27 July 2014

TEAL's Domestic Route - Wellington to the Chathams

During the course of the Second World War the Royal New Zealand Air Force regularly made use of the Tasman Empire Airways flying-boats ZK-AMA Aotearoa and ZK-AMC Awarua to make a number of maritime patrol flights that searched for enemy surface raiders and checking unidentified vessels. For these flights the civilian boats were armed with 500lb bombs.

On the 25th of November 1940 the German surface raiders the Orion and the Komet intercepted the sighted and captured the steamer Holmwood which was on passage between the Chatham Islands and the Port of Lyttelton. The 29 crew and passengers were taken off, as well as several hundred live sheep, after which the Holmwood was sunk by gunfire. When the ship failed to arrive TEAL’s Short S30 Flying boat Awarua, under command of Captain W. J. Craig was sent from Auckland to search west of the Chathams. The aircraft sighted the Chathams but did not land or overfly them.

In the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand Journal of December 2007 J W Best outlined the development of the Air Force Base and the first visit of an aircraft to the Chathams.

It could not have been long after this that preparations to get the base established were started. A temporary jetty, a large motorised refuelling barge, a launch, and kerosene flare floats, were provided. Two buoys were placed in Waikato Bay, a small inlet off the lagoon. Petrol (20,000 gallons) and oil (176 gallons) was stockpiled. Two sighting beacons were installed on land as night mooring aids. The base was under the supervision of a local resident, Mr Glennie.

Short S.30 Aotearoa (Capt. J. W. Burgess) left Auckland at 2:30 am on 29 April 1941 to undertake a reconnaissance flight around the Chathams. The flying boat searched some 15,000 square miles without incident then landed in Te Whanga lagoon at 11:19 am. Burgess was taken by launch to the refuelling barge. Only 44 gallons of petrol were taken aboard the S.30 "in ... accordance with instructions" Burgess reported. (This first visit by an aircraft was probably made primarily to test the facilities and equipment at the newly established mooring.) Burgess and his crew stayed less than 1 hour 30 minutes at the Chathams. The S.30 took off at 12:45 pm and arrived at Lyttelton at 4:36 pm. They flew back to Auckland next day (30 April), arriving at 3:55 pm.

A war-time visitor, TEAL's Short S30 Empire ZK-AMA, Aotearoa, was the first aircraft to visit the Chatham Islands on the 29th of April 1941.

Following the Second World War the RNZAF made numerous flights to the Chathams and in 1949 the National Airways Corporation tried to establish an air service to the Chathams using their Short Sunderland flying boats. The early hopes for the NAC’s service did not eventuate and NAC’s early involvement in the Chathams ended early in 1950 when it retired its Sunderlands.

In 1949 TEAL added four Mark IV Short S45A Solent flying boats to its fleet. ZK-AML, Aotearoa II, arrived on the 7th of December 1949, ZK-AMM, Ararangi, on the 29th of September 1949, ZK-AMN, Awatere, on the 23rd of October 1949 and ZK-AMO, Aranui, on the 30th of November 1949. A fifth Mark III Solent ZK-AMQ Aparima was delivered a couple of years later on the 15th of September 1951. The Flight International magazine issue for the 29th of September 1949 described the Solents as having passenger accommodation for 30 to 44 passengers with a crew of seven. With a payload of 17,124 lb, including 44 passengers, luggage, mail and freight, it has a range of 1,450 miles, cruising at 200 mph at 10,000ft.

On 1950 the Minister of Civil Aviation approved of Tasman Empire Airways introducing an air service between Wellington and the Chatham Islands. It was envisaged that six return flights per year would be flown and that if the Company felt that sufficient traffic were offering, additional services might be arranged during the summer and the Canterbury Centennial Celebrations. Approval was given for the Company to be subsidised up to £75 per return trip, the payment to be reviewed after four return trips had been flown. The Government thought TEAL’s service could be tied in with TEAL’s plans for its Wellington to Sydney service saving the cost of positioning an aircraft from Auckland as NAC had done.

TEAL introduced its thrice weekly service from Wellington’s Evans Bay to Sydney on the 3rd of October 1950. In support of this service a flying boat base was established at the sheltered western end of Evans Bay beneath Hataitai Point and terminal facilities for the flying boat operation were built. This was also to become the departure point for TEAL’s service to the Chatham Islands. In the event TEAL found it necessary to position a Solent from Auckland to Wellington for the Chathams’ service rather than use the aircraft that operated the Sydney service. This was due to the heavy volume of traffic on the Wellington-Sydney service, the necessity for the aircraft to carry on to Auckland for maintenance, and the upset to the Sydney schedule if the Chathams service was operated.

