10 January 2016

Air Chathams - Growing beyond the Chathams

Updated October 2020

Any regional or 3rd level airline that wants to survive in New Zealand really needs a niche market. One regional airline success story is Air Chathams which has grown from a fleet of one Cessna 337 in 1985 to a fleet of five Convairs, three Saabs, an ATR 72, three Metroliners, a Rockwell Commander 690 and a Cessna 206 in 2018. It also started in 1985 with the vision of one man, Craig Emeny.

In 1973 Craig was accepted into the RNZAF as an aircraft engineer and airframe trainee at the age of 16. Over the next two years he was involved in maintenance and inspection of DC3's, Harvards, Andovers, Devons, Bristol Frieghters, Skyhawks, and Strikemasters. During this time he joined the aviation sports club and began flying training in gliders. In January 1979 he gained his PPL and purchased a Jodel D11. Having resigned from the RNZAF he completed his commerical pilots licence in November. By November 1981 he had completed his twin engine instrument rating while at the same time flying VFR charter work for Air Central. In January 1982 Mt Hutt Aviation Ltd employed him to ferry Cessna 180 ZK-BEZ to the Chatham Islands and to establish an air service within the Chatham Islands group based at an airfield at Owenga. In June 1982 he ferried a 1979 model Cessna 180 from the USA to New Zealand and this became ZK-EYH (c/n 180-53011) which was used to operate an air taxi/air charter service within the Chathams group. 

Craig Emeny's original Cessna 180 ZK-EYH at the strip at Owenga.

Seeing the need for this air service to Pitt Island and for a more economic way to get the crayfish to mainland New Zealand Craig and Judy Emeny decided to form their own Chatham Island based operation and they purchased Air Rarotonga's Cessna 337F Super Skymaster, ZK-TAI (c/n 337-01456) in 1984. Initially the aircraft was operated under Napier-based East Air’s licence with crayfish and passengers being flown from the Chathams to the mainland. Most flights went to Gisborne but the 337 also flew to other mainland destinations as well as providing a regular link to smaller Pitt Island. The impact was immediate – the return on live crayfish increased from $6.80 per kg to $10.00 per kg! 

Cessna 337F ZK-TAI seen still sporting the same livery it flew in for Air Rarotonga photographed while on maintenance at Hastings on the 20th of February 1985. At this stage it was still operating on East Air's licence.

On the 4th of November 1985 Craig Emeny was granted his own aerial work and air transport licence and began operating in his own right. 

Repainted and titled - Cessna 337F ZK-TAI on a visit to Christchurch on 4 May 1986

On the 3rd of December 1986 disaster struck the young company when the nose wheel of ZK-TAI collapsed on Pitt Island's Waipaua strip. On board were the newly appointed Catholic Bishop of Christchurch and the local Catholic Parish Priest. No one was injured, though the bishop did sport a black eye which caused suitable comment on his return to the mainland.

Within seven days the company had found a replacement aircraft in the form of Cessna P337G Super Skymaster II ZK-TSH (c/n P337-0252), which had previously been owned by the racing driver Chris Amon. TSH was a pressurised turbo charged model with a Robertson STOL kit, thus providing more speed and comfort on the flights to the mainland while being able to operate easily to Pitt Island. 

Air Chathams' second Cessna 337, ZK-TSH, at Christchurch on 22 March 1987

Air Chathams' freight service "to New Zealand" continued to grow rapidly and the company looked for a larger aircraft than the Cessna 337. This arrived in New Zealand in January 1988 in the form of a Beech 65-B80 Queen Air which was initially operated under its American registration, N640K (c/n LD-430). It was later placed on the New Zealand civil aircraft register as ZK-CIA. The Queen Air was used for flights to the mainland while the Cessna 337 was kept to maintain the service between Chatham and Pitt Islands.

Above, the Beech Queen Air at Christchurch on 4 April 1988 still in her American registration, N640K. Below, the Queen Air has assumed her New Zealand identity, ZK-CIA. Photo taken at Christchurch on 23 April 1988.

The Queen Air could carry nine passengers or one ton of freight. NZ Wings wrote a profile on Air Chathams in October 1996, and this spoke of the aircraft’s “cabin class comfort and capability.” Air charter freight operations remained the bread and butter work for the growing company. Passengers fitted in and around the freight operations but the plane was used for charter flights enabling Chatham Islanders to attend rugby matches, races, funerals and the likes easily without being constrained by the Safe Air schedule. In the article Craig Emeny described the impact of the Queen Air on the Chathams economy: “The biggest thing was the increase in crayfish prices, from $7 a kilo up to $50 in winter. We more than doubled the returns to the fishermen, and the cash flow quadrupled for the locals. The factories wanted to take shares in the company and control the airline, but I wanted to run an air transport operation only. That led to a lack of investment capital but a continuing trust. You must stick to your principles." Air Chathams was becoming a fast growing part of the island's economy.

No sign of the Beech Queen Air's American registration, but marked as the purists like it, with a "ZK-", ZK-CIA at Nelson on 5 October 1991.

Pitt Island’s Waipaua strip again proved problematic in 1988. On the 6th of September 1988 Cessna 337 ZK-TSH was caught by wind shear on take-off and ran into scrub and fern, badly damaging a wing and twisting the fuselage.

In 1996 NZ Wings reported that “Craig Emeny is not one to dispose of his aircraft unnecessarily - he still has the hulks of both Cessna 337s, one in a shed behind his house at Te One, Chatham Island, and the other in Taranaki. ‘One day I'm going to rebuild one good 337 out of the two. One day.’”

Cessna 337 ZK-TAI looking rather sad on the 18th of October 1987

Sadly, since then, ZK-TAI has been scrapped. It would have made a wonderful addition to the development of the Chathams Island's aviation museum given it was the first of Air Chathams' aircraft. 

On the 10th of March 1988 the aerial work and air transport licences that held in the name of Craig Emeny were issued to Air Transport (Chatham Islands) Limited

With Cessna 337 ZK-TSH's written-off Air Chathams had need for a new aircraft to service the on-demand Pitt Island flights. The Pitt Island service had established itself as an important passenger and freight link to Pitt Island as well as being important for the freighting of fish from Pitt to the Tuuta airport on Chatham for connecting flights to the mainland. The Pitt Island plane was also extremely useful for off shore search and rescue work as well as sightseeing flights.

