13 December 2015

Oamaru's first Christchurch connection - South Island Airways

On the 1st of July 1952 Air Services Licensing Authority granted permission to Christchurch-based Airwork (N.Z.), Ltd. to operate a scheduled air service between Christchurch’s Harewood airport, Ashburton and Timaru. By the early 1950s Airwork (NZ) was already involved in aircraft engineering, aircraft sales, and aerial work. The company proposed to operate the service under visual flight rules and and it granting the application the Licensing Authority made the condition that it was to commence within nine months.  Airwork’s application for a similar licence for a scheduled air service between Harewood and Blenheim was declined on the ground that the New Zealand National Airways Corporation had applied for a service over the same route but operating under Instrument flight rules.

In late September the company returned to the Air Services Licensing Authority to seek an extension of the licence granted in July to include Oamaru. Mr Charles Brazier, managing director of Airwork (N.Z.) Ltd., explained in the Christchurch Press that “a time limit of nine months had been fixed by the Air Services Licensing Authority for the inauguration of the service between Christchurch and Timaru, unless there were delays beyond the firm's control. There was now likely to be considerable delay in bringing the Levels airport at Timaru up to the required standard, and it would be at least a year before the aerodrome was ready. Therefore an application had been made for a licence to operate a Harewood-Ashburton-Oamaru service until the Levels airport was ready.” At the time of this application work was already underway on preparing an ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force, de Havilland Dominie bought by Airwork for use on the proposed services to South Canterbury and North Otago. Negotiations were progressing, he said, for the purchase of a second Rapide.

The new airline, which was operated as a division of Airwork (N.Z.) Ltd, operated under the name South Island Airways. Services were finally inaugurated on the 24th of February 1953 when de Havilland DH89 Dominie ZK-BBP, under the command of chief pilot Brian Chadwick, flew from Christchurch to Ashburton and Oamaru and return. There were five passengers on the first flight including Mr C. Brazier, Airwork’s managing director. There were three passengers on the northbound service from Oamaru. Letters from the Mayor of Christchurch, Mr R. M. Macfarlane, were carried Captain Chadwick to the Mayor of Ashburton, Mr E. C. Bathurst, and the Mayor of Oamaru, Mr F. A. Cooney. The Dominie was painted silver with blue trim and the name South Island Airways on fuselage in the same blue.

A crowd of people standing round South Island Airways de Havilland DH89B Dominie at Ashburton on the first day of the service, the 24th of February 1953. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-32743-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23506576
Unidentified men standing in front of a South Island Airways airplane at Ashburton, Canterbury Region. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-32742-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23505871

Initially two flights a week were flown on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These were normally flown by the Dominie but when this was unavailable, the Canterbury Aero Club’s de Havilland DH90 Dragonfly ZK-AFB was hired. From the 15th of May 1953 the schedule was changed with morning and afternoon services being flown on Monday and Fridays. The Oamaru Mail reported that “The new service should prove more popular with North Otago travellers. The first plane will depart from Harewood at 7.45 a.m. and arrive at Oamaru at 9.50 a.m. It will leave Oamaru at 9.50 a.m. and reach Harewood again at 10.25 a.m. This morning service, a direct one, will enable Oamaru passengers to join N.A.C. aircraft at Harewood for nearly all destinations in the North Island. To connect with the 7.45 plane to Oamaru an airways coach will pick up passengers arriving by the steamer express at 7.30 a.m. at the west end of the Christchurch Railway Station (by arrangement). In the afternoon a plane will leave Harewood at 2.00 p.m., arrive at Ashburton at 2.30 p.m., depart Ashburton at 2.40 p.m. and reach Oamaru at 3.40 p.m. It will leave Oamaru at 3.55 p.m. arrive at Ashburton at 4.50 p.m., depart Ashburton at 5.00 p.m. and reach Harewood at 5.30 p.m. This plane will connect with the last aircraft from Harewood to Wellington and will also enable Oamaru passengers to join the steamer express. The South Island Airways are offering a special reduced fare for the daily Oamaru-Harewood return trip. “The new schedule, especially the morning timetable, should suit this district," an official commented to The Mail to-day. "The patronage accorded the service has not been very good so far and we do not want to lose it,” he added.”

