12 June 2010

Beavering Away in Tokoroa

While Tokoroa has never included been on NAC or Air New Zealand's national network it has seen some interesting air services operated by some interesting aircraft types operating through the years. 

The first of these was operated by James Aviation Company Ltd., of Hamilton. Supported by New Zealand Forest Products, this was James Aviation’s first foray into operating a regular air service. In 1954, the company successfully applied for a licence to operate a non-scheduled passenger and freight service between, Rotorua, Kinleith (Tokoroa), Kawerau and Auckland. The service, which was to be based at Rotorua, traded as James Air Services.   

On the 25th of November 1954 the headlines of the South Waikato News announced, “Silver Wings Over Town, Forest and Farmland - Tokoroa to Have Own Air Service Soon.” James selected De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, ZK-BFO (c/n 609), to operate the service. The local newspaper described the Beaver as “the most modern light passenger plane in New Zealand.” It was configured to seat six passengers, with “windows placed so that each traveller has an unobstructed view of the country below.” The paper also noted that, “An unusual feature is that passengers may smoke.” While he service was primarily for the staff and management of NZ Forest Products it was "also to be made available to residents of Tokoroa."   

The De Havilland Canada Beaver ZK-BFO which was used for the James Air Services' operation

“The ‘News’ representative accompanied five of the officials in a comprehensive flight over the Tokoroa district, and so feels qualified to state that Tokoroa from the air is a revelation and the impressions from above are not lightly to be dismissed. Forest Products’ hundreds of staff houses set in semi-circular subdivisions, and the expanding commercial and residential areas in the township give the beholder a clear picture of the township's ever-widening boundaries. The evergreen, waste-free, farmlands and the vast expanses of pine forests dominated by the Kinleith mills is an impressive panorama, assimilated in a few minutes. Below is a once-upon-a-time wasteland which has been transformed to a prosperous and golden land of sturdy promise and security, by foresight of men of vision and scientific attainments.”

South Waikato News, 17 March 1955

In preparation for the service, the airfield at Amisfield, on the south side of Tokoroa, was extended with the local newspaper predicting that “the single wings of the Beaver over our pine forests, farmlands, homes and industries will be the symbol of the many other silver wings which will cast their flickering shadows as they speed toward Tokoroa - the heart of this new-found wealth of the Dominion.”

Sadly, the air service got off to an inauspicious start with. The first flight through Tokoroa, set down for Monday, the 20th of December 1954, was cancelled by poor weather. Tokoroa's air service finally got airborne on the 23rd of December 1954.

The original schedule had two flights operating between Rotorua and Auckland each weekday. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings the northbound service would operate via Kawerau and the southbound service would operate via Tokoroa (Kinleith). In the afternoon the reverse pattern was flown. On Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings the northbound service would operate via Tokoroa and the southbound service would operate via Kawerau. Again, in the afternoon, the reverse pattern was flown. 

South Waikato News, 24 February 1955

By March, however, a new schedule had been introduced to offer pickups and drop offs at both Kawerau and Tokoroa on all flights if there were passengers offering. The Beaver would leave Rotorua at 7.40am to pick up Kawerau passengers, return to Rotorua, picking up passengers from there and Tokoroa, stop at Hamilton to drop off passengers before heading to Auckland. The aircraft returned retracing the pattern of the northbound flight, arriving back at Rotorua at 11.30am. The complete timetable was repeated in the afternoon with the Beaver departing at 2.10pm and arriving home at 6.00pm. 

Timetable effective 7 March 1955 - South Waikato Times, 24 March 1955

By the 26th of May 1955, Hamilton was dropped from the schedule and the stops at Kawerau were operated ‘on demand.’ 

South Waikato News, 26 May 1955

The later winter schedule had an earlier afternoon departure to ensure the Beaver was back in Rotorua during daylight hours.

South Waikato News, 2 June 1955

Despite extensive advertising, the company did not gain the necessary support. At some point during the winter of 1955 James Air Services ceased their operation. The service was resumed on the 1st of November 1955 with a five seat passenger aircraft making one return flight daily, leaving Tokoroa at 3 p.m. and leaving Auckland’s Mangere airport at 4.30 p.m. 

This restored air service was not as convenient for same day return business traffic and it ended rapidly and by the 8th of December 1955 the Auckland Aero Club was advertising a new twice daily air service to Tokoroa.

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