16 August 2015

Barrier Air - The Northern Regional Airline



Updated JULY 2022

On the 22nd of September 2014 Graham Reynolds formed Great Barrier Airlines Ltd to take over Great Barrier Airlines Flight Operations Ltd, which traded under the name Great Barrier Airlines which had operated services to Great Barrier Island since 1983. John Leggot and Peter Griffiths became shareholders in April 2017. Initially the company continued to operate as Great Barrier Airlines and operate its regular services from both Auckland and North Shore to Great Barrier Island using a mixture of piston aircraft, including two Piper Chieftains (one the Brazilian Embraer variant), a Britten Norman Islander and a Partenavia.

In late 2014 Air New Zealand announced its intention to withdraw its Auckland to Kaitaia service. After entering into an agreement with Far North Holdings, the Kaitaia airport operator, Great Barrier Airlines announced in February 2015 that it would offer services between Auckland and Kaitaia from the 28th of April 2015. The company planned to operate three daily flights each way on weekdays using a 12-seater Cessna 208B Grand Caravan with two flights a day on Saturdays and Sundays. Great Barrier Airlines' General Manager Murray Pope said the new service would bring many benefits for Far North residents. “Our schedules mean that business people will be able to undertake a full day’s business in Auckland before flying home in the evening. They will also be able to transfer to and from Wellington services.” 

Great Barrier Airlines first service from Kaitaia to Auckland took off from Kaitaia at 2.15pm on Wednesday 29 April 2015 with flight GBA616, being flown by Embraer EMB-820C ZK-RDT. The first inbound flight to Kaitaia, GBA619, was again flown in Embraer EMB-820C ZK-RDT. One of the passengers wrote on her Facebook page, Today was the first day that the new Great Barrier Airlines service between Kaitaia and Auckland operated and I really enjoyed being on the last flight in tonight. The WAKARERE was a 9 seater with 2 pilots and 4 passengers. Lovely takeoff, flight and landing. Bit bumpy coming in to KAITAIA but way quieter than the Air NZ flights used to be. Tenei taku whakatauki mo tena - Climb high, climb far. Your goal the sky, your aim the star. As well as using the Embraer 820C on the Kaitaia service Great Barrier Airlines also used Mainland Air's Piper PA31 Chieftain ZK-VIP and for a short time air2there's Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZK-MYH. 


Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZK-MYH which serviced the Kaitaia route for a short time. Photo taken at Auckland on 5 May 2015



On the 13th of July 2015 BN Islander ZK-FVD, Partenavia ZK-PLA and Embraer 820C ZK-RDT were registered to the new Great Barrier Airlines Ltd. 


A couple of days later on the 15th of July 2015 Great Barrier Airlines was renamed as Barrier Air. 

A tangible sign of the new company was the addition of Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDB to the fleet. The Caravan entered into service for the first time on the 11th of August 2015 flying from Auckland to Kaitaia and return. It flew to Great Barrier Island for the first time the following day.

Barrier Air's first Cessna Grand Caravan, ZK-SDB at Auckland on 29 September 2015

Also carrying Barrier Air titles is Britten Norman Island. Photo taken at Auckland on 26 October 2015

The Kaitaia schedule was reduced from the 17th of August 2015 with two flights being offered each way between Auckland and Kaitaia on weekdays and one flight each way on Saturdays and Sundays.




From November 2015 Barrier Air changed their Kaitaia timetable to better suit business traffic. The afternoon flights from this time were rescheduled to depart Kaitaia at 4.00pm instead of 2.00pm.


Embraer 820C ZK-RDT at Auckland on 19 December 2015

Piper PA31-Chieftain ZK-VIP at Auckland on 30 November 2015

In December 2015 Barrier Air introduced a Whangarei to Auckland service on Friday evenings with a return Auckland to Whangarei service on Sunday evenings. During the summer holidays Auckland-Whangarei return services were being offered on both Friday and Sunday evenings. Barrier Air also introduced a scheduled shuttle between Great Barrier Claris and Okiwi on Fridays and Sundays to connect Okiwi to Auckland and North Shore services. Piper Chieftain ZK-FOP was added to the fleet in December 2015 and it began flying for the company on the 27th of December 2015 when it operated the Kaitaia services. 





Barrier Air's Partenavia P68 ZK-PLA at Auckland on 30 December 2015.

For a pictorial post on Barrier Air's Cessna Grand Caravan operations see :

February 2016 saw further expansion. On the 4th of February 2016 Barrier Air commenced city hopper flights between Auckland International Airport and North Shore Airport allowing passengers to and from the North Shore a quick flight over Auckland's traffic congestion. This services were offered twice a day on weekdays. The first flight, GB310, was operated by Embraer 820 ZK-RDT. 