The replacement aircraft came in the form of Cessna U206F Stationair ZK-DOA (c/n U206-02203) which was registered to Air Chathams on 8 September 1989. Despite a rather unfortunate registration it proved to be a faithful workhorse for many years. The aircraft was also useful in emergency situations. In 1996 local doctor was flown to Pitt in atrocious conditions in the Cessna after a paua diver experienced a shark attack suffering deep bites on his back, arms and neck, losing a great deal of blood. The patient was flown back to Chatham before being transferred to the mainland in Air Chathams’ Metroliner ZK-CIC.

Cessna 206 ZK-DOA on Pitt Island in April 1996.

The following series of photos sent to me by Dave Paull of the NZ Civil Aviation blog (http://www.nzcivair.blogspot.com/) give a great example of the Pitt Island operation, though they don't do ZK-DOA justice with her covered in anti-corrosion paint... The photos were taken on Chatham on the 18th of October 1997.

Preparing for a flight to Pitt with empty plastic tubs for fish on the return flight..
A mix of passenger(s), freight and empty fish containers taxiing for the flight to Pitt..
The heavy load of fish has arrived back from Pitt ready to be transhipped to the waiting Convair

Safe Air had connected the Chathams to New Zealand for many years but in September 1990 the company closed its airline division and withdrew its Argosy aircraft. Air Chathams took this opportunity to expand its operation and the Beech Queen Air was replaced by a 15-seat turboprop Beech 99 (c/n U-68), ZK-CIB, which arrived in August 1991. With the introduction of the Beech 99 Air Chathams began scheduled services in competition with Mount Cook Airline who had been selected to operate Safe Air's replacement air service.

With a price tag of $1.2 million dollars, the purchase of the Beech 99 was a big investment for the company. The Beech marked a big step up for Air Chathams and it was this aircraft that established the shape of Air Chathams as an airline. The turbo prop was faster than Mount Cook's 748s and could carry about one and a half ton of freight or up to 15 passengers on the service to New Zealand. In October 1991 Air Chathams began a twice weekly scheduled service to Wellington and a weekly service to Napier with other non-scheduled freight flights operated as required.

Air Chathams' Beech 99, ZK-CIB, at Napier on 21 January 1992.

Meanwhile, the Beech Queen Air ZK-CIA found no work and it was eventually flown to Bridge Pa Airport at Hastings where it languished and grew moss for many years until it was sold to a local farmer in 2014.

Sadly languishing... Beech Queen Air ZK-CIA at Bridge Pa on 30 November 2013 

The Beech 99 proved to be a great success and passenger and freight traffic grew despite fierce competition from Mount Cook Airline. In September 1993 Air Chatham added Fairchild SA227-AC Metroliner III ZK-CIC (c/n AC623B) to its fleet. At the same time the company introduced a more comprehensive schedule to the mainland with twice weekly flights from the Chathams to Christchurch and three or four flights to Wellington, one of these also including Napier. Flying at 250 knots with a capacity of 17 cubic metres and equipped with a rear-loading cargo door measuring 1.3 metres, the Metroliner was an ideal combi aircraft, being used to transport one tonne of freight with 11 passengers or in an all-cargo configuration carrying two tonnes. In early 1994, after the arrival of the Metroliner, the Beech 99 ZK-CIB was sold and exported back to the USA as N900AR.

A desperation shot of ZK-CIC but one which shows off the advantage of the Metroliner's large rear cargo hatch. The Metroliner, while crammed, offered a pressurised cabin and more flexibility to the expanding airline. Taken at Christchurch on 28 April 1994

Like Air Chathams', Mount Cook Airline's Hawker Siddeley 748 air service was not subsidised. This led to a fierce air war between the two airlines to gain a greater share in the marketplace. A discounting battle ensued resulting in bigger losses for both companies. In late 1995 changes were announced for changes to air services to the Chatham Islands. Air Chathams announced they were intending to purchase a Convair 580 which was slightly larger and certainly more suitable than the Hawker Siddeleys while Mount Cook Airlines announced that the ATR 72-210 had been selected as the replacement for their Hawker Siddeley 748 fleet. A bigger change was to come, however, when quite unexpectedly Mount Cook Airline announced an end to its scheduled flights to the Chatham Islands from the 29th of January 1996. Mount Cook officials said freight and passenger numbers had not met expectations and were at a level that would not be economic if ATR 72s were used. Craig Emeny, owner of Air Chathams, was later to say of their advantage over Mount Cook was "that we're operating from the Chathams... We're based here, we live on the island and our priority and focus are for the Chathams."

With the withdrawal of the Mount Cook service Air Chathams became the sole operator to the Chatham Islands and with the Convair not yet delivered flights were maintained using Metroliner ZK-CIC. With Mount Cook gone the future looked bright for Air Chathams but on the 17th of February 1996, the Civil Aviation Authority grounded the company after a supposedly normal inspection the previous month. In grounding Air Chathams the CAA raised questions about the pilots’ Metroliner ratings and whether the pilots were properly trained or checked. The CAA also questioned whether the check pilot was appropriately licensed and expressed doubts about the prescribed safety standards, practices and training being recorded correctly.

Suddenly the Chathams was without any air service and while Air Chathams challenged the grounding in the High Court, the company chartered Airwork’s Metros ZK-NSS and ZK-POA to maintain an interim service. Despite this interim air service the grounding had a serious effect on the Chatham Islands economy with the local Fishermen’s Association describing the grounding as "bureaucratic heavy-handedness" with the partial replacement service leading to a backlog of fish to be air freighted at the height of the fishing season.

Heavy in the tail... Metroliner ZK-CIC fuelled and loaded starts at Christchurch for the long haul to the Chathams on 11 November 1996.

Eventually, following the High Court hearing, Air Nelson which had a large fleet of Metroliners was called upon to test Air Chathams’ seven pilots to determine whether CAA’s grounding was fair. The court also directed that Craig Emeny be replaced as Air Chathams’ chief pilot. The pilots were subjected to the normal Air Nelson ground school and to the "mother of all flight tests." Air Chathams’ pilots passed with a well above average standard and this paved the way for the air service to be reinstated two months after the grounding.

