12 February 2023

Masterton's Two Year NAC Service

By late 1965 SPANZ, which had provided Masterton with its first air service, was in serious financial trouble and the announcement was subsequently made that the airline would cease operating on the 28th of March 1966.

Although NAC did not commence flying to Masterton before 1966 their aircraft did visit on occasion, particularly if there was an air show. NAC Douglas DC-3 ZK-AYK is seen here at Masterton for an airshow in 1963. Notice the small windows. When the DC-3s were converted to Skyliner (or Viewmaster) for the SPANZ aircraft larger windows were part of the modification. Photo : Graeme Ayson Collection, Wairarapa Archive

On the 9th of January 1966 the National Airway Corporation announced it would take over SPANZ’s services to Taupo and Masterton in the North Island and Oamaru in the South Island. NAC plan for the new Taupo and Masterton service was to use a Douglas DC-3 aircraft on a daily two-way service between Auckland and Wellington by way of Rotorua, Taupō and Masterton. The Corporation announced that, subject to the approval of the Air Licensing Authority, the service was expected to begin on the 1st of March 1966.

By this stage NAC had already been retiring some of its DC-3 fleet and the decision was made to purchase one of SPANZ’s Douglas DC-3 Viewmasters, ZK-CAW.  

At this time NAC was exploring the feasibility of buying light aircraft to serve New Zealand’s smaller towns. The general-manager of NAC, Mr D. A. Patterson, was reported in the Nelson Evening Mail of the 12th of February 1966 as saying The Corporation expected to finish its investigations and evaluations of suitable light aircraft in three or four months. The Corporation had to plan ahead because its ageing DC-3s would finally be taken out of service in about three years. When the DC-3s were withdrawn, the Corporation would be left with possibly three courses: The corporation could replace the DC-3 fleet with similar aircraft capable of landing on short grass runways; Concrete grass runways to Friendship aircraft standard; Buy light aircraft capable of carrying up to a dozen or more passengers and landing on short grass runways. The grass airports are Masterton, Oamaru, Timaru and Alexandra. Mr Patterson said: "We have always had it in our minds to use light aircraft to towns such as these because the number of passengers carried to and from them is not very heavy:" 

The Press, 12 March 1966

With Rex Daniell, DFC, AFC, one of the founders of SPANZ being a local from Masterton, and not just any local, the Daniell family having deep roots in Masterton and the wider area, SPANZ had received a lot of local support and the town had very much adopted SPANZ as its own. NAC's Masterton air service started on the 1st of March 1966 with a Douglas DC-3 flying the morning southbound Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo-Masterton-Wellington service and the return the northbound service in the afternoon. The Wairarapa Times-Age carried a NAC advertisement for the air service, but apart from that there was no reporting of the new NAC service.

Wairarapa Times-Age, 1 March 1966

ZK-CAW, the Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster NAC purchased from South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand, was flown from Invercargill to NAC's Christchurch engineering facilities on the 1st of March for a maintenance check and repainting in NAC’s DC-3 Skyliner colour scheme. These normally carried a "Skyliner" title on the tail but being a "Viewmaster" ZK-CAW did not wear this title . It entered service the following week. However, ZK-CAW, did not stay in the fleet long. It was registered to National Airways Corporation on the 7th of March 1966, entering service the same day. Just three months later, however, on the 5th of June 1966 the aircraft was cancelled and went to Fiji Airways as VQ-FAI.    

The ex SPANZ Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster, ZK-CAW, George Bolt, in its NAC colours at Masterton in 1966 during its brief stint with NAC. 

The NAC timetable effective the 1st of June was the first NAC timetable to feature Masterton and it shows the connections south to Wellington and north to Auckland via Taupo and Rotorua.

The Masterton's twice daily service in the NAC timetable effective from 1 June 1966

The flight path of the flights through Masterton ... Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo-Masterton-Wellington

There were some interesting features in the timetable. At that time there was only the one flight a day between Auckland and Rotorua. Interestingly the Rotorua to Wellington flights did not include those that operated via Taupo and Masterton were not listed in the NAC timetable. 

