13 July 2014

Ansett's service to the Chatham Islands

In April 1954 TEAL ended its service to the Chatham Islands as it withdrew its Short Solent flying boats from its fleet leaving the Department of Island Territories with the problem of providing an air service to the Chathams. The Department looked across the Tasman for its solution. At that time Ansett Airways was the only available airline operating flying boats in the region, and the Department chartered the Australian airline to provide a number of flights to the Chathams over the summer of 1955-1956 using their Short S25 Sandringham flying boats. The Sandringhams were civilianised Short Sunderlands, the type which were being used by the RNZAF. The charter necessitated Ansett positioning an empty Sandringham from Sydney to Wellington before making the return flight to the Chathams and then returning empty to Sydney making it an expensive solution.

On the 14th of October 1955 the Press reported that The Government had arranged with an Australian company, Ansett Airways, Ltd., for flights to the Chatham Islands by a Sandringham flying-boat from Evans Bay, Wellington, on November 1 and again in early December, the Minister in charge of Civil Aviation (Mr T. P. Shand) announced today. The Minister said the single fare would cost £20. It was hoped there would be further flights in the autumn. The announcement of the fare might cause comparisons to be made with the fares charged previously by Tasman Empire Airways and the National Airways Corporation, said the Minister. But during all those previous operations the fares carried a substantial subsidy, and it was apparent that the cost was never less than £20 a head. Mr Shand said it was unlikely that a regular service to the Chatham Islands by land plane could be inaugurated at a cost of less than £20 a passenger, but the reaction of the Chatham Islands people to the temporary service could not be taken as a guide to the prospects of establishing a regular service.

The Press, 6 October 1956

The first flight was made on the 1st of November 1955 by Ansett Flying Boat Services Pty Ltd’s Short S25 Sandringham VH-BRE, Pacific Chieftain, flying passengers and mail from Evans Bay to Te Whanga Lagoon and return. The same aircraft did three return flights to the Chathams on the 17th, 18th and 20th of December 1955 carrying school children home for the summer holidays. Further flights were made on the 31st of January 1956, the 2nd of February 1956 and the 20th of March 1956, the latter flight being operated by Short Sandringham VH-BRC under the command of Captain L. Butterworth.

Following the success of these flight a further series of three flights was arranged for the following summer. An Ansett Sandringham operated two flights to and from the Chathams before Christmas on the 18th and 20th of December 1956. In late January a Sandringham flew from Hobart to Bluff with a group of tourists before doing a return service to the Chathams from Wellington on the 29th of January 1957. The Australian tourists were then flown home by the Sandringham.

In May 1957 the Hapupu airfield was opened on the Chathams and a decision was made to charter National Airways Corporation DC-3 aircraft to operate the summer flights. This was a much cheaper option for the Department of Island Territories and as Ansett Airways were looking to dispose of their flying-boats some time during 1958 it seemed a better option for the future. 

Short Sandringham VH-BRC at Lyttleton in November 1957. This was after the end of Ansett's Chathams' service, the aircraft being in New Zealand filming for a Cinerama movie. Note the large camera turret installed in the bow hatch. Photos : P Sheehan Collection


  1. I think the dates are a bit early. I remember, as a small child, seeing the flying boats landing on Te Whanga lagoon in the early 1960s. I was born in 1960. There was no airfield on the Island at the time. My first flight off the Island was around 1968 1969 in a Bristol Freighter which operated from the airfield at Hapupu.

  2. The dates are correct... Flying boats operated to the Chathams from 1946. The first flights were operated by the Air Force (http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2014/04/the-rnzaf-pioneering-air-services-to.html) and NAC. Eventually TEAL operated a service and after they withdrew Ansett operated over the summers as in the post above. The Hapupu airfield was built in 1957 and five flights were operated the summer after that but its length precluded a regular service and the Air Force took over the flying boat service until such times as Hapupu was able to take civil Bristol Freighter flights (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2014/05/flying-safe-to-chathams.html). I will be doing posts on NAC and TEAL operations to the Chathams which includes the development of the Hapupu airstrip.

  3. Thanks for that Steve. I stand corrected.
    I just knew that they were still flying to the Chatham's in the 1960s.

  4. No worries... it's a fascinating history. I have enjoyed researching it

  5. The DC-3s used on the Chatham Islands service in the late 1950s were ZK-APA and ZK-APK. Both examples were part of NAC's fleet of seven DC-3D models. They were specifically used as they already had long range fuel tanks fitted for use on the NAC regional service through to Rarotonga. All the other NAC (ex RNZAF) DC-3s were known as DC-3Cs and did not have long range fuel tanks.