29 August 2010

SPANZ - Connecting Alexandra to the Country

South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand, SPANZ, was founded by Bob Anderson and Rex Daniell in 1960 and was, in many ways, the first real competition for the national carrier of the time, NAC. At this time in New Zealand aviation history Government and departmental policy was highly biased towards NAC. This attitude, which SPANZ had to continually battle against, was further intensified by the Australian airline Ansett’s investment in the company. For some towns like Alexandra, however, the arrival of SPANZ meant the arrival of a scheduled air service. The challenge for SPANZ was to make a profit to survive on lean and often indirect routes while NAC maintained the more profitable sectors.

On the 10th of December 1960 SPANZ’s Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster ZK-BYD operated a Auckland-Hamilton-Masterton-Wellington-Christchurch-Oamaru-Alexandra proving flight. On board were 32 passengers who were mainly airline executives and North Island travel agents. The next day, the 11th of December, the DC-3 returned to Auckland, via Hokitika, Nelson and Matamata.

On the proving flight, SPANZ's Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster ZK-BYD at Alexandra on 11 December 1960 refuelling for the flight back to Auckland. Photos : Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library 

SPANZ began scheduled services of the 14th of December 1960 and on that day Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYD flew from Auckland to Hamilton, New Plymouth, Nelson and Christchurch before flying the Christchurch-Oamaru-Alexandra-Christchurch service, the southern part of SPANZ’s network.  A couple of days later, on the 16th of December, the company’s second Viewmaster, ZK-BYE, arrived in New Zealand.

The most striking feature of the Airlines of New Zealand DC-3 was its Viewmaster windows. Ansett Transport Industries’ executive director, Ronald Walker, who was on board the inaugural flight told the Oamaru Mail that the two five-feet panoramic windows on either side of the fuselage give passengers a grand view. He was in New Zealand to promote air tours of New Zealand. He said that statistics showed that the average Australian tourist spent 10 to 14 days on tour in New Zealand and his company would provide 10-day package tours, which would enable Australians to see the beauties of the countryside, particularly the Alps and fiords of the South Island. The tourist has limited time available and it is necessary to show him as much as possible. Much of the country can be seen while the plane is in the air. 

Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYD in the original scheme. My guess is this photo was taken at Masterton

Timetable of 14 March 1961 - 4 August 1961 which included Timaru and Invercargill

A third Viewmaster, ZK-CAW, was added to the fleet in October 1961. Normally Airlines of New Zealand’s flights south of Christchurch were operated thrice weekly though daily flights were offered in peak holiday periods. With the prospect of prosperous 1961/1962 summer the company entered a three month for a fourth DC-3, G-AMKE, from British company, Air Links.

A few months later on the 11th of March 1961 Timaru and Invercargill were added to the flights south from Christchurch, the DC-3 flying Christchurch-Timaru-Oamaru-Alexandra-Invercargill in the afternoon and then returning along the same route the next morning three days a week. Many years later, for a short time, Airlink was to provide a link once again between Alexandra and Timaru (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2010/10/airlink-to-alexandra-for-15-weeks.html).

A further change was made to the southern network with the inclusion of Dunedin from the 17th of December 1961 when Dunedin was added to the flights. This stop did not prove economical and Dunedin was dropped from the 17th of March 1962. 

For the first 18 months of services to Alexandra there were no terminal facilities for the air service. That changed on the 12th of May 1962 when a small terminal opened.

The Alexandra airport terminal built for the SPANZ service in August 1966. By then SPANZ had ceased operations and Mount Cook Airlines was operating Alexandra's air service. Photo : Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

Another change to the southern route was made at the end of the year when, from the 21st of December 1962, Gore was added as another stopover. Invercargill to Christchurch via Gore, Alexandra, Oamaru and Timaru in a DC-3 made for a slow journey of some 5 hours but I suspect these days there would be many an aviation enthusiast who would pay top dollar to be able to do it.

The beginning of 1964 saw a change of name and branding. The “A of NZ” markings on the tail gave way to the SPANZ roundel.

The final timetable effective 24 November 1965 - 28 February 1966

From the 22nd of March 1965, after much lobbying, SPANZ was granted a contract for the carriage of air mail. First day covers were issued to mark the event.

The first four photos show Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYD at Alexandra on 3 January 1966
Can anyone name the pilot???

The following day, 4 January 1966. Douglas DC-3 ZK-BYE was doing the service through Alexandra

SPANZ always struggled on lean routes. While towns like Alexandra were incredibly loyal to SPANZ the company always struggled financially and on the 28th of February 1966 SPANZ’s valiant attempt to be New Zealand’s second airline ended and the company ceased all services.

1 comment:

  1. Stuart Scotland, ADL, SAustJanuary 03, 2013 10:31 PM

    beightI Flew Chc-Alexandra on Spanz ops in March'64 and enjoyed the views the low and slow flying DC3 allowed the pax to view. Had arr at Chc by TEAL Electra, my first and only visit to NZ to meet and see relations of family. My uncle saw me as a baby during his service with RNZN in WWII on a visit to Glasgow, Scotland where I was born.
    Most of my working life was with civil airlines in Aust. 5 in fact and only one now exists. Enjoy reading your reports on NZ 3rd level airlines as knew some and flew with DH89 of Southern Scenic on trip to Milford Sound - fantastic flight.