11 January 2015

Sounds Air's Kaikoura Service

In June 2004 Sounds Air announced that it had purchased a new seven seater Gippsland Aeronautics Airvan to inaugurate daily direct flights between Kaikoura and Wellington. Sounds Air’s managing director, Andrew Crawford told the Kaikoura Star that “with the continuing expansion of Kaikoura as a tourist destination Sounds Air felt the region was being poorly serviced for passengers and freight clients who wanted a regular service between Kaikoura and Wellington.” He also envisaged the introduction of a return freight service to fly perishables such as crayfish to Wellington between the passenger flights. The Airvan's seats were easily removed within 10 minutes allowing 600kg of freight to be carried. "If the demand is there over the summer months we would look to increase the size of the aircraft to a 13-seater Cessna Caravan," Mr Crawford said.

Kaikoura’s mayor, Jim Abernethy told the Kaikoura Star that he was "absolutely thrilled" with the news. "I hope the people of Kaikoura appreciate it and make use of it," he said. He saw the new air service as a great opportunity to allow visitors to come to Kaikoura on day trips to see the whales, or to do business. "It also opens up another avenue for people to get from the North Island to the South Island, which at the moment is through Picton, Blenheim or Christchurch, and will allow Kaikoura to be accessed in a very quick time," Mr Abernethy said. The new air service would be a bonus for Kaikoura people wanting to do business in Wellington, or who might have to travel to Wellington for medical appointments, for instance. The aircraft's ability to carry freight would also open up opportunities for Kaikoura business, the mayor said "Years ago boats used to call into Kaikoura and take fish to the Wellington market, and here we are back into that market again." Mr Abernethy said he could see himself utilising the new air service for trips to Wellington, which previously meant a two-hour drive trip to the airport at Koromiko, then a 45-minute flight over the strait. "This way it's just a short trip to the airport and a 45 minute trip to Wellington," he said.

The first flight took place on the 19th of July 2004 with Cessna 208 Caravan ZK-PDM being flown by Sounds Air’s chief pilot Mark Blampied. The inaugural flight from Wellington arrived at Kaikoura at 9.00am with four passengers on board. Eight passengers were booked on the return flight which departed a few minutes later. Mark Blampied told the Kaikoura Star that “the inaugural flight went well and took just 38 minutes, despite flying into a head wind. It was also a very scenic flight despite the overcast conditions.” On hand to greet the passengers were Sounds Air’s managing director Andrew Crawford and Kaikoura Mayor Jim Abernethy. Andrew Crawford said “he was pleased the new service had been launched and he was looking forward to developing a successful air link between Kaikoura and the capital. While passenger numbers for this week were relatively light, feedback about the service had been excellent. If the passenger numbers are as good as the feedback it will be a very good service." 

Sounds Air managing director Andrew Crawford greets Georgina Muir, 2, the first passenger off the new return flight from Wellington on Monday. Photo : Kaikoura Star

Morning flights to Kaikoura departed Wellington at 8.00am and arrived at Kaikoura 8.45am. The return flight departed Kaikoura at 9.00am, arriving back at Wellington at 9.45am. The afternoon flight departed Wellington at 4.30pm arriving at Kaikoura 5.15pm and then departed Kaikoura at 5.30pm arriving back in the capital at 6.15pm.

Kaikoura Star 6 October 2004

Timetable effective 19 July 2004

Sounds Air tapped into quite a good support base at Kaikoura for the service to Wellington but in the long term there was not enough business to sustain it. The flights lost a certain level of support because the Airvan did not have IFR capability for when the Wellington or Kaikoura weather was marginal. The Caravan was later introduced but by then local support for the service had been reduced.

Sounds Air's Gippsland Airvan ZK-KLC, a.k.a. "Sounds Air Charlie" about to commence taxi at Kaikoura on 26 February 2005

In 2007 Sounds Air purchased Kaikoura-based Wings Over Whales which they operated for the next three years with John MacPhail continuing to manage this operation.

Meanwhile the Kaikoura service continued, albeit with a reduced frequency of six flights a week. It was never the success the company hoped for and by May 2009 services to Kaikoura had ceased. 

Still advertising in the Kaikoura Star, January 2009
Sounds Air sold Wings Over Whales back to John MacPhail in 2010 and this ended Sounds Air’s involvement in Kaikoura though the company occasionally operates charters to Kaikoura.

Sounds Air's Cessna Caravan at Kaikoura on a charter on 23 December 2008

The magnitude 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake on the 14th of November 2016 cut State Highway 1 both north and out of the town. Sounds Air were quick to respond the urgent needs and charter flights operated in the first days following the earthquake. On the 21st of November 2016 Sounds Air commenced operating a Monday to Friday Blenheim-Kaikoura-Christchurch VFR service. The company announced it was committed to operating the service for a minimum of 3 weeks while the need was there ensuring Kaikoura remained connected to the rest of the country.

The earthquake schedules effective 21 November 2016

The first week of the service saw all flights in and out of Kaikoura full. At the same time the company operated additional charter flights to cater for the various needs of the town's people and the people needing to access Kaikoura.

By the end of November the NDB approach into Kaikoura, which has been cancelled in February of that year, had been reactivated allowing IFR flights in and out of Kaikoura.

With the road to the south reopened the Christchurch-Kaikoura flights ended on the 27th January 2017 with Sounds Air maintaining a weekday Blenheim-Kaikoura-Blenheim service.

Blenheim - Kaikoura timetable effective 31 January 2017

Cessna 208 Caravan ZK-PDM at Kaikoura on a scheduled service from/to Blenheim on 23 February 2017

A photo essay of flights between Blenheim and Kaikoura can be found here:
and here:

Sounds Air continued operating a Blenheim-Kaikoura air service until the reopening of State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura. The last flights SDA31 from Blenheim to Kaikoura and SDA34 from Kaikoura to Blenheim were flown on the 29th of December 2017 under the command of Tom Williams in Cessna Caravan ZK-SAN. Speaking on Sounds Air's Kaikoura service Kaikoura Cheese co-owner Sarah Jenkins. "All the help that we've had... is the reason we are still going." Within days of the quake Sounds Air had offered Jenkins cargo space to fly cheese packages to market in Blenheim once or twice a week. "It's been fundamental to our survival," she said. "It's definitely a massive thank you from our family and staff." Ground crew member Sarah Butt, who was on the final flight, said one of the five passengers on board became quite emotional to learn it was the last flight. "The lady was very appreciative and emotional," she said.

The final flight about to depart Blenheim... Cessna Caravan ZK-SAN with Sarah Butt and Tom Williams

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