Then, on the 13th of February 2016, Barrier Air introduced flights between Hamilton and Auckland replacing the Air New Zealand service which had ended the day before. The first flight from Auckland, GB55, was operated by Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDB under the command of Travis McKee. 
The Hamilton schedule saw eleven flights offered each week as follows;


The mid-morning flights were timed to connect to Kiwi Regional flights to Nelson and Dunedin at Hamilton.

Announcing the arrival of Barrier Air flight 55 from Auckland 

Leading the way across the tarmac, Nick Pearson, Barrier Air's Logistics Manager (left) talks to the company's Chief Executive Mike Foster.





By the beginning of April 2016 the Hamilton schedule was reduced to operate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with flights leaving Auckland at 10.30am to arrive at Hamilton at 11.00am and leaving Hamilton at 12.00noon to arrive at Auckland at 12.30pm. The Okiwi-Claris and  Auckland-North Shore flights were withdrawn about this time.


Barrier Air added Piper PA31 Chieftain ZK-FOP to its fleet in December 2015. It is seen here arriving at Hamilton on 7 March 2016

On 2 May 2016 Barrier Air commenced weekday Auckland-Whangarei flights with Piper Chieftain ZK-VIP operating the first service. Flights left Auckland at 7.00am to arrive at Whangarei at 7.30am and Whangarei at 5.30pm to arrive at Auckland at 6.00pm. Between these flights the aircraft operated the doctors' flight between Whangarei and Kaitaia. Passengers could book flights between Auckland and Kaitaia subject to seats being available.


In August 2016 Barrier Air withdrew all three Piper Chieftains from its fleet. At the same time the doctors' flights between Whangarei and Kaitaia ended as well as the Auckland to Whangarei scheduled service. Flights between North Shore and Great Barrier Island were also reduced and these flights were usually operated by the BN Islander or Partenavia. 

Over the 2017/2018 summer there were a number of fleet changes. In October 2017 the Partenavia ZK-PLA was also withdrawn from the fleet, while in January 2018 a second Cessna Grand Caravan, ZK-SDC was added to the fleet. On the 20th of April 2018 Britten Norman Islander ZK-FVD was withdrawn from service after operating flight GB206 from Great Barrier Island to North Shore. 

The retirement of the BN Islander made Barrier Air an all turbine airline with two Cessna Grand Caravans. This was a significant milestone for the airline and a watershed moment which was the launch pad for a high level of professionalism, growing the business and  improving its passenger appeal. 

Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDC at Auckland on 25 June 2018




Before being withdrawn the North Shore service had been losing patronage and so Barrier Air took time to reassess the service before introducing the Caravan to the route. As part of this the company received the necessary certification to offer an IFR service on the route and have the Caravan certified for North Shore Airport. On the 10th of September 2018 Barrier Air resumed its flights between Great Barrier Island and North Shore. The Caravans were load-restricted to 12 passengers inbound and 10 out until two aircraft were fitted with a STOL kit which enables 12 passengers in and out. 

The first flights were operated in Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZK-SDC which departed Great Barrier Island's Claris airport as flight GB204 at 11.16am and arrived at North Shore at 11:40am. The return flight, GB205, departed North Shore and 12.17pm and arrived at Great Barrier Island (Claris) at 12:41pm. The North Shore flights operate on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.



Above and below, Barrier Air at North Shore in the form of Cessna Grand Caravan ZK=SDC - looking sharp in its new colour scheme on the 17th of December 2018
 


On the 16th of October 2018 Barrier Air added a third Cessna Grand Caravan to its fleet. ZK-SDD was also the first of Barrier Air's Caravan to appear in the company's new colour scheme with ZK-SDC being repainted a couple of weeks later. 

Cessna Caravans ZK-SDD and ZK-SDC wearing Barrier Air's new colour scheme at Auckland on 17 December 2018

As well as moving to a standardised colour scheme Barrier Air was also moving to develop the technology employed on the company's aircraft. All three Caravans feature the same G1000 GPS glass cockpit suite and Garmin integrated autopilot systems. The technology also includes synthetic vision systems. In practice, using GPS and other databases, the pilot can “look through” clouds and see terrain. If the terrain is coming too close the terrain turns red! Getting the technology right has been a major investment exercise for Barrier Air. Flying into Auckland can mean a lot of holding for larger aircraft. The new technology and patient working and developing of relationships with Airways and the airport company has enabled Barrier Air to develop IT systems to coordinate arrival slots in Auckland. The G1000 suite allows quick response to ATC requirements as the Barrier Air Caravans approach Auckland at busy times. All this investment has significantly reduced holding times at Auckland and vastly improved the quality of the service delivered to the customer. 

