21 July 2022

A Capital Voplar Idea

As part of the AirHistory.net  - The Aviation History Image Archive - John Mounce sent out a couple of photos of Swiss-registered Volpar Turboliners.  Volpar Turbo 18 was a conversion of Beech Model 18s fitted with the Volpar MkIV tricycle undercarriage and powered by two 705-hp Garrett TPE331-1-101B turboprop engines.

Volpar Turboliner HB-GFU at Belp, Switzerland in August 1976. Photographer: Daniel Ruhier – Rainer Haufschild Collection via Neil Aird

Volpar Turboliner HB-GGB at Belp, Switerland on 25 January 1976. Photographer: Daniel Ruhier – Rainer Haufschild Collection via Neil Aird

In the 1970's the Wellington Aero Club's commercial wing, Capital Air Services http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/05/capital-air-services-aero-club-to.html, put a proposal to NAC to take over over their Wellington-Blenheim service using Volpar Turboliners. While the proposal was unsuccessful Capital Air Services' then general manager, Murray Turley, went on to revolutionise regional air services in New Zealand first with Capital Air Services' Cessna 402s but more importantly with Air Albatross and its Swearingen Metroliner services https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2018/02/air-albatross-cook-strait-commuter.html.

Looking back to his 1972 proposal, however, on the 31st of May 1972 this article appeared in the Nelson Evening Mail...

The National Airways Corporation has turned down a proposal by Capital Air Services Ltd to take over the Wellington-Blenheim air service. This was confirmed yesterday by the general manager of Capital, Mr Murray Turley. The Wellington-based firm which is the commercial arm of the Wellington Aero Club has been negotiating with the corporation for some time. Late last year Capital undertook to prepare a proposal to make N.A.C.'s Blenheim service a profitable operation. At the same time Capital decided to plan for an increase in flights, while still maintaining service and reliability equal to that of N.A.C. Capital gave the final proposal to N.A.C. on May 3. This scheme provided for an increase in daily return flights from the present three to eight with extra flights at holiday peaks. Capital proposed using Volpar Turboliners, turboprop conversions of the Beech 18 that seat from 16 to 18 with capacity for baggage and freight. No increase in the present fare was contemplated. N.A.C. has now told Capital that its proposal is unacceptable and the corporation intends to continue operating the service itself, with its own aircraft. Last year N.A.C. lost $114,000 on the Wellington-Blenheim service. 

This was followed up in a longer article in Issue 33 of the Aviation Digest...

Using the same equipment to do the same job, a private enterprise airline could probably make a profit of about $20,000 from a service on which NAC lost $120,000 last year. This is one of the curious conclusions to be drawn from NAC's recent and even more curious wooing and last-minute rejection of Capital Air Services Ltd, the Wellington Aero Club's commercial arm. Aviation Digest is not clear when NAC-CAS overtures began but, with the coming of spring last year, there was a positive warmth in the liaison, and NAC was making figures available to CAS to help it prepare a proposal. The dovecot fluttering was prompted by CAS's thought that NAC would give its Wellington-Blenheim services as part of its marriage dowry. CAS conducted a detailed appraisal of six possible off-spring types, and finally plumped for the Volpar Turbo-liner, a stretched, turbo-prop version of the Beech 18 from the home of custom-built aircraft. With seats for up to 18 passengers, the Volpar was to make eight Wellington-Blenheim-Wellington flights a day. Though some prospective passengers could have been disappointed at peak time travel times, the proposed schedule - not to put too fine a point on it - would have given a somewhat better frequency than NAC now provides. CAS General Manager M. C. Turley typed up his initial assessment of the proposed service, its likely profitability and his supporting calculations last New Year's eve. In the 18 months preceding his presentation, NAC's Wellington - Blenheim fare had risen by 7½ per cent plus 12½ per cent plus $1 to $7.90 for the 50-mile overwater flight — a better buy, Aviation Digest hastens to add, than a taxi fare over the same distance when return charges are taken into consideration. Mr Turley's figures were subjected to periodic pruning in the next month or two. Nevertheless - even after their last downward revision CAS's sums showed that it could give a more frequent Wellington - Blenheim service than NAC, bear the standing charges of a backup aircraft and still make a $48,000 profit on the $7.90 fare after meeting costs of more than $467,600 including a payment of $78,000 or so to NAC for services rendered. But by now spring, summer and most of autumn had gone and, like the winter that followed, NAC turned cold. CAS, it forecast, would lose $51,900 a year on the service. In addition, NAC's Mr D. A. Patterson had resigned from the executive of the Wellington Districts Aero Club, Capital Air Services' owner. On May 17 he questioned aspects of Mr Turley's calculations and said that changed circumstances including halving NAC's Blenheim staff would almost completely eliminate the corporation's losses on the route. In fact, he added, if NAC closed its Blenheim office, the resultant savings—assuming the corporation's F-27 could be gainfully employed elsewhere — would be offset by the loss of more than $100,000 in sector revenue. Later, in Wanganui, Mr Patterson told a Press forum that CAS had omitted to include in its operating expenses interest charges on the money it would have borrowed on its Volpars. He then discussed other groups which had sought to take over certain NAC services without first considering all the factors involved. Sky Travel, he said, was an example. It left $40,000 worth of handling costs out of its calculations and "went broke" in six weeks. Meanwhile passenger traffic built by NAC fell from 11 to two a day. Curious, Aviation Digest subsequently inspected CAS's figures. They showed that interest on borrowed capital was included in its costings. Disregarding CAS claim and NAC counter-claim, there seems little doubt that both airlines could do quite nicely out of the Blenheim service if it were conducted by CAS with an F-27 hired from NAC at its charter rate of $225 an hour. NAC's profit from hire charges ($315,000 for 1400 hours should be somewhere between $14,000 and $28,000. Meanwhile, after allowing for half, discounted and pro-rated fares, CAS could expect to gross about $470,000 from a fairly constant 65,000 passengers a year at current charges. Approximate costs would include airport and airways dues $42,300 commissions on sales, $23,550; advertising, $7000; ground costs at Blenheim and Wellington (based on a firm private enterprise quote), $55,250; reservations and ticketing, $12,000; management, $10,000, and hire charges. When net freight revenue (conservatively estimated at $13,500) is added to the result-ant surplus, pre-tax profit totals about $18,850 or about 4 per cent on gross turnover. Mail revenue would further swell the total. Come to think of it, couldn't F-27 hire mean, for NAC, profit without tears? 


  1. This idea could have been quite Vop(u)lar! if it had come to anything

  2. What I find interesting about this story is that Soundsair appear to be using the same business model of smaller planes and a more frequent services . And they have been very successful with it