TEAL set the schedule for the first Chatham Island flight as follows;

Depart Auckland      0330 hours               
Arrive Wellington     0530
Depart Wellington    0700                          
Arrive Chathams      0945
Depart Chathams    1245                          
Arrive Wellington     1530
Depart Wellington    1730                          
Arrive Auckland       1930

The first flight of the bi-monthly service was flown by Solent ZK-AMM, Ararangi under the command of Captain Cliff Le Couteur on the 15th of December 1950. It carried a full load of 48 passengers from Evans Bay to Te Whanga lagoon including children returning home for the Christmas holidays. It returned to Wellington the same day check with 17 passengers. 

Short S45 Solent ZK-AMM inaugurated the regular service between Wellington and the Chathams on the 15th of December 1950. The same aircraft also flew the last scheduled service to the Chathams on the 7th of April 1954

First day cover for the first TEAL flight to the Chathams operated on the 15th of December 1950

For the period from the 15th of December 1950 to the 13th of April 1951, the Company operated five flights to the Chathams. One of these had to turn back after the weather deteriorated at the Chathams preventing it from landing. The first five flights, including the unsuccessful one, cost £4,419.10.6d to operate which was offset by £3,362.4.3d of revenue. This equated to a loss of £1,057.6.3d. If the unsuccessful flight was excluded, the loss was £119 per trip which was considered reasonable taking into account the positioning of the aircraft from Auckland and when a £75 subsidy per return trip for a flight from Wellington had been budgeted for. If TEAL had been able to fly from Wellington, the flights would have shown a small profit, approximately £200.

Flights continued to operate. A TEAL press release on the 30th of October 1951 advertised its eighth flight which was to operate on the 10th of November 1951. A Solent flying boat will leave Auckland at 4.15 a.m. and Wellington at 7.00 a.m. It will return to Wellington, at 4.30 p.m. and to Auckland at 7 p.m. The aircraft is expected to carry a large cargo which will include sausages, ice cream, oranges and bananas. Six flights a year are operated to the Chatham Islands by TEAL. Since the service commenced the company has operated seven flights which have all carried heavy passenger and cargo traffic. The service is operated on dates which best suit the convenience of Chatham Island residents and government departments and private organisations in New Zealand with interests in the Chathams. Further flights will be made on 5th and 15th December, 30th January, 13th March and 3rd April.

The flight the following month, on the 15th of December 1951, carried a special passenger. Father Christmas flew out to the Chathams by the TEAL Solent to bring Christmas cheer to the Chatham Island children.

The service continued to operate for the next two and a half years. In the 1953/54 financial year the six flights operated made a loss of £ 434.1.10d with costs of £6,029.4.1d and revenue of £5,595.2.3.

Passenger accommodation and the galley on the Solent flying boat service between Wellington and Sydney. Photos : National Library

In 1954 TEAL made the decision to withdraw its Solent flying boats with the exception of ZK-AMO which was kept for the Coral route. TEAL’s plan envisaged this Solent would be based in Fiji and would only come to Auckland for maintenance and over-haul purposes three or four times a year and that was not practical for it to continue the Chathams service during the maintenance visits. The company recognised it would not meet the requirements of the local population “who are more interested in getting two services at a relatively short interval in order to enable islanders to come to New Zealand for a short period or to enable Government officials and others to come from New Zealand to the Chatham Islands for departmental purposes.” TEAL operated their last service to the Chathams on the 7th of April 1954. The flight was operated by Short S.45 Solent flying boat ZK-AMM, Ararangi, under the command of Captain Cliff Le Couteur and Second Officer M. R. B. Wallace.

The Solents were withdrawn from service and their fates were

ZK-AML         Aotearoa II     Sold to Aquila Airways, UK
ZK-AMM        Ararangi         Sold to Aquila Airways, UK
ZK-AMN         Awatere          Scrapped after a fire sometime before withdrawal
ZK-AMO         Aranui            Retained for use on Coral Route
ZK-AMQ         Aparima         Retained for use on Coral Route until October 1956
Scrapped at Mechanics Bay 1957

On the 17th of October 1956, Short S45 Solent ZK-AMQ Aparima returned to Auckland. A couple of days later, on the 19th of October 1956, TEAL flew a charter direct from Auckland to the Chathams and return on behalf of the RNZAF. This was the last time a TEAL aircraft visited the Chathams.

ZK-AMQ, the last Short Solent to visit the Chatham Islands on 19th of October 1956

1 comment:

  1. ". . .then landed in Te Whanga lagoon "

    One would hope not. Could be fairly dangerous.

    Flying boats do not usually 'land', they 'alight'.