The glass cockpit as seen in ZK-SDB in November 2015

The Caravan has proved itself as a good platform for Barrier Air. Matt Cameron, Barrier Air’s chief pilot believes “Having more than one Caravan was the game changer for Barrier Air. The Caravan is incredibly reliable with a dispatch rate internationally of about 99% and our experience would match that - that’s with the Caravan possibly operating for 7 to 9 hours a day. For every hour flown money is put aside for maintenance so there is always money for maintenance. Most maintenance is done at Flight Care in Napier with the checks being done every 200 hours. When the Caravan is done there a swarm of engineers work on it so all the checks are done it can be returned to service as quickly as possible.  The Caravan is incredibly reliable but for the other niggles that come up between servicing at Napier support is provided by Oceania at Ardmore.” Barrier Air remains committed to ensure the high standards of safety and ensuring the aircraft are presented looking good. 



With increasing numbers of passenger, from the 15th of October 2018, Barrier Air added two extra Auckland-Great Barrier weekday return flights to the schedule with an additional flight on Saturdays and Sundays. In summer there are days when 15 flights can be operated between Auckland and the Barrier. Barrier Air's Chief Operating Officer Grant Bacon says the airline has “really focused on getting Aucklanders to experience Great Barrier Island. It’s a good, local ‘overseas’ destination that you fly to from an international airport and it’s off the grid! People love the Barrier and there are a growing number of accommodation providers giving different options for people wanting to get away from it all. Often our flights are full both ways, especially with weekend traffic. Freight is also growing and two supermarkets have deals with Barrier Air to fly groceries to the Barrier. You can have anything from 6 to 60-70 boxes a day.”



Barrier Air Cessna 208 Grand Caravan ZK-SDC taken at Great Barrier Island on 8 April 2019

Barrier Air's third Cessna Grand Caravan, ZK-SDD at Auckland on 4 October 2020



On the 4th of March 2019 Barrier Air added an additional six return flights a week to its service between Auckland and Kaitaia thereby giving Kaitaia a daily service. The new flights were offered Wednesday through to Monday, departing Auckland for Kaitaia at 11.00am and the return flights departing Kaitaia at 12.40pm. On the 30th of July 2019 a Tuesday flight was added to this schedule giving a total of 13 flights a week between Auckland and Kaitaia. Grant Bacon, Barrier Air's Chief Operating Officer, told 3rd Level NZ that "The loads to and from Kaitaia have been excellent and well received by the market." 

Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDD at Kaitaia on 2 March 2020

Northland Age, 26 March 2019

From the 27th of September 2019 Barrier Air operated its first "double Friday evening flight" to Kaitaia. Due to increasing passenger numbers the airline adds an additional Friday evening service to and from Kaitaia whenever the 6.15pm departure from Auckland is full, with the second flight departing from Auckland at 6.30pm.

Barrier Air's inaugural double Friday evening service to Kaitaia... Cessna 208 Grand Caravans ZK-SDC and ZK-SDD on the ground at Kaitaia on Friday on 27 September 2019




Like all other airlines in New Zealand Barrier Air was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. The services to Kaitaia were halted, however, Barrier Air were needed to operate a daily life-line flight schedule to Great Barrier Island throughout the lockdown period. The flights were limited to all freight services including food boxes, medicine, medical samples, NZ Post and any other freight. The airline was also able to carry essential staff critical to Great Barrier Island. Initially a daily flight was offered but by the 8th of April a second flight was needed.

With the country moved to Level 2, the Great Barrier Island schedule moved to three flights a day from the 14th of May 2020 and the Kaitaia service resumed on the 20th of May 2020 with three flights per week. The Kaitaia flights have slowly built up and from the 14th of August 2020 the town was again receiving a daily service. On the 10th of September 2020 flights resumed between North Shore and Great Barrier Island.

Cessna 208 Grand Caravan ZK-SDC at North Shore on 10 September 2020

The reduction in services due to the Covid restrictions enabled Barrier Air to get ahead of its normal maintenance schedule as part of the airline's proactive rather than reactive maintenance and safety programmes. As part of this Barrier Air's first Grand Caravan, ZK-SDB, was repainted and had a couple of extra jobs done on it "to keep the aircraft in top condition." For a brief time it operated in an all white colour scheme.

