26 June 2010

Forestry Town's Businessliners

In 1955, with the delivery of new generation Cessna aircraft, the Auckland Aero Club started to operate regular air services. In August it started a twice weekly service between Auckland and Great Barrier Island and in December 1954 it started a weekday service between Auckland and Tokoroa using 3-passenger Cessna 170 “Businessliners.”

Cessna 170B, ZK-BGK, at Christchurch. 

The Auckland Aero Club's service to Tokoroa service replaced that James Air Services had operated. Like its predecessor the Auckland Aero Club service operated two services each weekday, but, unlike the James Air Services operation the service was Auckland based and only operated to Tokoroa. The introduction of the Auckland Aero Club service, which featured ground transport from Mangere into Newmarket was highly suited to NZ Forest Product’s officials who needed to do a day’s business in either Auckland or at the mill at Kinleith. 

South Waikato News, 8 December 1955

The Auckland Aero Club operated four Cessna 170 “Businessliners.” ZK-BGE Cessna 170B (c/n 26455), was the first in the fleet. It crashed at Dargaville on the 2nd of April 1960 and was not rebuilt and instead was replaced by ZK-BJS Cessna 170B (c/n 20351). Two of the Cessna's were name, ZK-BGK Cessna 170B (c/n 26456) was named 'C.B. Smith' and ZK-BLS Cessna 170B (c/n 26455) was named 'H.M. Buchanan'. 

Auckland Star, 31 July 1956

In September 1957 ZK-BUF Cessna 180A (c/n 32935), named 'Sid Langston', was added to the Auckland Aero Club fleet. 

The Auckland Aero Club's Cessna 180, ZK-BUF.

The association between the Auckland Aero Club and NZ Forest Products was to last many years. While the public service disappeared semi-regular flights were made by the Club to Tokoroa carrying many NZ Forest Products' officials. Later NZ Forest Products helped fund the Aero Club’s purchase of Cessna 336, ZK-CGF Skymaster (c/n 336-0168). This was registered to the Aero Club on the 12th of March 1964 and operated by them until it was sold in December 1971.

Cessna 336 Skymaster, ZK-CGF, at Greymouth on 25 June 1972 after passing from Auckland Aero Club ownership. Photo : B Whebell

In the 1960s Lew Day joined the Auckland Aero Club as manager of the commercial pilot training school and progressed to CFI and later operations manager. In the November 1988 issue of NZ Wings Lew notes, Then came a difference of opinion which changed the face of Ardmore Aerodrome. The aero club committee said the club was overstaffed, the eight instructors overseeing about 12,000 hours a year. There was also the aspect of the ground school, but Lew pointed out that an instructor couldn't be expected to step straight out of an aircraft into the classroom and teach, nor could he teach for eight hours a day. Nevertheless, with the costs of flying increasing, the club members weren't getting the benefits they might have expected if the flying school wasn't there. "The committee was firing all my staff, so I told them to fire me too. So there I was, unemployed." 

While this was going on the operation of the Auckland Aero Club's Cessna 336 on behalf of NZ Forest Products was, in some ways, too successful. The financial assistance NZ Forest Products had given the Club the ability to purchase the Cessna 336 and gave them priority for its use but by 1970 the forestry company needed a dedicated aircraft capable of IFR operations. 

To that end NZ Forest Products was negotiating with Airwork to purchase its own aircraft and advertised for the position of a contract pilot. Lew Day gained his single pilot instrument rating and applied and it was he that operated NZ Forest Products' Piper Pa23-250 Aztec D, ZK-CUS (c/n 27-4499) which was purchased in April 1970. The Aztec became the mainstay of transporting company executives between Auckland and Tokoroa and other work as needed by the company. The Aztec was operated until February 1978 when it was sold to Cookson Airspread of Wairoa.

Above, NZ Forest Products first plane, Piper Aztec, ZK-CUS, taken at Tokoroa. Photo : D White Collection

The Press gave a detailed account of the service on the 16th of February 1977. New Zealand Forest Products’ Kinleith mills are 233 km by road from the company’s head office in Auckland - about three hours’ drive. But staff from the head office are able to spend a full working day at the mill without leaving home at the crack of dawn. The secret is a twice-daily, two-way private company air service operating between Auckland’s Ardmore aerodrome and the company’s own airstrip in the forest near Tokoroa. Each morning, Monday to Friday, Airwork pilot Lew Day takes the Forest Products’ Piper Aztec off the ground at Ardmore, and arrives at Tokoroa at 8.30 a.m. A short car ride takes passengers to the Kinleith site only minutes after local personnel have started work. Meanwhile, the aircraft is on its way back to Ardmore with a complement of passengers for head office, Penrose Industries, or perhaps a link-up with transport to some other destination. Shortly after 4 p.m. the aircraft is back at Tokoroa waiting to return the morning travellers to Ardmore by 5 p.m, and bringing return passengers or new arrivals from Auckland. Urgent documents, light parcels and inter-office correspondence are carried on the aircraft too. New Zealand Forest Products purchased their six-seater twin-engine Piper Aztec through Airwork and entered into a maintenance and operating contract with the company. Airwork garages the Aztec in its Ardmore hangar and carries out routine and special maintenance between flights. A waiting room for Forest Products passengers is provided also on the premises. Between flights Lew Day oversees maintenance, processes passenger traffic information, prepares operating and statutory reports and schedules, and checks weather and other conditions. Valuable savings in travelling time and the consequent gain in effective working time, together with the flexibility of a private service for special non-routine flights, more than justify the expense of a service which has paid for itself, according to executives of New Zealand Forest Products.

