30 June 2010

NZ's Wannabe 2nd Bandeirante Operator - Trans North Airlines

The early 1980s saw many changes in the third level scene in New Zealand, with the most dramatic of these being the introduction of turbo prop aircraft. One of these proposals that didn’t get off the ground was Trans North Airlines, a joint venture between the Northern Districts Aero Club  (NDAC) and Whangarei Businessmen. At this stage the NDAC were operating a twice daily weekday serevice between Whangarei and Auckland using Piper Cherokee 6s of De Havilland Devons. However, with Air New Zealand reducing their service to Kaitaia to four flights a week and often talking of the losses made on the Northland service there seemed to be room for an operator who might eventually take over the Northern services completely. The proposed service was outlined in a rather quirky Northland Age article on the 28th of April 1981.

Bandeirante may become a Common Sight
The Bandeirante which may one day be flying from Auckland to Kaitaia daily, would not figure on the list of the most luxurious aircraft. Despite the fact that the seats and panelling are of patent leather are very new trims. The New Zealand agents for the aircraft, Airwork New Zealand, point out however that the plane is a true commuter and has no delusions of grandeur. While the 18 passengers the Bandeirante can carry have very little room to stretch out the aircraft does have very sophisticated electronics and is very cheap by everyone’s standards. Ready to fly they cost $ 1.5 million or roughly half the cost of a new Shorts 330, which was also brought to the Far North recently on a promotional visit. One man who should know what makes a good aeroplane is the manager of the Kaitaia Travel Bureau, Nr N L Thompson, and he says the Bandeirante is the most satisfactory. It is fast, modern, and just the right size for the Kaitaia to Auckland run.

The plane has certainly been a success story for the manufacturers. The first unit took to the air in 1973 and since then sales have rocketed especially in the United States. The firm, Embraer has become the sixth biggest world aircraft manufacturer and the largest builder of general aviation aircraft outside the United States. The Bandeirante (meaning pioneer) certainly looks the part, with a shape not too unlike the Friendship. The wings are stubby and the two Pratt and Whitney turboprops hang very close to the ground. Like the Shorts 330 the cargo space can be enlarged in a matter of minutes by removing seats and installing a portable bulkhead. Unlike the Shorts however it has a large luggage compartment even when all the 18 seats are filled. It is relatively quiet to fly in and does not have the high pitched whine of the Friendship at take-off. The big question, although is not what sort of aircraft the Bandeirante is but what sort of service will be provided to the Far North if the Northland Districts Aero Club is successful in obtaining a licence to service the area. The man who become the managing director of NDAC, Mr W Baker, told the Northland Age on Sunday that he has little doubt that Air New Zealand will drop the Kaitaia-Auckland run from its schedule and the licence will be given to the group and that there will be no problems in providing the same service as given by the national airline, the only difference being that it will operate on a seven-day-a-week basis. He did not agree that this would affect the other third level operator already working out of Kaitaia. New Zealand Air Charter could continue to fly out of Kaitaia in the morning and return in the late afternoon without affecting NDAC or vice versa. The one danger could lie in the fact that if the entire is given to a third level operator Kaitaia could lose what little say it has now. The Far North does not have a great deal of political clout but what it does have has been used to retain some semblance of an air service from New Zealand. He says that if a third level operator takes over that entirely that influence will fly away with the last Friendship, unless there is a significant amount of investment from this part of the north.

In October 1981 NZ Wings reported that a deposit had been paid with delivery scheduled over the Christmas period. The airline ap¬plied unsuccessfully for a licence to operate a scheduled air service Whangarei-Auckland with a minimum fre¬quency of three return flights a week. Meanwhile the Bandeirante was ready and painted in Trans North Airlines colour scheme with it’s new Zealand registration ZK-TNA. (Many years ago I saw a slide of it advertised in one of those companies that sells slides. Foolishly I didn’t buy one). Meanwhile the NDAC awaited the Government domestic air service policy paper that was to review air service licensing in New Zealand.

In April/May 1982 the NDAC again applied for a change to their licence including adding a scheduled service Auckland-Kaitaia with a mini¬mum frequency of three return flights per week and a non-scheduled service Whangarei-Kaitaia with the addition of one Embraer Bandeirante to the authorised fleet. This would have provided direct competition with Air New Zealand both on the Whangarei/Auckland service and the Kaitaia/Auckland service, and the Auckland Aero Club application for a scheduled service on the Kaitaia Auckland route. Once again, the application was unsuccessful.

Trans North Airlines’ Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante (c/n 110372), PT-SEQ, was registered in October 1982 to American Central Airlines as N800AC. As a postscript to this story NZ Wings carried the story in their issue of December/January 1983 a Piper Chieftain on delivery across the Pacific for Ashburton Air Services and eventual registration as ZK-TNA for Northland interests as ditching 500 miles off Hawaii.

Turboprop commuter aircraft eventually did see service in Northland. The NDAC operated GAF N22 Nomad between Whangarei and Auckland and it was Eagle Air who operated Bandeirantes to both Kaitaia and Whangarei after Air New Zealand withdrew its Friendships

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