Barrier Air's first Cessna 208B Grand Caravan in an all white colour scheme at Auckland on 31 August 2020...

... and in the full colour scheme at Auckland on 4 October 2020...

The 11th of September 2020 marked another step in Barrier Air's transformation with the arrival back in Auckland of the company's first Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, ZK-SDB, repainted in Barrier Air's full company livery. Barrier Air's fleet now carry the same livery. Nick Pearson, Barrier Air's Chief Executive Officer said, "This is a real milestone for our airline and is a visual representation of all of the hard work by many people over the past 5 years to make Barrier Air the professional, reliable and safe airline that you see today. The team at Flightcare in Napier have done a great job maintaining our aircraft and the recent paint work is a testament to the high level of service they provide."

Looking sharp! With the return of "Bravo" the Barrier Air fleet at Auckland, with from left to right ZK-SDB, ZK-SDD and ZK-SDC. 

From the 20th of January 2021 Barrier Air increased their frequency on their Great Barrier Island-North Shore service to two return flights daily, except on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Flights departed North Shore at 9.00am and 12 noon and Great Barrier Island at 10.50am and 4.00pm for the 30 minute flight. To facilitate the new flights Barrier Air leased an additional Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SLA from True South in Queenstown. This was based at North Shore. Barrier Air's new CEO, Grant Bacon, told 3rd Level New Zealand, "We are essentially at capacity right now for Auckland and with only doing 3 flights a week at North Shore there is plenty of room for growth. The demand for North Shore significantly drops off in winter so we will schedule it until the end of April and review it but will certainly at least continue our existing winter schedule using our existing fleet after April." ZK-SLA operated with Barrier Air until the beginning of April when the schedule dropped to a daily service.

Leased Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SLA at Great Barrier Island's Claris airport on 20 January 2021

On the 4th of May 2021 Barrier Air announced today it would commence daily services between Auckland International and Whitianga.  Services will commence on the 16th of December 2021. The service will use Barrier Air's Cessna 208 Grand Caravans with the airline in the process of purchasing a fourth Cessna Grand Caravan to cater for the new Whitianga service. The company announced that it would work with CAA to reactivate the RNAV approach at Whitianga enabling IFR flights, the first such flights that have been offered on an air service to Whitianga. It was envisage that morning flights would depart Auckland for Whitianga at 7.30am with a return flight at 8.30am Monday to Saturday. Afternoon flights would depart Auckland at 3.30pm and with the return flight departing Whitianga at 4.30pm. Grant Bacon, Barrier Air's CEO, told 3rd Level NZ, We are excited to be launching our new route to Whitianga later this year. With our now successful Kaitaia route I feel that Whitianga will be a lot easier than Kaitaia was. A couple of years ago when we increased our services to Kaitaia to 27 sectors per week we felt it was a big risk and would either make or break us. But at the time we made some really good relationships up in the far north with local business, the iwi and locals. We walked the streets promoting the service in Kaitaia and it actually started to work. Post-Covid it is near the record levels of summer 2019/20 and we are really pleased with how Kaitaia is going. So based on this experience, Whitianga has a larger populations base, it’s a tough commute via road and people have more ties to Auckland with family and holiday homes etc and the region is very marketable which is why we have decided to give it a crack

The Mercury Bay Informer, 20 July 2021

Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDB lands on the cross runway at Great Barrier Island's Claris airport on 20 January 2021

Covid-19 continued to play havoc with Barrier Air's plans throughout 2021 as it did to many operators. One of those that succumbed to the challenges of Covid and the economic downturn was Barrier Air's competition on the Auckland-Great Barrier Island route, Fly My Sky, which went into liquidation on the 29th of June 2021. 

All of New Zealand moved to Alert Level 4 Lockdown at 11:59pm on the 17th of August 2021 meaning the suspension of most domestic airline operations. While most of New Zealand was out of lockdown by the end of the month Auckland remained in lockdown and Barrier Air's regular scheduled services remained suspended until the 15th of December 2021. Meanwhile the airline operated at least two freight flights a day to meet the need of Great Barrier Island residents. Towards the end of the lockdown and beyond Barrier Air was operating regular special flights between Auckland and Hawera in support of the response to a Covid-19 outbreak in South Taranaki.

With Fly My Sky's closure Barrier Air needed extra capacity and a fourth Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, ZK-SDE, entered service on the 23rd of October 2021, flying two return freight flights from Auckland to Great Barrier Island, BARRIER 101 and return 102 this morning and 109 and return 110. 





