26 March 2010

Southern Cross Airways - Flying When You Need to Fly

Twenty five years ago this month Southern Cross Airways began a scheduled service on the 4th of March 1985 linking Auckland and Whangarei using Cessna 421C Golden Eagle ZK-SLC. The company was an off shoot of the Ardmore Flying School, was owned and directed by Liz Needham and Pete Roe. Crews were made up of two pilots out of Liz Needham Sarah Caldwell, Jim Dunn, Andrew Wildman and the Golden Eagle carried up to six passengers per flight.

Northern Advocate, 2 March 1985

The first service was operated from Whangarei to Auckland on the 4th of March 1985 in Cessna Golden Eagle ZK-SLC under the command of Pete Roe and Sarah Caldwell.

Champagne launchings are the lighter side of a city dignitary's duties. But the christening of a new air service between Whangarei and Auckland yesterday proved to be a downright hilarious affair. Whangarel Mayor Mrs Joyce Ryan was to break a bottle of champagne over a Southern Cross Airways' Cessna Golden Eagle commuter plane before its inaugural flight from Onerahi Airport yesterday. Mrs Ryan found she had to bring the champagne and at the early hour of 9 a.m. managed to procure a bottle of the sparkling liquor, even if It was not French. Just where she obtained her supply Mrs Ryan would not say. "l think, the guy thought I was crazy wanting a bottle at this hour of the morning," she said. Out on the tarmac Mrs Ryan was nervous about, breaking glass over the gleaming new paint job, but after words from Southern Cross managing director Mr Peter Roe that a stone taped to the fibreglass fuselage plate would make sure the plane was not damaged, she swung the bottle. Nothing happened. A second swing dislodged the stone and with it some paint. By now the little group gathered was rocking with mirth. Undaunted Mr Roe then cast his eyes to the solid, steel undercarriage to crack the bottle on. However, Mrs Ryan was a little apprehensive and it was decided to pop the cork, give the bottle a good shake and spray the plane. Seen above doing the honours are Mrs Ryan and Mr, Roe, watched by the first officer on the inaugural flight, Sarah CaldweIl. Mrs Ryan welcomed the service which will provide four flights in and out of Whangarei each day. She said that in terms of time and money flying proved more economical than motoring to and from Auckland, particularly for those with business commitments.
Northern Advocate, 5 March 1985

Southern Cross Airways' Cessna 421 Golden Eagle ZK-SLC at Christchurch on 20 October 1986

The initial timetable had four daily weekday flights with two return flights on Saturdays and Sundays. The weekend flights were eventually reduced to a single southbound service on a Saturday morning with the return service being operated on the Sunday evening. Connections were made at Auckland to Air Albatross, Wairarapa Airlines and the then unaligned Eagle Air.

On 29th of April 1985 the company made NZ aviation history with the country’s first all women flight crew on a commercial service when chief pilot, director and owner of the airline Liz Needham and First Officer Sarah Caldwell flew the morning Auckland-Whangarei-Auckland sectors in the Golden Eagle. On board was seventy year old aviatrix June Glen, one of a four woman pilot formation to meet and escort pioneering aviatrix Jean Batten to a landing at Wanganui in 1934.

Liz Needham (left) and Sarah Caldwell, New Zealand's first all female flight crew.
Photo : Nelson Evening Mail, 29 April 1985

In July 1985 Partenavia P68B ZK-NMK was painted in Southern Cross Airways colours and used as the back-up aircraft while continuing to operate sister company Ardmore Air Charter's services to Great Barrier Island.

Back-up aircraft, Partenavia P68B, ZK-NMK at Ardmore on 8 January 1986.

From the 28th of October 1985 the service weekend services were reduced to a single Whangarei to Auckland service on Saturday mornings and a return flight on Sunday evenings. The service was halted over the summer period from the 24th of December 1985 to the 20th of January 1986.

The air service resumed after the summer break. The last timetable I have, effective the 10th of March 1986, shows on weekdays, two morning Whangarei-Auckland flights and one return operated and one afternoon Whangarei-Auckland flight and two returns with the a single Whangarei to Auckland service on Saturday mornings and a return flight on Sunday evenings. The airlines ceased operating some time after this in 1986.

I am trying to establish a database of all New Zealand’s third level operations. Can you help with any more information on Southern Cross Airways, in particular...
• The final date of Southern Cross Airway’s flights in 1986?
• Any other information or interesting stories information regarding Southern Cross Airways’ operation?
If you can, please write a comment below or e-mail me at westland831@gmail.com

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