So was the grounding justified? The CAA was subjected to a Parliamentary Transport Select Committee hearing where questions of vested interests within the authority and an allegation of bias against Air Chathams were explored. The Committee felt that the CAA had not proven there was a safety issue with the company. NZ Wings' September 1996 edition reported that Air Chathams felt that the CAA had been unfair, obstructive and over-zealous in applying the rules, had falsely induced Air Chathams to sign its own suspension warrant and then actively prevented the airline from becoming operational again by removing its checking and training organisation. It named three CAA employees, one a previous employee of Air Chathams, who it maintained were particularly obstructive during the 55-day affair. It also said that the CAA's actions had created enormous financial difficulties for the airline. The CAA contested many of the Air Chathams claims and has stated that at the time of its investigations the airline was unsafe and was unable to demonstrate that it complied with the necessary safety requirements. It said that its investigations "showed serious safety deficiencies", and it "utterly rejected" the allegation that it had been obstructive in any way. The authority said that it "positively and proactively attempted to facilitate Air Chathams training which was a basis of the airline regaining its operational approvals."

The October 1996 issue of NZ Wings published an excellent profile on Air Chathams where Craig Emeny reflected extensively on this difficult chapter in the company’s history, acknowledging that there were technical errors on both sides. While it caused the company all sorts of problems Air Chathams came out of it stronger and from my reading of the grounding Air Chathams was transformed from the operator that started with a Cessna 337 to become much better equipped to run the modern airline it is today operating with the highest standards in New Zealand. This and other groundings also caused a change in the CAA's culture as well. Certainly safety is what the CAA and any operator want!

The grounding put the finance for the Convair in doubt. Air Chathams had lost close to $400,000 fighting Mt Cook Airlines and the grounding cost the company some $600,000. With assistance from the Chatham Island Enterprise Trust and Pitt Islanders and with the support of some of the fish processors on the mainland the company was able to put the finance together to complete the purchase.

Air Chatham’s first General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580, ZK-CIB (c/n 327A), began services to the Chathams on the 29th of July 1996 flying from Wellington to the Chathams with 13 passengers and 3 tonnes of freight and returning the next day with 5 tonnes of freight and 7 passengers. The Convair was configured as a combi meaning it could easily change from an all freight configuration with a total capacity of 6.3 tonnes, an all passenger configuration with a capacity for 39 passengers, and the normal mixed passenger/freight configuration with a capacity for 19 passengers and 4 tonnes or freight. The Convair’s large cargo door enables a palletised freight system similar to the cargons Safe Air used with Bristol Freighters and Argosies. Despite its age the Convair with its Allison turboprops give the aircraft a cruising speed of 285 knots at a normal operating altitude of 22,000 feet. It also offers the advantage of being able to carry a commercial payload to the Chathams of 5.1 tonnes eastbound and 6.1 back to New Zealand with all the refuelling being done on the mainland. A flight attendant is carried on all Convair passenger flights.

Air Chatham's flagship, Convair 580 ZK-CIB at Chatham on 20 April 2014
ZK-CIB's front office
ZK-CIB's cabin waiting for its passengers... Notice the absence of no overhead lockers... this means the rear bulkhead can easily be moved up and down the cabin as passenger and freight demands dictate. In the front right sealed plastic tubs of fish to be flown to the mainland.
On the flight down to the Chathams on 15 April 2014 the Convair was in a full 39-seat passenger configuration - note the seats on the left hand side of the cargo door. The large door is ideal for this combi operation.

Initially the Convair serviced Wellington three to four times a week and the Metroliner flew twice a week from Christchurch. The introduction of the Convair led to Napier being dropped from the schedule. Eventually all the services were operated by the Convair which was also available for charter work. Early examples included a plane load of Chatham Islanders flying to Auckland to see the Riverdance show, carrying Ansett passengers between Christchurch and Wellington while Ansett’s pilots were on strike and providing extra capacity for Air Freight’s night freight services.

The Chatham Islander, 11 August 1998

As time moved on Air Chathams had to look for new work for the Metroliner. In September 1997 the Southland Times announced that it was going to fly consignments of live lobsters between Invercargill and Christchurch. In late 1997 and 1998 it was used on contract with Ansett Air Freight and Air National while still being available to support the Convair during maintenance or breakdowns. Later Origin Pacific also used the Metroliner for both passenger and freight services. 

Above, Metroliner ZK-CIC at New Plymouth on 8 October 1999 while operating passenger services for Origin Pacific. Below, painted in full Origin Pacific colours, ZK-CIC at Christchurch awaiting take off clearance on runway 29 while on an Origin Pacific freight flight on 16 October 2000.

After the collapse of CityJet in late 1999 Origin Pacific picked up their freight runs, the mainstay of which was the DHL contract. As Origin's business expanded they leased two Fairchild-Swearingen SA227DC Metro 23s to handle the growing demand and contracted Air Chathams to operate and crew these aircraft on passenger and freight services. Fairchild-Swearingen SA227DC Metro 23 ZK-JSV (c/n DC-868B) was registered to Air Chathams on 25 May 2000 and Fairchild-Swearingen SA227DC Metro 23, ZK-JSJ (c/n DC-888B), was also registered to Air Chathams on the 26th of June 2001. The two Metro 23s and Air Chathams' own Metroliner flew freight at night and passengers during the day, at one stage averaging 12 flying hours a day! 

Above, Metroliner 23, ZK-JSV, arrives at Christchurch on 23 October 2001 on an Origin Pacific freight flight. Below, ZK-JSV again on a freight flight this time in full Origin colours at Nelson on 15 February 2005.

Metroliner 23 ZK-JSJ at Christchurch on 23 June 2001.

Air Chathams hit the news on the 18th of March 1999, when shortly before 5.00pm Cessna 206 ZK-DOA had a sudden engine failure north of Pitt Island. The pilot managed to get off a mayday call and to glide closer to shore before ditching in the sea. The plane filled with water and sank within seconds. The pilot, Steve Kihi and his four passengers safely escaped from the aircraft before swimming an hour to shore without the aid of life-jackets. Life-jackets were on board the aircraft  but there was insufficient time for the pilot and passengers to locate them and put them on. By the time the five made shore Pitt Islanders were on hand to offer help and a fire was lit and tea brewed. The survivors were treated for cuts and bruises and two were treated for mild hypothermia. The aircraft was never recovered and the cause of the engine failure was not determined.

