22 September 2019

On the Inaugural International

A huge thanks to Don Colway for writing this review of Air Chathams' new air service to Norfolk Island...

There cannot be too many places left on Earth these days where two and a half hours can be spent on an international flight in a 60 year old Convair 580. Air Chathams AucklandNorfolk Island service is now one. 

I had had the privilege of being on their first scheduled flight (Flight 3C 401 on 6 September 2019) and what an experience it was. Air Chathams has a thoroughly deserved reputation of really looking after their passengers and on this occasion they certainly did.

Air Chathams had their own counter at Auckland with some Air Chathams staff behind the counter. As we lined up for check in we were all given an Air Chathams baseball cap ( which came in very useful on the Island). There were a few teething issues with check in, but I’ve seen far worse on regular international flights.

In due course we were treated to the sight of Convair 580 ZK-CIB being towed towards the International Terminal. When Convairs come into Whanganui they look huge but in among 777s and 787 CIB looked tiny. CIB was being used as at present there is heavy passenger traffic to and from the Chatham Islands so ZK-CIE is handling that route.

Boarding was by way of a bus out to where CIB was parked. All handled very smoothly.

One disadvantage of CIB is that because of being a combi freighter not all the seats rows have windows and initially we were quite disappointed to find we were in one of the windowless rows. However, the disappointment soon evaporated in the sheer excitement of the moment.

Flight level 240 - 24,000 feet en route to Norfolk

The seats still had huge legroom and space and were about 150% better than the very middle seats we had in a crowded 10 seat per row 777-200 LR for 16 hour flight with Qatar recently.

38 of the 39 seats were full on the first flight - Photo : Don Colway
Up front doing the flying were Craig and Duane Emeny (father and son) - the airline's CEO and General Manager. After take off we were allowed to move around and from time to time were able to find a window.

Father and son... Craig and Duane Emeny on Norfolk - Air Chathams photo

The two and a half hour flight seemed to go quickly aided by coffee, tea and of course the ever popular “Tim Tams” (What would Air Chathams be without Tim Tams?). Of course there was also the sound of those wonderful Allison turboprops and the company of other passengers fill in the time..

The flight was met by a local Polynesian dance group and a few local VIPS.

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

A week later we returned (Flight 3C 402 on 13 September 2019) and guess what the windowless seats again. However, we were assured that once airborne we could move to window seats which we did and remained there until approach to Auckland. Interestingly of the eight passengers in the windowless area only four of us moved.

Convair 580 ZK-CIB back at Norfolk for Don's return flight home on 13 September 2019 - Don Colway photos

Again fantastic and genuine cabin service.

Very interesting to also note that the flight was also carrying what appeared to be a fair amount of freight –making good use of CIB’s ‘combi’ capacity…..a direct air freight service to/from New Zealand may be very useful to Norfolk Islanders.

A solid machine - Don Colway photo

All too soon back in Auckland and a few hours wait before boarding a regular SAAB flight back to Whanganui..

“Islanders” were very welcoming and were all very interested that we had come on the new direct service. Many spoke of a real sadness that the Air New Zealand direct service had been dropped and expressed a real enthusiasm for the new Air Chathams service.

I thoroughly recommend this new service especially to my fellow aircraft enthusiasts. How much longer the Convairs will be around is anyone’s guess – like so many things it depends to whom you talk.

One thing is sure they won’t last forever so my recommendation is do this unique flight before it’s too late.

I’m also prepared to bet that readers will fall in love with the Island – we did.