The Aztec was replaced by a larger Piper Pa31-310C Navajo, which was registered to NZ Forest Products as ZK-PNX (c/n 31-7712092) on the 3rd of October 1977. The registration was drawn from the Pinex product which was used extensively in the building industry at the time and the Navajo became known as the Pinex plane. It was operated by the company through to 1985 before it was sold in Australia. It departed from Auckland on the 6th of June 1985. 

The Pinex plane, Piper Navajo, ZK-PNX is seen above at Tokoroa shortly after its arrival in the country in November 1977 and below, at Ardmore in September 1981.

The Navajo was in turn replaced by the final aircraft NZ Forest Products Ltd owned, a Piper Pa31T3 1040 (c/n 31-8475001) which was aptly registered ZK-FPL. The 1040 was a turboprop powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-11 engines usingthe fuselage of a PA31-350 Chieftain with the wings and tail of a PA31T Cheyenne.

Once again it was Lew Day who was instrumental in the introduction of the Piper 1040 into Forest Product's service. The 1040 was registered to NZ Forest Products on 17th of December 1984. 

Piper Pa31T 1040, ZK-FPL, at Rotorua on 25 March 1987. Photo : S Lowe

In 1986 NZ Forest Products was sold to Elders and became Elders Resources NZFP Ltd. On the 9th of October 1987 ZK-FPL's ownership in the New Zealand aircraft register was changed to Pineair Operations Limited. Pineair Operations was a wholly owned company of the forestry giant.

Elders Resources NZFP Ltd set about expanding the pulp and paper mill Kinleith and this company was instrumental in the development of the Tokoroa airfield including the provision of an 850m x 18m sealed runway in late 1989. The company had considered using corporate helicopters, but the flexibility and reliability of an all weather strip won out. Nearest alternate Rotorua had proved inconvenient due to executive time lost travelling some 40 minutes each way.  The sealed all weather runway enabled the introduction of scheduled services for company personnel as well as being available for the general public. 

From the 1st of October 1989 Airwork NZ took over the operating of the air service which was advertised as Auckland-Tokoroa Air Services. Mainstay of the service was Piper 1040, ZK-FPL, which remained registered to Pineair Operations Ltd, but Piper Pa31-350 Chieftain, ZK-EBT, was also often used as the backup aircraft on the service. 

The Auckland Tokoroa Air Services timetable effective 1 October 1989

On the service... Auckland-Tokoroa Air Services Piper Pa31T 1040 at Tokoroa on 1 February 1990 (above) and Piper Pa31-350 Chieftain ZK-EBT at Tokoroa on 24 January 1991 (below). 

The December 1989/January 1990 issue of NZ Wings describes the air service. “Elders have a preferential booking arrangement with Airwork but that both parties see it as being in their interest to make a reasonable number of seats available to the public each day in the nine passenger aircraft. Flight time for the 90 nm trip, largely over some scenic Waikato farmland, is around 30 minutes at a typical cruise altitude of 6000 feet at 210 knots. Use of the call sign "Pinex One (to Four)", a historic connection with a NZ Forest Product wall product, is to continue. Crewing the Piper for Airwork will be Les Marinkovich, Ian Shades, Graham Purvis or Greg Barrow. Lew Day who had pioneered NZ Forest Products' operation continued to fly for Airwork on a casual basis until his retirement around 1994 when he was well into his seventies.

Ground handling at Auckland International is under the wing of Mount Cook Airlines” Advertising of the Auckland-Tokoroa Air Services first commenced in the South Waikato News on the 21st of November 1989. 

South Waikato News, 21 November 1989

On the 15th of January 1991 the Piper 1040 was registered to Airwork Holdings Ltd. Advertising for the service continued until the 2nd of July 1991, after which it appears the service petered out.


  1. Well, I used to fly ZK BUF when it was with the Akld Aero Club ..also Zk BJS ..and the 336. Whilst the Skymaster was the 'pocket rocket' my favourite was BUF ..a lovely aeroplane ! Will never forget that strident 0-470 hauling us into the air time and again out of difficult places without default or murmur.. can't say the same for BLP the weak-kneed Apache the Aero Club operated at the same time lol . .

  2. Lew Day, a former Squadron Leader with the RAF played an important role in introducing corporate aircraft into the Forest Product infrastructure in the late 1970's. He operated their piston powered Piper Navaho and Piper Chieftain aircraft. In 1981 Lew was responsible for introducing the Turbine powered Piper PA 31 - T3 to their fleet in 1981 when a larger capacity was required. Lew continued to operate this aircraft either on a full time basis or part time basis when Airwork purchased he aircraft to operate it on behalf of Forest Products around 1988, until his retirement around 1994 when Lew was well into his seventies.

  3. Thanks - This was really interesting. I will work on extending the post.