ZK-DOA’s replacement was another Cessna U206G, ZK-KAI Stationair (c/n U206-03711). It was registered to Air Chathams on the 29th of June 1999 and it flew to the Chathams on the 1st of August 1999 and it continues to fly the Pitt service to this day.

ZK-KAI on Chatham in June 2001... 
...and on Pitt Island on 20 April 2014
Boe Lanauze who has briefs the Air Chathams pilot on the Pitt Island weather as well as being the Pitt co-ordinator for flights. Air Chathams runs a couple of different types of service - on a charter basis for the whole plane or on a per seat basis when there are a number of people wanting to fly or there is freight to be carried. Boe and her late husband Ted have been servicing the Air Chathams' service to Pitt since it began.
The facilities at Pitt Island's Waipaua airstrip

For a photo essay on the Pitt Island service see

In January 2001 Air Chathams bought a second General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580, ZK-KSA (c/n 507). KSA was originally an executive aircraft for General Motors but was subsequently bought by the King Solomon Hotel chain in the Solomon Islands. Based in Cairns it flew passengers to the chain's hotels in the Solomons and in Mt Hagen, Papua-New Guinea. It was initially envisaged that ZK-KSA would serve as a source of spare parts for ZK-CIB but its arrival was quite timely allowing ZK-CIB to undergo an eight month refit. Regular passengers noticed immediately how much quieter ZK-KSA was with its heavier sound-proofing. However, lacking the large cargo door, the loading of freight and luggage became a slow process which in turn played havoc with timetables.

The all passenger Convair ZK-KSA about to line up on Wellington's Runway 16 on its flight to the Chathams on the 30th of March 2005.

With ZK-CIB back in service ZK-KSA was leased to Pioneer Adventures for its New Zealand air tours while Air Chathams’ Metroliner ZK CIC was chartered to Origin Pacific.

The Chatham Islander, 9 July 2002

In January 2005 Air Chathams added a third General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580 to its fleet. ZK-CID (c/n 385) was a pure freighter, was purchased from DHL in Bahrain. The intention was to convert the plane to a combi passenger/freight plane and use it on a Tonga to Niue service for Reef Air. It never saw service in the Pacific and was only used for a relatively short time used to operate additional freight services between Chathams and New Zealand before being placed in storage at Palmerston North where it languished for many years before finally being scrapped in 2014.

Convair 580 ZK-CID at Auckland while still in use...
...sadly languishing at Palmerston North on 30 September 2007...  

and at the start of its final journey to the scrapyard on 14 January 2014

With the prospect of services in the Pacific Air Chathams sourced two more General Dynamics Allison Convair 440/580s from Canada. ZK-CIE (c/n 399) was added to the fleet in August 2005 and ZK-CIF (c/n 381) in October 2005. A Convair simulator was also purchased from Alaska in 2005. Pacific operations began in May 2005  when Convair 580 went to Tonga in May 2005 to carry passengers and freight for Reef Air from Niue as well as being used by a Tongan airline, Peau Vava'u. With the arrival of the two Canadian Convairs ZK-KSA was sold to Pionair who operated it in Australia. Air Chathams now had a fleet of three Convairs, one working in New Zealand, one in Tonga and one in reserve. 

The larger fleet also enabled the company to introduce a Thursday flight between the Chatham Islands and Auckland in late 2005/early 2006. A second direct flight was later added on Saturdays over the summer months. 

Convair 580 ZK-CIE was originally painted in Air Chathams' colours but didn't carry titles. It is seen here on the taxi at Christchurch for its flight to the Chathams on 29 August 2006. 
A couple of shots of Convair 580 ZK-CIF at Auckland - above on 24 November 2005 and below a stunning sunset shot on 29 November 2005.

 ZK-CIF was repainted in an all-white scheme as seen here at Auckland on 29 June 2008 soon after Chathams Pacific started operations
A father and son operation. Air Chathams founder, Craig Emeny and his son Duane on 26 June 2006. Source : The Chatham Islander, 11 July 2006

Following the collapse of Origin Pacific in 2006 the Metroliner returned to the Air Chathams fleet for use on charter work as well as back up for the Convair and during this time it was used to operate an extra Friday flight between Christchurch and the Chathams over the summer months.

Back operating for Air Chathams but still in Origin colours, ZK-CIC, on finals for runway 02 at Christchurch on 7 December 2007.

In 2008 Air Chathams established Chathams Pacific which operate domestic services in Tonga until 2013. Convairs ZK-CIE and ZK-CIF were the mainstay of the Tongan operation but the combi ZK-CIB was also used at times. The Convairs were also chartered to operate flights within Fiji and regional flights from Fiji. As well as the Convairs the Metroliner ZK-CIC was also deployed to Tonga. Smaller aircraft were acquired to operate services to 'Eua and the Niuas.

For more on Air Chathams' Pacific operations see

ZK-CIF was the only Convair to wear Chathams Pacific titles. It is seen here at Auckland on 2 March 2012
Still with Origin Pacific colours but Chathams Pacific titles ZK-CIC arrives back into Tongatapu's Fua'amotu International Airport on 6 January 2011

The airport on Chatham was government-planned around 1980 on the assumption that the so-called "Norfolk island" Friendships of Air New Zealand would operate the service. These Friendships were configured and equipped for the oceanic sector and fuel loads required. Air New Zealand, however, had no interest in flying to the Chathams. 25 years on the runway imposed limitations on the Convair flights and so engine modifications were made to ZK-CIB which allowed for greater fuel and freight-laden take-offs on flights from the Chatham Islands. These modifications also enabled flights to Napier to be reintroduced. Napier had been cut from the schedule in 1996 because the runway length at Hawke's Bay Airport was too short for the company's Convairs in high temperature conditions with full payloads. The new service to Napier began on the 4th of October 2007. The Convair flew from the Chathams to Auckland and then landed at Napier on the return flight which operated each Thursday. As the Chathams were part of the Hawkes Bay District Health Board it was hoped that the service would generate sufficient traffic. These hopes never eventuated and there was a consistently low volume of passenger and freight traffic through Napier. In the end the airline felt it could no longer sustain the Napier stopover and it was withdrawn as an Air Chathams port on the 26th of April 2012.

