand registered to South West Helicopters Ltd as ZK-EKZ (c/n 519) on the 15th of May 1981. Permission was granted to use South West Helicopters Beech B58 Baron ZK-EJJ (c/n TH-181) as a backup aircraft.

The smaller Mitsubishi Mu2B, ZK-WAL, on the Lakeair service at Auckland on 13 May 1981

In 1981 Air Central’s John Gardiner sold half of his company to Ron Connell’s RCS International (1981) Ltd. This opened the door for Air Central to trial the use of Mitsubishi Mu2G, with ZK-EKZ being operated from July 1981. About this time Air New Zealand announced changes to be made in October 1981 to its services between Auckland and Taupo that would have its flights running at the same time as the Lakeair service. By this stage Lakeair was receiving regular patronage. With Air Central’s Mitsubishi trial proving successful the airline operations of Air Central and Lakeair were rationalised in late August 1981 and Air Central took over the Taupo-Auckland service with a twice daily Napier-Taupo-Auckland return service on the 31st of August 1981.

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