The Oamaru Mail of the 30th of June 1953 carried the news that “The citizens of Oamaru are certainly not airminded. After several months of negotiations Oamaru fortunate to receive feeder air services linking the town with Dunedin and Christchurch. Now, after less than 12 months’ operation, Southern Scenic Airways intend to apply for the cancellation of their service between Oamaru and Dunedin. Airwork Ltd., which had been running a double service weekly between Oamaru and Christchurch has now decided to reduce the service to two trips each way per week. Both services have been affected by the lack of support from the public.”

From the 14th of September 1953 Timaru was included in the service. Again the first flight was flown by Brian Chadwick in Dominie ZK-BBP. The following year, on the 1st of February 1954, a new Christchurch to Nelson service was commenced. This necessitated the acquisition of a second aircraft and de Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-BCP entered service early in 1954. The first flight to Nelson turned out not altogether successful, the flight being disrupted by torrential rain at Nelson forcing the Dominie to land its passengers at Blenheim from where they completed their journey by taxi. Later the weather improved so Chadwick was able to fly from Blenheim to Nelson, returning to Christchurch later in the day. Being restricted to VFR operations meant the plane, at times, had to fly up the east coast before crossing to Nelson from Blenheim. The Nelson service initially operated on Mondays and Fridays. 

The first flight to Nelson on 1 February 1954... from left Bill Best (engineer), Jennifer Russell (ground hostess) and Brian Chadwick (pilot)

First Day Cover for the inaugural South Island Airways flight from Christchurch to Nelson

Growth in passenger numbers was slow. In the year ended 31 March 1954 South Island Airways had carried 1625 passengers and flew a total of 57,927 miles. Nonetheless the service to South Canterbury and North Otago was extended to five days a week on the 1st of October 1954 while at the same time the Nelson service, was extended to three flights a week. Later, this service also was operated five days a week.

The Oamaru Mail of the 18th of August 1954 carried a great article on the air service…

Breakfast in Oamaru, six hours in Christchurch and back home in time for tea, that is possible now that Oamaru has an air service linking it with the northern city. In addition the service now puts Oamaru closer to the international airline routes of the world than many northern cities, such as Wellington and Palmerston North. From October 1 the service will enable Oamaru residents to join National Airways planes for the north, Oamaru to Wellington in about 5 hours and the Trans-Tasman service, Oamaru to Syndey in about seven hours. Oamaru to Nelson, a long tiring journey by road or rail, is now reduced to a comfortable trip of about four hours. These are just a few of the advantages that Oamaru has gained with the decision of South Island Airways to make the feeder service between Christchurch and Oamaru a daily 0ne. As each town progresses it must move with the times. Air travel is now an accepted mode of transport, and with an aerodrome second to none in the South Island and prospects of a reception centre at an early date, it is probable that the new service will receive the support it deserves. Mr Brian Chadwick, pilot of South Island Airways, has now proved the efficiency of the new service and it is the intention of the company to station a pilot in Oamaru early in October. Oamaru maybe a back water as far as its harbour is concerned, but as regards its airport and facilities it has a clear lead over Timaru, Ashburton, Dunedin and Invercargill. Yesterday a representative was the guest of South Island Airways on a flight from Oamaru to Christchurch and return.

Pleasant Travelling
In wartime a rather trite saying was: "He who flies high and fast comes back for breakfast." Today it is more appropriate to say "They that fly slow and low see all as they go. If travelling at a mere 130 miles per hour, that is the speed tit the South Island Airways' plane, is slow then travellers have an excellent opportunity to see the country-side. On yesterday morning's flight the reporter had Mr T. L. Hayman. member for the district, as a fellow passenger and Mr Hayman was able to identify almost every farm between Oamaru and Timaru. An excellent view was obtained of the "sluice box” arrangement near the coast at Willowbridge which is an ingenious arrangement for breaking up the shingle bar at the outlet of the river. The shingle bar continues along the coast for about 10 miles and all water runs along a man-made drain to gain egress to the sea at the break in the shingle bank. It was a cold but clear morning and the snow-capped, rugged mountains, Cook, Tasman and Sefton, stood out clearly in the early morning sunshine. This sight was one highlight of the trip and it is doubtful that a better view could be obtained. The reporter was surprised to find that from 1500 feet it was very easy to pick out the good from the bad -- at least as far as farmers are concerned. No doubt it would be a good thing for all farmers and inspectors to view adjoining farmlands from the air.