A growing area of work for Air Chathams during the summer months was charter flights for Tauck Tours which Air Chathams took over from Pionair. This American travel company was started by Arthur Tauck when he started Tauck Motor Tours in 1925 and today it offers tours around the world. Convairs ZK-CIE and ZK-CIF were both used for the Tauck charters. The Tauck Tours contract ended in 2014 but Air Chathams continues to offer other air tours for other travel companies as well as a comprehensive charter service.

Convair 580 at Manapouri on a Tauck Tour on the 9th of May 2012
The Tauck Tour of New Zealand... red is road transport

In 2013 Tongan government set up another airline in Tonga to provide competition. This was helped by the Chinese government's gift of a Xian MA60 and a Harbin Y12. Rather than compete in a limited market Air Chathams made the decision to withdraw its Chathams Pacific operation. The new airline, Real Tonga, leased a number of Chathams Pacific aircraft in its establishment. Subsequently Douglas DC-3 A3-AWP/ZK-AWP returned to New Zealand on the 23rd of December 2013, Metroliner ZK-CIC  on the 6th of February 2014 and BN Islander A3-LYP/ZK-LYP on the 5th of March 2014.

A couple of days after arriving back in New Zealand Britten Norman BN2A-27 Islander ZK-LYP (c/n 821) flew from Auckland to the Chathams to cover for the Pitt Island service while the Cessna 206 which was having its engine changed. As the main summer tourist season was coming to an end the Islander was used for only a few flights in early 2014 but even in that brief time it proved very popular with the locals. It flew back to Auckland in August 2014 and was chartered by Great Barrier Airlines for a time before being sold in Australia in October 2015 becoming VH-TRS.

BN Islander ZK-LYP in the hangar at Chatham on 20 April 2014... The titles are in a terrible place! Below a better shot of ZK-LYP at Auckland on 23 September 2014 

The revised logo introduced in 2014

Like the BN Islander, the Metroliner, ZK-CIC found little work in New Zealand after its return from Tonga. This changed on the 28th of April 2015 when Air New Zealand withdrew its services to Whakatāne. Air Chathams took over the service the same day. The first couple of weeks the service was operated using Convairs but the Metroliner has proved a better fit for Whakatāne and now ZK-CIC is the mainstay of the Whakatāne service. Initially two flights were operated each weekday with a reduced weekend schedule but from the 27th of July 2015 the weekday schedule was increased to three flights a day. 

A rather bland looking Metroliner ZK-CIC looking for work at Auckland on 25 March 2014
Convair 580 ZK-CIE arriving at Whakatāne from Auckland on 6 November 2015

From Labour Weekend 2015 the Whakatāne service was further enhanced with the introduction of a weekly Douglas DC-3 scheduled boutique summer service from Auckland. Douglas DC3C ZK-AWP (c/n 33135) was built in 1945 and at 70 years old she offers a sedate flight to and from the Eastern Bay of Plenty. The Dakota flies down to Whakatāne late on a Saturday afternoon and returns at lunch time on a Sunday. The DC-3 summer service was offered again over the 2016/2017 summer.

Above, Douglas DC-3 ZK-AWP finishes her engine run ups at Whakatane prior to flying to Auckland on 8 November 2015. Below, AWP shows off her new titling as she taxis at Auckland for her afternoon flight to Whakatāne on 19 December 2015.

For a photo essay on the DC-3 service to Whakatāne see

The Whakatāne service got further promotion in December 2015 when Air Chathams rebranded its Metroliner in a Whakatāne colour scheme.

Fairchild Metroliner ZK-CIC, the Whakatāne plane, taxis to the terminal at Whakatāne on 28 December 2015

Whakatāne Schedule, Effective 28 October 2015

For a photo essay on the Whakatāne Metroliner service see

Craig Emeny in the right hand seat of Air Chathams' DC-3 

Meanwhile the air services from Chatham to Pitt and to New Zealand that Craig Emeny established continued to do grow. Where in 1985 his Cessna 337 made the flight as freight dictated now the airline flies four scheduled Convair flights a week between Chatham and the mainland during the winter months and six flights a week over the summer months. During this time Air Chathams have been a major player in developing tourism on the Chathams with a growing number of New Zealanders wanting to visit this interesting group of islands. Tourists often avail themselves the opportunity to avail themselves of the service to Pitt Island which continues to be an important link to the Pitt Islanders. It is run on demand but over the summer and the crayfish season there can be several flights each day. 

The winter schedule - The Chatham Islander, September 2015
The summer schedule - The Chatham Islander, November 2015

For a photo essay on the Chatham Island Convair service see

2016 saw the addition of three additional aircraft. An Aero Commander 690A, ZK-PVB (c/n 11321), was added to the fleet in late February 2016. To date the aircraft has not been assigned for any specific work.

Aero Commander 690 ZK-PVB on the Chathams on 14 May 2016.

In April 2016 Air Chathams acquired a second Fairchild SA227-AC Metroliner, ZK-NSS. This was reregistered as ZK-CID (c/n AC692B) and painted in Air Chathams colours.

Fairchild Metroliner ZK-CID at Auckland on 1 August 2016

The addition of the Metroliner was quite fortuitous for in May 2016 Air New Zealand announced that it would withdraw its Whanganui services. Air Chathams immediately announced that it would start flights between Auckland and Whanganui on the 1st of August 2016. Before that, however, Air Chathams announced that it had purchased Kiwi Regional Airlines' Saab 340A, ZK-KRA (c/n 340A-065), and this would be used for the Whanganui service. It also offered employment to the majority of Kiwi Regional Airlines full time staff. Speaking about the new Whanganui service Duane Emeny, Air Chathams' General Manager, said the company “has been built on strong community based ties, and caring more about people than profits. That philosophy has carried us through the past 30 years, and will ensure we can succeed on the Whanganui-Auckland route too. Our investment in the larger, more modern Saab 340 is proof of our confidence in Whanganui and willingness to see the region continue to develop and grow rather than lose investment to neighbouring regions.”

Air Chathams commenced their Whanganui to Auckland service on the 1st of August 2016. Saab 340A ZK-KRA operated flight CV701 under the command of Captain Tom Dunn and First Officer Adam Baker with Flight Attendant Violet Gordon-Glassford in the cabin. Air Chathams is operating three return weekday flights between the two centres, two northbound and one southbound services on Saturdays and one northbound and two southbound services on Sundays. 

Saab 340 ZK-KRA on final approach to Auckland on 1 August 2016, the first day of the Whanganui-Auckland service

2016 also saw Air Chathams paint the all white Convairs, ZK-CIE and ZK-CIF in full Air Chathams' colours.

