03 April 2010

Rotorua’s Expanding Airline – Geyserland Airways

Post written by F B Gavin

In 1969 Ian Palmer, Sel Goldsworthy and Fred Ladd formed Geyserland Airways Limited to take over the scheduled airline, floatplane, and some of the charter operations previously operated by the Rotorua Aero Club. The aero club had built up a substantial air charter business under the trading name of ‘Rotorua Aerial Charter’ as well as a small airline business, which traded as ‘Geyserland Airways’. The airline division used Aero Commander 500 ZK-CWP (backed up by Cessna 172s) on a twice-daily service from Rotorua to Auckland with a stop at Matamata on demand. The aero club had found that the effort and finance needed to develop these facets of its operations were requiring too much commitment, and that the traditional aspects of the aero club were being neglected. Ian Palmer, who had been the aero club’s Manager/Chief Flying Instructor, left the club to become the Managing Director of Geyserland Airways Limited. Geyserland Airways Limited was formed at the end of March 1969 but operations continued to use the aero club’s air services licences until 17 June of the same year. At this time the licences were transferred to the new company. 

Geyserland Airways' Aero Commander 500 ZK-CWP at Rotorua soon after its take over from Rotorua Aerial Charter

Repainted in Geyserland Airways' colour scheme, Aero Commander 500 ZK-CWP at Rotorua.

The company then set about developing business in the airline, air charter, floatplane, scenic flights and pilot training fields. 

Cessna 150 ZK-BYM at Rotorua

Cessna 172 ZK-CHP at Rotorua on 16 May 1974

Cessna 180 floatplane ZK-BVG at Lake Rotorua

Cessna 185 floatplane ZK-CKU at Lake Rotorua

An early move was to expand the airline service north to Auckland by taking over the Auckland/Kaikohe route from NAC, plus an extension southwards from Rotorua to Gisborne. Geyserland’s first flight to Kaikohe was piloted by Sel Goldsworthy in ZK-CWP on the 22nd August of 1970. This was flown as an extension of the Rotorua-Auckland service.

To service an expanding market, Geyserland Airways Ltd began the search for a larger twin-engined Aero Grand Commander to supplement the smaller Aero Commander 500. Meanwhile Palmer was involved in a forced landing in Ethiopia while delivering the newly purchased Grand Commander from the Kenyan Police Air Wing. The delays caused in delivering the aircraft to New Zealand and the consequent repairs required meant the aircraft was not finally introduced into service until April 1971.

Geyserland Airways' timetable effective from the 21st of August 1970 also showed services from Rotorua to Gisborne via Kawerau. However, with the Grand Commander's entry to service delayed this route did not begin until December 1970. These flights operated from Rotorua after the arrival of the flight from Kaikohe and Auckland. After the flight returned to Rotorua the afternoon service to Matamata and Auckland was operated.

Geyserland Airways' timetable effective 21 August 1970

Photo taken at Gisborne. Source : Gisborne Photo News, 24 February 1971...
However there is a problem with the Gisborne Photo News' caption - Morrinsville should read Matamata

The floatplane operation was expanded to Taupo in mid-1970 from the initial base at the Rotorua lakefront. On 9 August 1970 Fred Ladd was involved in an incident in Cessna 185 floatplane ZK-CFE, which suffered a total engine failure. Ladd miraculously crash landed the aircraft on a farm near Orakei Korako. Ladd and the passengers suffered minor injuries but the aircraft was a total write-off.

Early in 1971 Ladd severed his connections with the company and formed a scenic flight operation with the Rotorua Aero Club known as ‘Volcanic Wunderflites’. Also early in 1971 the airline expanded its timetable to include Napier, Taupo, Hamilton and Kerikeri on an air taxi basis with flights being made to these centres only if traffic was available. These flights appeared in the timetable effective from the 1st of February 1971, but were not listed in the next timetable effective, the 9th of June 1971, though mention was made that they were available. Leased Cessna 185 ZK-CKU operated many of these extra services.

A Geyserland Airways' ticket

In August 1971 NAC withdrew its air service from Kaitaia because of soft patches in the main runway. Geyserland Airways Ltd gained a temporary air services licence and began to serve Kaitaia from Auckland twice daily. However less than a week after the service began on 30 August 1971 Aero Grand Commander ZK-DBQ suffered the collapse of the right main undercarriage leg when landing at Kaitaia on a secondary metalled runway. Cessna 310 ZK-CFG was leased to support both Aero Commander ZK-CWP and Cessna 185 ZK-CKU to operate the company’s airline services. This included the temporary operation to Kaitaia, which lasted for several months. Meanwhile ZK-DBQ was flown to Auckland for repairs. 