Places Sighted
Among other places viewed from aloft were Burnham camp, Paparua prison and Caroline Bay. In addition it was rather surprising to find so many race tracks on private land in Canterbury. They gave the impression that every farmer is a private trainer. Criticisms there might he but air travellers could not help but be impressed with the well cultivated farmland, particularly as the effects of aerial top-dressing can now be seen. On the trip north two passengers joined the plane at Timaru and a final passenger was taken aboard at Ashburton. Four of the passengers had N.A.C. connections for the north. Mr Hayman was scheduled to be in Wellington by mid-day, two women passengers were to join a plane for Palmerston North and a male passenger was booked through to Auckland. The other passengers travelled into Christchurch. One elderly woman who joined the plane at Timaru had never travelled by air previously. She said that her two brothers were both prone to travel sickness but both had recently travelled to Britain by plane. completing the journey in four days without any ill effects. She added that that had decided her to "try it out" and on landing at Harewood she was an enthusiast who believed in air travel.

Not Too Old
The highlight of the journey home was the care and attention given to a 94-year-old passenger travelling to Timaru. The fragile old Scots lady gave orders to the pilot to leave his door open and to point to her all items of interest. On landing at Timaru she thanked the pilot for her "very pleasant and informative trip.” The plane on the feeder service is an eight-seat, Dominie. It has been the Oamaru-Christchurch run for over 15 months and has not had an accident of any kind. In addition the service has only been "scrubbed" on four occasions--a record which B.O.A.C. or National Airways would be proud to have.

Tried And Trusted
When the Oamaru plane landed at Harewood it was in plenty of time for passengers to make the connection with T.E.A.L.'s D.C.6 which lands in Sydney at mid-afternoon. The reporter watched the giant plane prepare to depart. Then he spent six hours in the city and left by taxi for the ‘drome. On the way the taxi developed a knock so a relief car was ordered by radio telephone. It arrived within minutes and the passengers reported to Harewood on time. It was then necessary to await the landing of the Douglas D.C.6 which was returning to Harewood after losing an engine half way across the Tasman. Road transport and the international air service had failed -- but the Oamaru air service unobtrusively continued without the slightest hitch.

In 1955 a third de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide was used for some months. ZK-BFK made its first flight with South Island Airways under the command of Chief Pilot Brian Chadwick on the 25th of April 1955.

A rather forlorn looking DH Dragon Rapide ZK-BFK at Christchurch 

The airline continued to struggle however, and after almost three years the airline was still not profitable. Part of the problem was that the Dominie was not a suitable aircraft, particularly for the Nelson service. The company were keen to purchase a more powerful IFR equipped aircraft but the company was unable to raise the finance or gain Government support to purchase such aircraft. This led to Airwork making the inevitable decision to close down the airline. The final flight to Nelson was flown by Brian Chadwick on the 6th of January 1956 and the final flight to Timaru and Oamaru was flown by Brian Waugh on the 10th of February 1956.

For the first time, Oamaru lost its air service!

John Brazier- managing director
Sel Prestney- company secretary
Brian Chadwick- chief pilot
Brian Waugh- pilot
Gisele Panter- ground hostess
Jack Mackersy- aircraft engineer
Charlie Savage- aircraft engineer

A puzzler... DH89 Dominie ZK-BBP but where is it taken???

ZK-BBP de Havilland DH89B Dominie (c/n 6668)
ZK-BCP de Havilland DH89B Dominie (c/n 6648)
ZK-BFK de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide 4 (c/n 6903) - hired for a few months from April 1955

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