All repainted, Air Chathams' Convair 580 ZK-CIF at Auckland on 19 May 2016 (above) and Convair 580 ZK-CIE at Wellington on 28 October 2016 (below)

2016 ended with the addition of another Convair to the fleet in late November. ZK-KFL was purchased from Air Freight (NZ) and retained its all freight configuration. It was immediately put to work flying fish from the Chathams to New Zealand. In 2017 Air Chathams purchase Air Freight (NZ)'s three remaining Convair 580's ZK-FTA, KFH and KFJ with the intention that they be primarily be parted out. ZK-KFH was saved from this fate and has been used on Air Chathams' night freight operations. 

Delivering its first load of fish to Wellington, Convair ZK-KFL on 1 December 2016.
It is seen below at Auckland on 3 September 2017.

Convair 580 ZK-KFH at Auckland on 10 September 2017.
Below, the two pure freighters at Auckland on 10 September 2017.

With the introduction of new runway end safety area (RESA) regulations in 2017 Air Chathams DC-3 was prohibited from operating scheduled services to Whakatāne. Charter or scenic flights are not effected and during the 2017/18 summer the DC-3 is being used for charter work and scenic flying from Tauranga and occasionally Whakatāne and Whanganui.

Douglas DC-3 ZK-AWP on the taxi at Auckland on 28 January 2017

In October 2017 Air Chathams purchased the two ex-Airwork Fairchild SA227-CC Metro 23s, ZK-POE (c/n CC-843B) and ZK-POF (c/n CC-844B). The Metro 23 provides better systems, more power and a further increase in takeoff weight. 

Over the 2017/18 summer Air Chathams' based Convair ZK-KFL on the Chathams providing freight support for seafood exports on the Chathams over the busy summer season. It will return to Auckland in 2018 and the company is looking forward to continue supporting Freightways where requested. 

Air Chathams' Convair 580 ZK-KFL painted with a “Hopo” or “Toroa”, a Chatham Islands Albatross by Mr G... Graham 'Mr G' Hoete is a street artist from the Bay of Plenty who specialises in photorealism... ZK-KFL is a dedicated freighter that Air Chathams use on freight services in New Zealand and out to the Chathams. Photo taken on 18 January 2019.

Metro 23 ZK-POF entered airline service in January 2018 supporting the company's passenger and charter services. On the 9th of January 2018 Air Chathams took delivery of the first of two further Saab 340 aircraft to be added to their fleet. How these aircraft are to be deployed is yet to be announced.

Air Chathams' Fairchild Metro 23 about to depart Auckland for Whakatāne on 6 August 2018

In January 2018 Air Chathams took delivery of an A and B model Saab 340. These were imported from Guam. The A model, Saab-Scania SAAB SF340A c/n 340A-135, has been registered ZK-CIY and the B model, Saab Aircraft AB SAAB 340B c/n 340B-357, ZK-CIZ. Saab 340B ZK-CIZ entered service on Saturday the 7th of April 2018. Its first flights were on Air Chathams flight 3C 702 from Auckland to Whanganui and the return flight 3C 711.

Saab 340B ZK-CIZ on the taxi at Auckland for Whanganui on 6 August 2018

On the 2nd of July 2018 Air Chathams announced that it would commence flights between Paraparaumu's Kāpiti Airport and Wellington replacing Air New Zealand's service that ended on the 2nd of April 2018. The new air service began on the 20th of August 2018. Flight 3C 641 from Papaparaumu's Kāpiti Coast Airport to Auckland was flown under the command of Captains Craig Emeny and Duane Emeny with Etevihe Sakaria the flight attendant looking after the passengers. The inaugural service was operated by Air Chathams Saab 340B ZK-CIZ.

Air Chathams' Kapiti Coast Timetable, effective August 2018

After three months more than 13,000 people had flown in and out of Kāpiti with Air Chathams. The early morning service to Auckland and return evening service to Paraparaumu proved to be the most popular flights are were often full. From the 21st of November 2018 Air Chathams replaced the Saabs with Metroliners on the morning flight, 3C 640 to Paraparaumu, and the 9.30am return flight, 3C 647 to Auckland. 

Repainted and with new script, Air Chathams' Convair 580 ZK-CIB departs Wellington for the Chatham Islands on 26 July 2017.

On the 19th of May 2018 Air Chatham's Convair 580 ZK-CIE flew a charter flight to Norfolk Island for a music festival as CHATHAMS 581. This was the first time Air Chathams' had operated international flight. This was followed by some freighter flights. On the 25th of October 2018 Air Chathams began a series of  charter flights that had been arranged by Pukekohe Travel which, for a number of years, has offered tours to the Chatham Islands in conjunction with Air Chathams. The flight was operated in Convair 580 ZK-CIE operating as CHATHAMS 401 to Norfolk and CHATHAMS 402 on the return. Since then a number of flights have operated to Norfolk Island. Meanwhile Air Chathams is planning to operate a regular service to Norfolk Island from September 2019. 

Air Chathams' first time on the international departure board, Auckland Airport, 19 May 2018 

At the end of 2018 Air Chathams reduced their frequency of flights to the Kāpiti Coast. Cut from the schedule was the morning flight from Auckland and late morning flight back to Auckland. Air Chathams' Duane Emeny said that these "flight timings not previously offered by Air New Zealand and the uptake has been poor so they will be discontinued and are no longer available for booking." The last operation of flight 3C640 from Auckland to Kapiti Coast and flight 3C647 Kapiti Coast to Auckland was on the 24th of December 2018.

By 2019 the big question for aviation enthusiasts was what will eventually replace the Convair. The Boeing 737-400 and the ATR 72 seemed to the most rumoured replacement. A Boeing would require a runway extension on the Chathams and the airline had no plans to acquire ATRs. But with Air Chathams flying Convairs and a DC-3 it was becoming a magnet for aviation enthusiasts from around the world.

While no decision had been taken on a Convair replacement Air Chathams' took delivery of an ATR 72-500 in January 2019. ZK-MCO was acquired from Air New Zealand operator Mount Cook Airlines and was used for tourist flights around New Zealand for American company, Tauck Tours, a contract Air Chathams had lost to Alliance Airlines of Australia. The ATR entered service on the 8th of February 2019 positioning from Auckland to Wellington as CVA272 (Chathams 272) and then flying a Wellington-Blenheim Tauck Tours' flight as CVA273 (Chathams 273). The air service component of Tauck Tour's New Zealand tours start in Wellington and from there fly to Blenheim and on to Te Anau. The tourists are finally flown from Queenstown to Auckland.