With Auckland coming out of lockdown Barrier Air commenced Auckland-Whitianga flights on the 16th of December 2021. Doing the honours under the command of Daryl Williamson was Barrier Air's newest Cessna 208 Grand Caravan ZK-SDE. On board BARRIER 401, the inaugural flight, were 8 passengers with 7 passengers on the return to Auckland, BARRIER 402. There was a nice crowd gathered to see the arrival of the first flight including the local fire brigade who gave a water arch salute to welcome the first scheduled IFR service. 

Daryl Williamson, pilot for the inaugural services and Barrier Air's CEO Grant Bacon...

Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDE at Auckland after the first flight to and from Whitianga on the 16th of December 2021

Barrier Air route map as from 16 December 2021

Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZK-SDE at Auckland on 28 March 2022

Operating the lunchtime service into Kaitaia on 5 April 2022 was Barrier Air's Cessna 208 Grand Caravan ZK-SDB, my ride back to Auckland


In April 2022 Barrier Air announced that they are upping the frequency of their flights to Whitianga. From the 1st of December there will be three return flights between Auckland and Whitianga each weekday, one on Saturdays and two on Saturdays. The schedule will see flights departing Auckland at 7.00am Monday to Friday, 7.30am on a Saturday and 3.30pm and 5.30pm Sunday to Friday. The return flights depart Whitianga at 8.00am Monday to Friday, 8.30am on a Saturday and 4.30pm and 6.30pm Sunday to Friday. 

In June 2022 Barrier Air announced details of a new Great Barrier Island-Tauranga service which will start on the 2nd of December 2022. The airline is starting the new service with three flights being offered each week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The flight from Great Barrier Island to Tauranga will depart at 4.20pm and arrive at 5.00pm. The return flight will leave Tauranga at 5.45pm and arrive at Great Barrier Island at 6.25pm. An economy fare is $175 while a premium fare in $189.


Barrier Air's CEO Grant Bacon said "It is great to be growing our route network into destinations like Tauranga. The population in the city is at a level which we think a scheduled service to Great Barrier Island will work well and it gives us a base at Tauranga to pursue other routes in the future. These are uncertain times and operating costs are going thru the roof but the 3 x weekly schedule gives us the opportunity with limited exposure." 

Later social media coverage indicated that the decision has been made to limit the Tauranga service to the summer months through too Easter 2023.



 

The company had previously announced that a fifth Cessna Grand Caravan had been purchased from France for delivery in July/August.

In an interview on Whitianga-based Altbays Studios' YouTube channel in June 2022 Barrier Air's CEO Grant Bacon gave a good overview of the airline's operation. Speaking about the Whitianga service he said there were "great passenger numbers to Whitianga from day one… May (2022) has been the best month since the service started." He also acknowledged that there were sectors where there only a couple of people – but often the return flight was well booked. It was rare to have small numbers both way. Unlike Great Barrier Island flights where there a lot of passengers on a Friday heading to the Barrier and not many returning and the reverse on a Sunday, the Whitianga flights tended to be full on Fridays and Sundays both ways. The airline had seriously committed to the Whitianga service spending some $50,000 to re-establish the RNAV approach.

Speaking on the Great Barrier Island service he said the airline flies between 5 and 22 return flights each day. The main function is servicing Great Barrier Islanders carrying them, their freight, food and mail. Freight can be challenging, with 4 or 5 tonnes to fly to the Barrier one day and 1 tonne the next day.  The Great Barrier Island route is very seasonal. This year it meant Barrier Air had 41 to 43 staff employed over the summer, while next summer it will be more like 50. 

Speaking on the northern service he said "Kaitaia keeps going from strength to strength. It is the  backbone route beyond the Barrier as Kaitaia is more steady all year round." 

Since its inception as Barrier Air the airline has transformed itself from an operator with a hotch-potch fleet of piston aircraft to a modern airline with a professional and dynamic management, enthusiastic staff and a fleet of three, soon to be four, turbo-prop Cessna Grand Caravans equipped with state of the art navigational equipment and presented with a modern corporate colour scheme. The airline's investment has paid off with the airline carrying some 70,000 passengers per annum and with a reputation among Great Barrier Island and Kaitaia locals as a solid operator. This busy airline continues to look to grow its business as it comfortably and confidently weathers the challenges all airlines face as it climbs even higher.

2 comments:

  1. Its a shame they have cut back on a lot of flights as they were covering a lot of ports. Who took over the Doctors flights was it Sunair?

    ReplyDelete