15 June 2014

Take Off with Kiwi West Aviation

The initial impetus for the establishment of Kiwi West Aviation was Tony Walsh struggling to find a flying job after completing his commercial pilot’s licence. This encouraged his father, John Walsh, to explore the possibilities of the family investing in an air service. He recognized that Taranaki business people were the obvious market for the service, especially those involved in the province’s energy projects and agricultural industry. Close to 12 months work went into researching the establishment of the airline. At the time of the launch of its services from New Plymouth to Hamilton and Palmerston North, New Plymouth’s Daily News reported that “professional market research confirmed the partners’ thoughts on the proposed route. The report compiled said that for people contemplating road trips of three hours or longer duration, air transport was a viable and competitive option. From comments made to researchers, the route between New Plymouth and Hamilton and Palmerston North could be a viable operation.”

Business partners in the venture were Ezra Goldberg, who was the company’s chief pilot, and co-pilot Richard Osborne. Paul Bryant was engaged as a pilot and Tony Walsh as another co-pilot. Walsh and Goldberg family members make up the office support staff needed to run the business. Beechcraft 65-B80 Excalibur 8800 Queen Air ZK-TAK (c/n LD-384) was sourced from Air Rarotonga and was refurbished in preparation for the new service. The company proposed to operate it with two pilots with accommodation for nine passengers. This would enable flight times to Hamilton or Palmerston North of about 35 minutes at a cruising speed of 185 knots (about 340 km/hr). A counter was established at the New Plymouth airport.

Daily News, 18 January 1993

Kiwi West Aviation’s scheduled services began on the 25th of January 1993 with ZK-TAK operating the inaugural flights between New Plymouth and Hamilton. Services to Palmerston North commenced a couple of days later, on the 27th of January 1993. Morning and afternoon services were offered from New Plymouth to both centres each weekday.

Kiwi West's timetable, effective 25 January 1993

The Palmerston North service was not well supported and ended on the 16th of July 1993.

From the 15th of September 1993 the airline's base was moved north to Hamilton with the services to New Plymouth starting from there.

Kiwi West Aviation's first Beech Queen Air Excalibur ZK-TAK at Hamilton on 15 December 1993

The efforts of the new airline were not lost on Eagle Air who still retained an interest in providing direct inter-provincial services from Hamilton. From the 1st of November 1993 Kiwi West Aviation and Auckland-based Menzies Aviation entered an agreement to provide weekday services for Eagle Air, under the Air New Zealand Link banner. Two flights a day were offered between Hamilton and New Plymouth and Hamilton and Gisborne as well as a daily service between Hamilton and Wanganui using Kiwi West’s Excalibur and Menzies Aviation’s Nomad. 

Kiwi West's Link timetable, effective 1 November 1993

In January 1994 ZK-TAK was repainted in Air New Zealand’s teal and blue colours, but the aircraft continued to carry Kiwi West Aviation titles rather than Air New Zealand Link branding. The Hamilton to Wanganui flights were not well patronised and this service ended on the 29th of April 1994.

Beech Queen Air ZK-TAK repainted in Air New Zealand teal and blue colours with Kiwi West Aviation titles below the rear window. Photo taken at Hokitika whilst on a charter to the Wild Foods Festival on 11 March 1995

In September 1994 Kiwi West Aviation imported two further aircraft. Beech 65-A80 Excalibur 8800 Queen Air VH-NQU flew in from Australia in September 1994 and was registered in New Zealand as ZK-TIK (c/n LD-249). The aircraft underwent an extensive refurbishment, including a major mechanical overhaul, the refitting of the interior and a full repaint in Air New Zealand’s teal and blue colours. The new Queen Air entered service on the 16th of December 1994 on a Hamilton to New Plymouth and return service.

Kiwi West's second Beech Queen Air, ZK-TIK at Hamilton on 5 February 1995

A second Queen Air, Beech 65 Queen Air N5079G (c/n LF-53), was flown to New Zealand from the USA. This aircraft was obtained purely to be broken up and utilised as a source of spare parts and components to assist the airline in keeping its two Queen Airs airworthy.

Used for parts, Queen Air N5079G at Palmerston North on 21 March 2000

In December 1994 Kiwi West took over the services previously operated by Menzies Aviation. The Hamilton to Gisborne flights were extended south to Napier from the 4th of December 1994 and from the 5th of December the Queen Airs were also used on Eagle’s Hamilton-Auckland services. By early 1995, on weekdays, the Queen Airs were operating twice daily services from Hamilton to Auckland and to Gisborne-Napier with three flights between Hamilton and New Plymouth. A single service was operated to Napier and Gisborne on Saturdays and Sundays.

The two Queen Air's, ZK-TIK and ZK-TAK at Hamilton on 5 February 1995
On the 29th of March 1995 one of the Queen Airs, 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 New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission accident report found the two Queen Airs had differing ways of selecting the fuel tanks. The report suggested a pilot error in selecting the correct fuel tanks followed by a failure to execute a forced landing. The report concluded that the engines failed because of fuel starvation, that is, the engines ran out of fuel, even though the outboard fuel tanks contained enough fuel for the entire flight. That fuel may never have reached the engines because the selectors were set for the inboard fuel tanks, which were nearly empty. The inboard fuel tanks may have been selected because Kiwi West applied the same checklist to two outwardly similar aircraft with significantly different fuel systems.

The Kiwi West operated inter-provincial services were cancelled forthwith. The remaining Excalibur, ZK-TAK, was subsequently sold to Tyrrell Aviation who were also to operate a New Plymouth-Hamilton-Gisborne service.


  1. Interesting how Air NZ haven't ever really acknowledged the dark day of 2337...that was a nasty and rather odd crash.

    1. Yes not even listed as an Air NZ accident on Wikipedia. In fact very hard to find any information on this accident at all.
      Interesting since it was operated as an Air NZ link flight

  2. I own what remains of N5079G... it is now a flight simulator for 17 Sqn Air Training Corps at Wigram

  3. I seem to recall the aircraft code in the Air NZ timetable was "BQN" for these flights but I can't remember and I've lost my 1994 timetable :-(

  4. Pretty sure it was BEC - on the road at present

    1. According to an Air New Zealand timetable effective 17 October, 1994, 'BEC' = Beechcraft Queen.

  5. BEC = Beechcraft Queen 👍