16 December 2018

Northern Commuter Airlines Update

Thanks to Graeme Atchinson who has added this wonderful account of his time with Northern Commuter Airlines post of earlier this month... 

My part initially was replacing Alan Ward as CFI when he left to join Eagle Air. Shortly afterward the relationship with Ansett NZ and Northern Commuter Airlines developed and I was given the choice to become Chief Pilot which I accepted. Our Manager was John Clement. 

I recommended replacing the GAF Nomad which although a turbine, did not hold passenger appeal and was slow. I was one of the original night freight pilots at Airwork NZ and was very familiar with the Chieftain and knew they had been used very successfully with Eagle Air. John was biased to the Cessna 402, however the evidence  I presented showed the PA.31 as a superior choice. 

I gave Mike our engineer a long list to identify the right aeroplane with  crew door, high speed 40 degree flaps, heavy duty landing gear. He sourced ZK-NCA from Bolivia and after removing any “white powder” traces  we stripped out the executive interior, even removing the air conditioner and plumbing plus weather radar as I identified unnecessary items to save weight! Also I had fitted a loud and clearly understood decent P.A system for passenger announcements. Additionally I had a professional looking folding stool made up so pax could easily step up onto the a/c door stairway. 

We did operate out of the Aero Club building even up to mid 1991. I was very proud of meeting Ansett’s requirement of  plus or minus 4 minutes of scheduled departure time on 92 % occasions. Impressive also when arriving at the Ansett Auckland gate with Passenger Service Attendants with brollies on those wet days, while the baggage handlers transferred baggage for those travelling onwards to WLG or CHC on the BAe 146 Whisper jets. We proudly wore Ansett uniforms, NCA was furnished with Ansett seat coverings and carpet and of course the load control and ticketing staff completed the Ansett picture. We were very professional and had an awesome team including dedicated  and friendly ground staff. We won over several passengers from Eagle Air as the Chieftain had more leg room, was quieter than the Bandeirantes and every passenger had a window seat! 

My logbook reveals I delivered NCA from Ardmore Aerodrome to Whangarei on the 15 April 1990 severely resisting the temptation of a beat up to all staff and sundry to greet me. My Airwork NZ connections allowed us to borrow Chieftain ZK-FOP supplemented with our Nomad ZK-NDB from January until NCA was purchased. Original pilots were Alan Ward, Ian Cowan, Colin Dietschin, Graeme Atchinson (CP) with Shane Thomas and Paul Mountford joining us in Feb 1990.

It should be stated that operating an airline service without a back up aeroplane was only possible due to Mike ... and his engineers at Northland Aviation making a huge commitment to servicing our plane throughout the night so it was ready the next day.

Later in 1991 Ansett NZ requested the possibility of a night service. This might sound amazing but it’s true. I note that even now in the NZ AIP NZWR AD 2- 46.1 the Whangarei runway lead-in light system was designed by myself including all instructions for night approaches, notes 1,2 & 3 for both runways word for word. I devised the placement of lead in lights and a “gate” for both runways by eye balling their locations after flying many visual approaches and marking them on a map, then had this information forwarded to the Harbour Board for them to build. After careful consideration of what to do if becoming visual after 3.0 DME but before the missed approach point, I came up with the idea of using the opposing runway lead-in lights, turn through 270 degrees to then fly downwind to the “gate” for the active runway. Amazingly it was built and approved very quickly in time for me to try it out before I left Tranzair during June 1991 to take up a once in a life time opportunity to sail the South Pacific on board a friends 38ft yacht. I am quite chuffed that this Whangarei night procedure is still used to this day.

Thanks Graeme for this really interesting insight into  the Northern Commuter Airlines' operation.

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