14 September 2014

Keith Wakeman's Air Charter (Christchurch)

Keith Wakeman’s entry into the aviation industry began in Canterbury as a topdressing pilot, working for Airwork in April 1950 and Aerial Sowing in May 1951. From late 1953 to mid-1954 he was flying Fox Moth ZK-ASP. Then, in 1955 he formed his own topdressing operation using Cessna 180 ZK-BJC. This operation was later formed into company as Wakeman Aviation Ltd.

Wakeman Aviation's Cessna 180 ZK-BJC at Christchurch

In May 1960 he went charter flying using Cessna 180 ZK-BMP and subsequently formed his own company in 1964. Initially this traded as Christchurch Central Flying School using Cessna 150A ZK-BVY. In 1968 Keith Wakeman and J Reid bought Patchett Tours Ltd and it was absorbed into Keith Wakeman's existing air operations even though the Patchett Tours name and licence were kept. On the 25th of February 1971 all Wakeman's companies were consolidated into Christchurch Charter Flying Services Limited. By then the company was using Cessna 150s ZK-CKQ, and ZK-CTF and, for a short time, Cessna 180 ZK-BJY. The company also had Piper Pa18-150 Cub which for many years operated on floats from the Cam River at Kaiapoi. 

Cessna 150 ZK-CKQ at Christchurch on 13 October 1968

Cessna 150 ZK-CTF at Christchurch on 2 June 1974

Fly Floats! Piper Pa18 Cub ZK-BPC not on floats at Christchurch on 26 July 1971

In 1973 Piper Pa23-250 Aztec ZK-DHB was added to the company’s fleet and from about the mid-70s the company became known as Air Charter (Christchurch). By 1976 the Cessna 150s were sold and the training operation ceased. At about the same time the company unsuccessfully sought the rights to offer charter and air taxi services to Mount Cook (Birch Hill airstrip), Wanaka, Queenstown and Milford Sound.

Above, Air Charter (Christchurch)'s Piper Aztec ZK-DHB at Christchurch in September 1978. By the end of 1979 it was repainted in the scheme depicted below. Photo taken at Christchurch on 5 February 1986 .

From early August 1978 until early March 1979 Air Charter (Christchurch) operated a Dunedin to Christchurch courier service on behalf of The Package Express using Piper Aztec ZK-EKX and Beech Baron ZK-EJJ. This service connected at Christchurch with The Package Express’ Cessna 404 Titan service to Wellington and Auckland.

In 1979 Piper Pa31-350 Navajo Chieftain ZK-EBT (c/n 31-7552044) was added to Air Charter (Christchurch)’s fleet as the company looked to expand. In April 1981 the company applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to operate a non-scheduled service between Christchurch and Nelson. The application was declined.  

Air Charter (Chch)'s Piper Chieftain, ZK-EBT at Christchurch on 19 February 1984

In early December 1981 the company applied for a scenic licence to operate Christchurch-Milford Sound-Queenstown-Christchurch tourist flights. Despite Mount Cook Airlines’ objections the licence was granted. The first flight was operated by Piper Aztec ZK-DHB on the 8th of December 1982. The Aztec left Christchurch at 9.00am with three passengers, had a 40 minute stop at Milford Sound and then a 2½ hour stop at Queenstown before arriving back at Christchurch at 4.40pm.

Schedule for Air Charter's scenic flight tours

The company sought to expand this service in October 1982 by applying for a scheduled Christchurch-Queenstown and non-scheduled Christchurch-Milford Sound-Queenstown and Queenstown-Christchurch services. The application was declined given there had been no complaints about Mount Cook Airlines’ service and that in the first seven months of the existing licence only 19 flights had been made carrying 76 passengers. The company’s total flying had amounted to 225 hours of flying with four aircraft permitted to be used on the licence. The company were, however, granted leave to add a Piper Archer to its licence. With little work offering for the Chieftain it was withdrawn from the fleet in July 1984.

For a time during 1988 the company’s only aircraft, Piper Aztec ZK-DHB, was used by Pacifica Air on their services to Central Otago, the Aztec wearing Pacifica Air titles. By Easter 1988, however, the Aztec was again wearing Air Charter (Chch) titles.

ZK-DHB wearing Pacifica Air titles at Christchurch 24 February 1988 and Air Charter (Chch) titles at Wanaka on 2 April 1988.

In 1990 the company was sold to John MacPhail and over the summer of 1990/1991 he commenced Christchurch-Kaikoura flights in association with whale watching tours. The fleet was expanded to three aircraft, Piper Pa23-250 Aztec (c/n 27-3735), Cessna 210L Centurion ZK-NPD (c/n 21060331) and Cessna 172N Skyhawk (c/n 1721937) ZK-EOI. The two Cessnas were used for flight training from mid-1991. 

Cessna 210 Centurion ZK-NPD at the Wanaka Air Show on 14 April 1990

Air Charter (Christchurch)'s first flights to Kaikoura, ca 1990/1991

Air Charter (Chch)'s Cessna 172 ZK-EOI at the Wanaka Air Show on 14 April 1990

At this time the company also offered flights from Christchurch to the Chatham Islands using the Aztec under the name of Chatham Islands Express. The Aztec wore small Chatham Islands Express titles as well as its Air Charter (Chch) Ltd titles.

Air Charter Christchurch's Piper Aztec ZK-DHB at the Chatham Islands. Hugh Rennie writes, This was a charter flight, I think in about 1990. This was a one-off charter which from memory flew from Christchurch to the Chathams and then to Nelson.
Air Charter Christchurch's Piper Aztec ZK-DHB with Chatham Island Express titles below the rear window. Photo taken at Hokitika on 14 December 1991

In April 1992 Air Charter (Christchurch) was renamed Southflight. 

A big thanks to Dave Paull for his help in compiling this post

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