18 December 2009

17-18 Dec 2009 - Hokitika-Haast Air Service celebrations

18 December 2009 celebrated the 75th anniversary of New Zealand's first scheduled air service. Bert Mercer formed Air Travel NZ Ltd to fly from Hokitika to South Westland and in particular to Haast which was still cut off from the national raoding network. After World War II Air Travel, Cook Strait Airways and Union Airways were merged to form the NZ National Airways Corporation. In 1978 the national domestic carrier was merged with the international carrier, keeping the latter's name, Air New Zealand. So Hokitika airport holds the honour of being airport that has had the longest continuous scheduled air service in New Zealand. Celebrations at Hokitika and Haast marked the event, though sadly an unusually wet weekend on the Coast kept most of the Haast event firmly on the ground. However, in Hokitika examples of the earlier De Havilland aircaft that started the service were present and offering joyrides mixing with the more contemporary types on their scheduled work... Air Travel's original aircaft, De Havilland 83 Fox Moth ZK-ADI in full Air Travel colours back at Hokitika. Air Travel had three Fox Moths and these were used were continued to be by NAC until the mid 1950s. ZK-AYR, an example of Air Travel's two larger De Havilland 90 Dragonfly aircraft which were purchased to expand the air service. These were used on flights to South Westland and through to Greymouth, Westport and Nelson. Both Air Travel's Dragonflies met sad fates.
ZK-AXI is New Zealand's only example of a De Havilland 84 Dragon. Following the crash of one of their Dragonfly's, Air Travel acquired a Dargon ZK-AHT, for the service to Nelson. Sadly this too crashed in 1944 killing the founder of Air Travel, Bert Mercer. Though not used on scheduled air services in Westland Fox Moth ZK-APT was used extensively in South Westland.
Old aircraft, new airport and new terminal. The De Havilland types that frequented Hokitika largely used the old airfield on the south side of the Hokitika River. The move to present airport also involved moving the terminal which was later replaced by the current terminal. The De Havilland aircraft were parked outside the terminal as an extension to it, aptly named the Mercer Lounge, was officially opened. Continuing on the tradition of British aircraft Air National is chartered to provide additional capacity on the Christchurch-Hokitika service with BAe Jetstream aircraft such as ZK-ECN. At present they fly four flights a week but at times they have been used twice a day. The weather was starting to turn as Eagle Air's Beech 1900 ZK-EAO arrived from Christchurch. Eagle fly up to five flights a day to Hokitika. With the celebrations it would have been a good day to announce a direct Hokitika-Wellington service... it didn't happen!

If you haven't already got a copy of Richard Waugh's book on the historic air service, HOKI TO HAAST, it really is a good read!

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