On the 22nd of February 1966, just a matter of days before NAC took over the Masterton air service, a Nord 262 visited Masterton on demonstration to NAC and Mount Cook Airlines as a possible DC-3 replacement. The Nord 262, registered F-BLHQ, was a prototype aircraft and had been on an eight month lease with Japan Domestic Airlines while this company waited delivery of the second of three such aircraft. It visited Masterton as part of a multi-nation demonstration tour which saw it visit, the Philippines, New Guinea, New Caledonia. New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia. South Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India, Nepal. Ceylon, Pakistan,  Afghanistan. Iran and Syria on its way back to France. The Wairarapa Times-Age reported that the Nord 262 was a pressurised turboprop designed to carry 26 to 29 passengers over on sectors up to 500 miles at a cruising speed of about 230 miles an hour. The local paper reported that the Nord made two flights from Hood aerodrome during the afternoon with representatives of local bodies, the Press and radio as passengers. After taxi-ing speedily to the northern end of the runway and heading into the wind, the Nord was airborne within 15 seconds. A cantilever high-wing monoplane, with well-placed windows, the Nord gave its passengers a wide view of a patchwork of brown, and fading green as it cruised smoothly over the central Wairarapa. The Nord 262 was demonstrated to Mount Cook Airlines on the following day and flew from Christchurch to Mount Cook and back. The planned flights to Queenstown and, the following day, to Westport did not happen due to weather.

SPANZ Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYD, Ernest Rutherford, about to board at Masterton on 22 February 1966 as the touted DC-3 replacement, Nord 262 F-BLHQ, taxis in behind. Photo : Wairarapa and Ruahine Aero Club Collection, Wairarapa Archive

In early August 1966 a report in the Wairarapa "Times-Age" about a possible light aircraft replacement for DC·3s for the Wairarapa air service raised concern at a meeting of the Masterton County Council. It was reported that a twin-engined Piper Aztec was being considered as a possible replacement for the DC-3 and was to make trial, flights from the airport. These flights had been arranged by the Member of Parliament for Wairarapa, Mr H V Donald, in consultation with Mr E. A. Gibson, a former Director of Civil Aviation. "I am surprised,” said Mr F H Bennett, the chairman. "Since the end of the SPANZ service, discussions have been held with NAC officials, who agreed to provide a service to the Wairarapa," he said. "There were talks about the type of plane to be used, and N.A.C. agreed to provide the service. Discussions were held as to the best way this could be given, either by a special light aircraft which NAC were 'investigating', and which was operating in Australia, or by the present DC-3 aircraft." 

What might have been, the Wellington Aero Club's Piper Aztec, ZK-CEU, that was considered as a possible replacement for the Douglas DC-3 and was to make trial flights between Wellington and Masterton

The Times-Age report continues, In later discussions with NAC, at which the Mayor of Masterton, Mr N S Tankersley, and the chairman of the Wairarapa Development Council, Mr R P Wakelin, were present, it was agreed that the NAC's proposal for a feeder service to Masterton using the DC-3 aircraft, should be given a trial. “This is to start on August 19, and no information has been received from NAC that any alteration is anticipated, or that it is proposed to use a charter aircraft from the Wellington Aero Club, their five-seater Aztec.

The DC-3 “feeder service” began on the 19th of August 1966. Masterton’s twice daily DC-3 flights with connections to Wellington and Auckland were reduced to a single daily DC-3 flight which operated from Wellington to Masterton and return around midday. The flight time was 35 minutes each way with a 10 minute turn around time at Masterton.

The Masterton "Feeder Service" shown in the NAC timetable effective from 18 August 1967

In October 1967, in its annual report for the corporation, NAC gave a warning that Oamaru, Westport, Kaikohe and Masterton might lose their NAC service as Friendships took over provincial services thus allowing the retirement of the uneconomic DC-3 aircraft. This would improve the marginal economic balance of unprofitable services.

It was the impending retirement of the DC-3s and the arrival of commuter airline, Sky Travel (NZ), that were the final nails in the coffin for Masterton’s short lived NAC service. The decision was made that two of NAC’s uneconomic routes, Hamilton-Gisborne and Wellington-Masterton were to be handed over to the new airline. Sky Travel (NZ)'s two eight-seat Cessna 402 aircraft arrived in New Zealand at the end of January 1968. 

NAC's DC-3 Skyliner ZK-AOF, Blenheim, operated the final NAC Masterton services on the 18th of February 1968. The flights from and to Wellington were operated under the command of Captain Schlegel and First Officer A  Foley with Miss S W Paterson being the air hostess.

The following day Sky Travel (NZ) commenced operations taking over Masterton's air service. The new airline was to be short-lived and by mid-year the town was without an air service. Despite the best efforts of the town authorities the national carrier was not to return to Masterton for another 40 years. 

A big thanks to Alan Wooller and to Liz Conway from Te Pūranga Kōrero o Wairarapa/Wairarapa Archive for their assistance in preparing this post

1 comment:

  1. And thus again, Hood Aerodrome waits patiently for the next Commercial Airline attempt