ATR 72-500 ZK-MCO at Auckland on 20 February 2020

Tauck Tours' 2019 Itinerary

Air Chathams commenced ATR 72 operations into Whanganui on the 14th of June 2019 with ATR 72-500 ZK-MCO operating the late afternoon flight 3C 704 from Auckland returning as 3C 709. It then operated the evening flight 3C 708 from Auckland to Whanganui. During winter 2019 the ATR is operating the Friday afternoon and evening Whanganui flights, the Saturday 8am flight to Auckland, all Sunday flights and the 6.45am departure on Monday to Auckland. This schedule is being operated while the ATR is on the off season for Tauck Tours.

2019 saw the withdrawal from use of Convairs ZK-CIF and ZK-KFH. ZK-CIF was sold to a Whanganui owner for guest accommodation. 

Scheduled international services began on the 6th of September 2019 when Air Chathams commenced flights between Auckland and Norfolk Island. The first flights, 3C 401 and return flight 3C 402, were flown under the command of founder and owner Craig Emeny and his son, Duane Emeny, Air Chathams' General Manager, in Convair ZK-CIB. 

Air Chathams' first scheduled international service. Convair 580 ZK-CIB on Norfolk Island on 6 September 2019. Don Colway photo

Don Colway's photo essay of the first flight can be found here... 

The weekly service is being operated on Fridays with the flights scheduled to take 2 hours 20 minutes. Initially, the flight to Norfolk Island, 3C 401, departed Auckland at 9.00am and arriving at 10.20am Norfolk Island time. The return flight, 3C 402, left Norfolk Island at 11.20am and arrive back into Auckland at 2.40pm. From the 28th of February 2020 the departure times operated 2 hours later domestic connections for the flight to Norfolk Island. The Norfolk Island flights are normally operated Convair 580 ZK-CIE but ZK-CIB is also used. 

The first international flight on the Auckland Airport website departures board, 6 September 2019

Air Chathams' Convair 580 ZK-CIE at Norfolk Island on 24 January 2020

My photo essays of the Norfolk Island flights can be found here...

On the 29th of November 2019 Air Chathams commenced Saab 340 services to Whakatāne. The first flights, 3C 824 to Whakatāne and the return flight to Auckland 3C 829 were flown in Saab 340 ZK-KRA under the command of Captain Mitch Brady and First Office Jacob Stead while the passengers were under the care of Flight Attendant Nicki Hayes. The Saabs operate, as needed, on the Friday afternoon flights from Auckland to Whakatāne at 3.15pm and 6.35pm and the Whakatāne to Auckland Friday afternoon service at 4.45pm. A Saab also operates the Saturday morning 8.00am flight from Whakatāne to Auckland. On Sundays a Saab operates from Auckland to Whakatāne at 11.00am and 6.15pm, and from Whakatāne to Auckland at 4.45pm. On Mondays the Saab operate the morning flight from Whakatāne to Auckland at 6.45am.

Saab 340 ZK-KRA at Whakatāne on the inaugural flight on 29 November 2019

The Covid pandemic of 2020 seriously impacted on Air Chathams and as merged from the lockdown a number of changes evolved.  

By mid March 2020 the airline had reduced its schedule as the country became increasingly worried about the pandemic. On the 24th of March 2020 Air Chathams operated its last flights as New Zealand went into lockdown. Duane Emeny, general manager of Air Chathams, told Newsroom, “We’ve lost about 90 per cent of our business.” Pre-lockdown, Air Chathams flew Auckland to Whakatane, Whanganui and Kapiti, once a week to Norfolk Island and freight from Auckland to Christchurch. In winter they would fly three times a week to the Chathams and in summer that rose to six flights. All up, Air Chathams was in the air for 115 flights a week. Now, it’s just three, and all of those flights are to the Chathams. “It’s still the most important part of our business and has been for the 35 years since Dad started the company,” Emeny says. “It’s what the island always needed. We are State Highway 1 for the Chats. We are the only way to get there, we’re that essential.” Emeny says the airline will be okay for 12 weeks with a combination of the 144 staff taking pay cuts and a top up from the government’s subsidy package. “It’s what happens after those 12 weeks - and nobody really knows.” Even when the alert drops to level three or two, Emeny isn’t sure whether people will be keen to fly again, especially in the close quarters of the small planes that Air Chathams uses. Add to that, he says, the loss in income most companies are suffering and the rise of video conferencing through the Covid-crisis and business travel may have suffered a hefty long term blow. 

But Air Chathams did rise out of lockdown, although it has been a sad climb. It was freight that help save Air Chathams. The airline was called upon to operate freight flights from Manapouri to Auckland carrying live crayfish for the China market. Normally these were trucked to Christchurch and flown by Air New Zealand. The first of these operated on the 22nd of April 2020, when the country was still in Level 4 lockdown, using Convair 580 ZK-KFL. An interesting development of this time was the use of Saab 340 ZK-CIY as a freighter operating crayfish flights from Manapouri and freight flights between Auckland and Christchurch.

Air Chathams' Douglas DC-3 ZK-AWP celebrated its 75th birthday on the 25th of April 1945. The DC-3 was originally built for the United States Army Air Force as a Douglas C-47B-30-DK, with the number 44-76803. In late 2019 it was repainted in NAC colours, presumably for Air New Zealand's 80th birthday celebrations. 

