26 November 2018

Forensic Research - Painting the Story of 3rd Level Airlines

This blog started in late 2009 when someone asked me a question about a 3rd level airline from the past and I couldn't remember the facts. I researched my files and couldn't come up with the answer and to did elsewhere to finally find the answer. However, it really struck me that today's news is tomorrow's history and how important it is to keep a record of things.

My interest in the airlines had started growing up in Hokitika watching the DC-3s, Dominies and later Friendships and Cessna 185s flying past our house on approach to or departure from Hokitika Airport.

One of my favourite airline profiles is on the South Westland ski plane service between Hokitika and the Glaciers... http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2013/03/south-westland-skiplane-air-service.html. I had remembered this service as a kid, and watching the Friendship go to Christchurch, the DC-3 to Westport and the skiplane to the Glaciers. Not much was ever written on the service and so it was a great project to be able to amass quite a bit of information on in. Even now I still am getting more information.

I started taking pictures of aircraft while at High School and was taught fairly quickly by Ian Coates from Greymouth to make sure I included the registration and recorded the date. About this time I started collecting timetables from the local travel agent Des Wright - though later I made the fatal mistake, when moving, of throwing them out including Capital Air Services, Air North and Nationwide Air timetables. 

I really became interested in 3rd level airlines at High School. Capital Air Services were flying Cessna 402s from Greymouth and my first photo was of Capital Air Services Cessna 402 ZK-DNQ at Greymouth - didn't get the rego very well! I booked a flight to Christchurch on Capital (much to Des Wright's disgust - I should have been supporting NAC out of Hokitika) but the flight was cancelled and I went to Christchurch on the railcar! http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/05/greymouths-capital-service.html

After Capital Air Services folded Westland Flying Services started flying out of Hokitika and the owner of the airline Norm Bishop and local pilots Tom Sunnex and Jeff Painter were very good to me and I was invited on a few adventures in Cessna 402 and even on American registered Mitsubishi Mu2 N671MA which was on demo to Westland Flying Services... http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/04/hokitikas-westland-flying-services.html

In my early years working I started doing some scrap books of 3rd level news. It was easy when working for the Forest Service in Hokitika as the library was close and in those days the library carried most of New Zealand's regional newspapers. However, it was meeting Bruce Gavin from Matamata that really focussed me on my interest in the domestic airlines and keeping something of their history. Bruce has probably documented the history of the NZ 3rd level airlines more thoroughly than any other person in the country with his research going back over 50 years. He continues to be a real source of information and inspiration to me. 

Times change and after some years I dumped the scrapbooks, scanning all the newspaper clippings from them into Word on the computer. Since then this has been my habit. So, for example, my file on Air Chathams is 102 A4 pages long and the Eagle Air one is 321 pages long! And they are both still growing as I find other pieces of information!

These days the sources of information are changing. Newspapers are dying and certainly the smaller airlines rarely feature unless there is some catastrophe! Printed timetables are more and more a thing of the past. On the plus side, however, social media and the company websites give information. But often now there are so many social media sites with snippets of news and it is easy to miss these. A big help is when someone sends an email with a tip off on news or sends in imformation about contemporary airline news or more information, corrections or photos on my airline profiles. All this helps paint the story (or history) of New Zealand's 3rd level airlines.

And then there is the speculation or forensic research. I get a lot less time to do the research now but I am putting together some historical profiles on airlines that have flown through Wanganui for publishing next year. In the photo below there is an Air Wanganui timetable from my collection, the only official printed one I had.. Between the Tuesday and Thursday flights something was blanked out by stickers...

By holding it up to the light I could read additional flights on a Wednesday and by cut and paste in Photoshop I could recreate what the timetable looked like.

In this case my specualation of this undated timetable is that after the Foxpine Air Charter Seneca crashed in May 1988 operating the Air River City service between Auckland, Hamilton and Wanganui, Air Wanganui trialled a twice daily morning and business service between Auckland and Hamilton. The service didn't last as I have a timetable from 1989 and it was not included.

In compiling a history of Air River City I came upon the following little snippet from a much larger article...

...so I can see at some point I need to get to Wanganui to find out what was in the local newspaper about the service stopping... I guess it will be somewhere from late April to early May 1988.

The work goes on!

For me this blog is a bit of a labour of love. It is all about recording today's news and preserving yesterday's history. It's not about being critical about airlines or individual's. In receiving information I try to be respectful of people and of the airlines' needs for commercial sensitivities. But there is something wonderful about the aviation community for the passion of those living it and those, like me, on the fenceline (with camera and scanner) watching it. It's a great joy for me when the jet jockeys of today's international airlines write in years later excited to find their name or something on an airline they started off in. That's what this blog is about

Can I take this opportunity to thank all those who read this blog and have supported it with info, photos and encouragement!




  1. Keep up the great work. This page is a great resource for those who work / used to work in GA in NZ and still want to keep up with what is going on with the smaller operators.

    On another note, I hear Air Napier has been sold and changes are coming. Perhaps worth an update sometime in the next 12 months?

    1. Thanks for the tip off about Air Napier... that is exactly the kind of tip off I need... Will keep looking for changes!

  2. Steve, I'm sure I speak for a LOT of
    People when I say I really appreciate the effort and time put into this blog. Keep up the awesome Mahi! You are awesome

  3. Thanks Steve. It's a great resource for sure, and a great interest to read through the various histories! Cheers.

  4. Been reading your blog since 2013, love it! Also I bookmarked it but not the front page, I bookmarked an article about flymysky in 2013 so if you can see which pages are hit and wondering why every second day someone keeps looking at that... well its me my bad