19 April 2010

Skyferry T-birds

Tri-motored aircraft are not unknown in New Zealand. The first trans-Tasman flight was flown by Charles Kingsford Smith in a tri-motored Fokker F.VIIb/3m, the Southern Cross. Mercury Airlines and later Great Barrier Airlines flew an Australian tri-motor De Havilland Australia Drover ZK-DDD. More well known was Air New Zealand’s fleet of tri-motored McDonnell Douglas DC-10s. Twenty years ago, this month, New Zealand saw the introduction another tri-motored aircraft, the Britten Norman Trislander.

Trislanders had been mooted for service in New Zealand before this. In 1973 NAC did a running cost comparison between two Trislanders as opposed to one Friendship. In 1980 Stewart Island Air Services evaluated the possibility of using a Trislander on its flights between Invercargill and Dunedin and Invercargill and Stewart Island. Neither evaluations came to anything. Eventually it was Skyferry who was first to introduce Trislanders to New Zealand skies with ZK-SFF starting flying their services between Wellington and Picton and Wellington and Blenheim on the 12th of April 1990. This was followed, much later than expected, by ZK-SFG in September that year.

Trislanders are long... ZK-SFF at Picton's Koromiko airport on 14 December 1990.

NZ Wings gave a good description of the Trislanders in the October 1990 issue; “The two unique aeroplanes are of Belgian manufacture, being put together at Gosselies in 1976 when Britten-Norman was part of the Fairey Group. As with their older cousins, the Islanders, the three-engined Trislanders were ferried "home" to Bembridge on the Isle of Wight for completion as -2 models with a long nose, droop flap and wing tip tanks. The impressive slim line commuters are powered by three 260 hp Lycoming 0-540 E4C5 engines, have a wingspan of 53 feet and a MAUW of 10,000 lbs.” Skyferry operated their Trislanders with two pilots with seating for 14 to 16 passengers depending on luggage.

By mid 1991, however, Skyferry was in serious trouble, the Trislanders contributing significantly to this. The company was placed in receivership on the 14th of July 1991 and at that time Cliff Marchant commented to NZ Wings that when they arrived the pair of Trislanders weren't in such good condition as at first thought. "They cost a lot to get running. ATD hit us with a lot of new requirements that weren't on existing operators. We took six months to get over that, and they relaxed the requirements in the end. The engineering staff were slow in getting the Trislanders going. They overdid the budget last year. Our sundry spares stock went from $40,000 to $250,000 in three months. We were stripped of working capital. In one year wages increased by 250 percent with only 25 per cent more work done. "We had a shootout with the engineering manager and in November went to Safe Air. As soon as the Trislanders went there for maintenance, things changed dramatically, with good reliability. They're an excellent organisation."

Spot the nose. ZK-SFG outside Safe Air at Blenheim's Woodbourne Airport, 15 December 1990.

With Skyferry in receivership the Trislanders were parked at Woodbourne and eventually sold in the UK, their New Zealand registrations cancelled on 23rd of December 1992. 10 years later, TO THE DAY, another Trislander was registered in New Zealand, ZK-LGR, being the first of Great Barrier Airlines Trislanders, but that is another story!

"When they arrived the pair of Trislanders weren't in such good condition as at first thought," Cliff Marchant said of the Skyferry Trislanders. I wonder if Great Barrier would say the same of ZK-LGF... It arrived on the 26th of November last year and is still to enter service. A just in case shot at North Shore on 6 March 2010.

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