Air Chatham's Douglas DC-3 ZK-AWP repainted in NAC Skyliner colours at Auckland on 14 December 2019

A pictorial history of ZK-AWP throughout her 75 years may be found here:

Eleven days after the country moved from Level 3 lockdown Air Chathams restarted its mainland routes on the 24th of May 2020. Air Chathams' July Updates and News reported that May and June were tough months for Air Chathams. Our June performance was less than 40% of June 2019 figures. However, we are seeing positive signs on our mainland routes (Whakatane/Whanganui/Kapiti) and especially the Chatham Islands where we are seeing a large jump in demand for visitor travel due to the restrictions on international travel

After the country experienced 100 days without community infections a new outbreak occurred in Auckland and Auckland returned to Level 3 lockdown on the 12th of August 2020. This meant the curtailment of all Air Chathams' mainland passenger services. A reduced schedule resumed from the 31st of August when Auckland moving to Level 2.5. The situation improved for airline later when the social distancing restrictions on aircraft were lifted. Through to the end of October 2020 twice daily weekday flights were operated between from both Whanganui and Whakatāne to Auckland with a daily flight during the weekend. On Thursday Whanganui gets a third flight. Paraparaumu had a daily weekday service with an additional service on Fridays and northbound services on Saturdays and Sundays and two southbound services on Sundays. The Chatham Island service remains as normal. September 2020 marked Air Chatham’s first anniversary of flights to Norfolk Island. With the border restrictions these flights have not operated since the 20th of March 2020. Air Chathams is not expecting to resume to Norfolk Island until April 2021. 

During lockdown Air Chathams took the opportunity to paint their Fairchild Metroliner fleet in the full Air Chathams' colour scheme. Following the tragic eruption of Whakaari/White Island, in August 2020 Metroliner ZK-CIC was stripped of its Whakatāne colour scheme which featured the volcanic island. It was in an interim colour scheme before being repainted.

Air Chathams' Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-CIC in the rain at Whakatāne on 11 August 2020. 

In late September 2020 Air Chathams' introduced Green Miles, its own frequent flyer programme. The programme is such that all flights and ticket classes are eligible to earn Green Miles, including the cheapest 'Thrifty’ fares. The higher the value of the fare purchased the more miles can be earned. 

The other major post-lockdown evolution in Air Chathams was the announcement that the Convairs would be retired by the end of 2021 and as a first step towards that, that the ATR 72, not being used for Tauck Tour flights, would be deployed on the Chatham Island services. In preparation for the new service the ATR 72, ZK-MCO, was been fitted with a HF radio. The ATR remains a passenger aircraft first and foremost, with some modifications. Seat bags were made enable the aircraft to carry a small amount of freight in the aircraft cabin. Modifications were made to the galley to enable life rafts to be carried. The ATR will have 2 flight attendants on board as opposed to the Convair's one.

Air Chathams commenced ATR operations to the Chatham Islands on the 15th of October 2020 with ATR 72-500 ZK-MCO flying flight 3C 591 from Auckland to the Chatham Islands. On the 16th of October it flew the first flight out of the Chathams tomorrow as flight 3C 512 to Wellington before returning to the Chathams as 3C 521.

Meanwhile, on the 2nd of August 2020, Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones announced the Chatham Islands would receive close to $40 million for projects that will improve its infrastructure, including $36 million for an infrastructure project to lengthen and strengthen the runway at Tuuta Airport, on Chatham Island. “Every study on the issues and opportunities for the Chatham Islands economy has identified effective air services as critical for sustainable growth,” Shane Jones said. “This new runway will allow larger planes to use the airport, improving connectivity for those living on the island, and for visitors. Doing this work now, which includes associated infrastructure such as building, lighting and fencing upgrades, is expected to future-proof the airport for half a century.” The project, which is being overseen by Chatham Islands Airport Ltd, will create up to 20 jobs during the construction stage. It is expected to take about 18 months to complete. This will open the option for Air Chathams to look at jet operations.

Wherever Air Chathams have operated it has established itself as an airline for the community. One wonders what communities it will serve next as it quietly and confidently moves onwards and upwards. 


(BOLD = Currently in service... Red = Operated by Chathams Pacific)

Aero Commander 690A
ZK-PVB (c/n 11321)


ZK-MCO (c/n 628)

Beech 65-B80 Queen Air
A3-CIA (c/n LD 506)
A3-FEW (c/n LC-168)
N640K (c/n LD-430)
ZK-CIA (c/n LD-430)

Beech 99
ZK-CIB (c/n U-68)

Britten Norman BN2A Islander
A3-LYP (c/n 821)
ZK-LYP (c/n 821)
ZK-REA (c/n 43)

Cessna U206F and G Stationair
ZK-DOA (c/n U206-02203)
ZK-KAI (c/n U206-03711)

Cessna 337 Super Skymaster
ZK-TAI (c/n 337-01456)

Cessna P337G Super Skymaster II
ZK-TSH (c/n P337-0252)

Douglas DC-3C
A3-AWP (c/n 33135)
ZK-AWP (c/n 33135)

Embraer 820C
ZK-RDT (c/n 820127)

Fairchild-Swearingen SA227-AC Metroliner III
ZK-CIC (c/n AC623B)
ZK-CID (c/n AC692B)
ZK-NSS (c/n AC692B) – Chartered
ZK-POA – Chartered

Fairchild SA227-CC and -DC Metro 23
ZK-JSJ (c/n DC-888B)
ZK-JSV (c/n DC-868B)
ZK-POE (c/n CC-843B)
ZK-POF (c/n CC-844B)

Air Chathams' Metro 23 ZK-POF at Whakatāne on 7 September 2019

General Dynamics Allison Convair 580
ZK-CIB (c/n 327A)
ZK-CID (c/n 385)
ZK-CIE (c/n 399)
ZK-CIF (c/n 381)
ZK-KSA (c/n 507)
ZK-KFH (26379)
ZK-KFL (24131)

Convair 580 ZK-CIF about to depart Auckland for Gisborne on a charter on 30 December 2018

Saab-Scania SAAB SF340A and B
ZK-CIY (c/n 340A-135)
ZK-CIZ (c/n 340B-357)
ZK-KRA (c/n 340A-065)

Saab 340A ZK-CIY on its first revenue flight to the Kāpiti Coast on 11 January 2019


  1. Awesome essay!
    Just wondering if Air Chats will become a destination in it's own right thanks to it's classic fleet of Convairs.
    I wonder if they will pick up surplus airframes from Airwork as they retire their fleet of freighters. I'd love to ride the Convair.

  2. It has been a pleasure seeing and hearing the DC3 flying in and out of Whakatane! The colourful Metroliner is doing a great job as a flying billboard for this area!

  3. Norfolk Island to Auckland would be fantastic for the tourism and important link with New Zealand. Since Air New Zealand stopped flying from Auckland last year, and Air Norfolk Island has now stopped, it would be fantastic if Air Chathams was to be able to provide a flight to Kiwiland. Thank you Betty