On 26 September 1971 the airline began a contract to fly the Sunday Herald newspaper from Auckland to Wellington in the early hours of Sunday mornings. For a time in 1972 the airline flew the New Zealand Herald from Auckland to Napier in the early hours of the mornings from Monday to Saturday. The aircraft was then flown north to Rotorua to begin the daily schedule.

Geyserland Airways' Grand Commander 680FL ZK-DBQ at Rotorua on 1 April 1973

On 16 January 1972 ZK-DBQ again suffered another landing accident when the loss of power from both engines, followed by a surge from the starboard engine was experienced on final approach to Wellington Airport. The aircraft was thrown off course and struck a pile of rubble, with the port undercarriage being torn off. When temporary repairs had been made the aircraft was flown to Christchurch for permanent repairs by NAC. Grand Commander VH-EXZ was leased from Australia as a temporary replacement until Geyserland’s second Grand Commander ZK-DHF superseded it in March 1972.

Aero Commander 680FL Grand Commander VH-EXZ which Geyserland Airways used in 1971. Photo taken at Melbourne's Essendon Airport on 6 December 1969. Photo used with permission

Geyserland Airways' Grand Commander 680FL calls into Matamata on 18 January 1973

In April 1972 the airline operation was transferred to an associated company, Air North Ltd but the floatplane and air charter operations continued as Geyserland Airways Ltd. Also in 1972 Geyserland Airways Ltd developed an air charter division known as ‘Skyways Air Charter’, which utilised a leased Cessna 182 ZK-DID. Skyways Air Charter actually belonged to John Burns and his father. John got his CPL and they used Geyserland's air services certificate to operate it commercially, so even though the advertising below reads, "A division of Geyserland Airways" it wasn't really part of Geyserland Airways.

Skyways Air Charter's Cessna 182 ZK-DID at Rotorua

Ian Palmer was by this time devoting much of his time to the running of the airline Air North Ltd and in October 1973 the floatplane division was sold to a new company known as Floatplane Air Services Ltd, headed by Brian Brooker. After the floatplane operation was sold John Burn and Mark Malone bought the land based air charter operation remnants of Geyserland and formed a new company, Geyserland Airways (1974) Ltd. From this time there were three separate companies each operating independently, in different fields and with different shareholdings. The original Geyserland Airways Ltd then ceased operations.

PEOPLE: Included-
Brooker, Brian -pilot
Burns, John- pilot
Dwight, Warren - pilot
Goldsworthy, Selwyn- director and pilot
Ladd, Fred- director and pilot
Leach, Robin- pilot
Malone, Mark- pilot
Palmer, Ian- part time administration
Palmer, Ian Pitt- managing director and chief pilot
Palmer, John- administration and pilot
Palmer Joyce- administration
Palmer, Keith- administration
Ussher, Miles- pilot

AIRCRAFT: Included-
ZK-BVG Cessna 180A (180-50068) floatplane
ZK-BYM Cessna 150A (150-59079)
ZK-CFE Cessna 185B (185-0590) floatplane
ZK-CFG Cessna 310 (310-0085) leased
ZK-CHP Cessna 172F (172-52038)
ZK-CKU Cessna 185D (185-0931) leased as a landplane, later owned and converted to a floatplane
ZK-CWP Aero Commander 500 (500-842-97)
ZK-DBQ Aero Grand Commander 680FL (680FL-1330-15)
ZK-DHF Aero Grand Commander 680FL (680FL-1429-71)
ZK-DID Cessna 182L (182-59031) leased from Air Rentals Ltd and operated by an air charter division of Geyserland Airways Ltd known as ‘Skyways Air Charter’
VH-EXZ Aero Grand Commander 680FL (680FL-1379-48) leased from Executive Air Services Pty Ltd of Melbourne for several weeks in early 1972. Executive Airlines Pty Ltd owned VH-EXZ from 22 March 1965 until 18 October 1979.

-‘Flying the Thermal Skies’ by Don Stafford, particularly Page 166
-‘Taking Off- Pioneering Small Airlines of New Zealand 1945-1970’ By Waugh, Gavin, Layne and McConnell, 2003, Page 206
-‘New Zealand Wings’ April 1976. Pages 18-21

Peter Layne and Tony Arbon


  1. other float planes at the lake front rotorua in the 1970's were
    ZK-DWM C206 ''still flying south island''
    ZK-EFD C206 crashed mount tarawara early 1980s
    ZK-DXC C206 based in taupo '' bent in 2013 landing miss hap''
    ZK-EKI C206
    ZK-BVG ,broke its mooring in taupo ''destroyed by the flood gates''
    ZK-CKU ,crashed lake taupo
    Regards Glennbrooker@hotmail.com

  2. Other pilots/engineers with Geyserland/Air North between 1971-1973 included myself, Peter Clulow, Ken Kaye, Leith McIntosh, Carran Finlaysen