07 November 2010

Wairarapa Airlines - Masterton's Airline

In August 1980 plans were announced for a new third level air service for Masterton. The yet to be formed Wairarapa Airlines Ltd announced their intention to offer flights from Masterton to both Auckland and Christchurch using Mitsubishi Mu2B ZK-WAL (c/n MU2-037). The new venture was initially to be financed by two Fielding based men, Tony Millen and Peter Christie. The Mitsubishi was also going to be made available to the commercial division of the Wairarapa and Ruahine Aero Club (Inc.) for its air taxi requirements when it was not being used on airline services. Partenavia P68B ZK-LAL (c/n 70), which was owned the Aero Club’s Chief Flying Instructor, Warren Hamilton, was to be used by the company as a backup for the Mitsubishi and also for charter work. 

In late August an application to the Air Services Licencing Authority to conduct a non-scheduled services between Masterton-Auckland and return, and between Masterton-Christchurch and return and an Air Charter service from Masterton to any licensed aerodrome or authorised landing place in New Zealand with an authorised fleet of one Mitsubishi MU2 aircraft or one Partenavia P68B aircraft. In reviewing the service the Civil Aviation Division's report to the Air Services Licencing Authority noted that the runway at Hood Aerodrome is adequate for daylight operations with the provision that the surface be watched for deterioration in conditions of heavy rain in winter. This was to be a problem in later years. The  Upgrading of the runway and installation of night lighting have been requested. The NDB (Broadcast Station 2ZD) has been re-commissioned some time ago, and Wairarapa Airlines are applying for modified departure procedures under IFR which will streamline the operation. 

On the 22nd of October 1980 the Wairarapa Times-Age reported that Wairarapa Airlines Ltd, has received a licence to operate a daily jet service from Masterton to Auckland and Christchurch for passengers and freight. Company director, Tony Millen, says the plane is scheduled to leave for Auckland at 7.30am, returning at 9am. Then at 11.15am it will depart for Christchurch, returning, at 12.45pm. He is confident of introducing a return evening service to Auckland once traffic builds up. This will allow Masterton people a full day in Auckland without staying overnight. Mr Millen says they chose this type of aircraft because of its suitability for Wairarapa conditions. The Mitsubishi can land and take off on unsealed surfaces. The Wairarapa is renowned for its strong north-westerly winds. But because of the plane's high climbing rate and cruising altitude it will travel above the turbulence. 

A "To the Box Holder" mailout announcing the new service

 The airliners that weren't... Mitsubishi MU2B ZK-WAL was considered unsuitable for Masterton's unsealed Hood airfield. Photographed at Christchurch on 19 January 1985...
Partenavia ZK-LAL was to be the backup aircraft and carried Wairarapa Airlines titles. It is shown at Masterton on 8 January 1981.

All printed but in the end the wrong aircraft on the ticket and bag tag... The Mitsubishi never entered service

While the Mitsubishi was expected to fly above the turbulence, turbulence was about to hit the airline. Delays were experienced getting the Mitsubishi ready for service. Then, in December 1980, Wairarapa Airlines returned to the Air Services Licensing Authority to add a non-scheduled service between Masterton and Wellington. The airline proposed to use the Partenavia P68B. However, an hour before the directors appeared before the Authority, Civil Aviation authorities reported that some of the flight characteristics of the Mitsubishi made it unusable at Masterton. The problem lay with its takeoff capabilities if one of engines should fail. This came as a bombshell to the yet to get airborne airline. The Times-Age reported that, outside the hearing, a director. of Wairarapa Airlines, Mr Peter Christie, said that the company would be "doing its homework," on the characteristics of the MU2. He stressed that the services to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch would go ahead with either that or another aircraft. In his evidence to the hearing, Mr Christie said that the MU2 had been specifically selected as one of the few aircraft of its size capable of handling the turbulent conditions in the Wairarapa. Now in Wellington, it was expected to be delivered on Monday when the company would have completed the purchase. Mr Christie said that there had been inquiries as to why the company had not originally offered a service to Wellington. Inquirers had also indicated an interest in making connections to other centres, such as Nelson. Wairarapa Airlines was proposing a $30 one-way adult fare, compared with the $54 cost of travelling between Wellington and Masterton and back by car when calculating cost according to Public Service travel rates. He produced letters from several businesses expressing support for the service. Mr Christie added that the Partenavia was expected to adequately handle the problems of turbulence. The authority decided to adjourn the hearing indefinitely because of the uncertainty over the MU2. 

The company returned to the Air Services Licencing Authority in May 1981 and applied to substitute the Mitsubishi with a Piper Pa31-350 Navajo Chieftain. Permission was duly granted and ZK-PKC (c/n 31-7405207) arrived in Masterton on the 12th of August 1981 having been flown from the United States by Harry Jenkins who became the chief pilot. By this stage Peter Christie had become the sole owner having bought out Tony Millen's shares.

Piper Pa31-350 Chieftain ZK-PKC at Christchurch on 26 December 1988

On the 13th of August the Times-Age reported on the arrival of the Chieftain... Described by some, as the most exciting thing to happen in Wairarapa since the 1942 earthquake, Wairarapa Airlines' Piper Navajo Chieftain arrived in Masterton yesterday. The 10-seater twin engined aircraft winged into Hood Aerodrome to an enthusiastic welcome from well-wishers and ground staff after an hour long scenic flight from Paraparaumu. People in town on the flightpath had a chance to view "their" new aircraft as it soared above their homes with pilot, Harry Jenkins at the controls, the airline managing director, Peter Christie, at his side, Mr Christie has waited more than a year to get his airline off the ground and after delays selecting the right aircraft was delighted to be airborne in the Piper. He believes the new service with its five flights a week to Auckland and Christchurch will be a boon to Wairarapa putting its exports and people closer to main centres. Mr Christie (35) has lost money during the delays in getting the service established but believes he has explored the potential for success of the service and his morale remains high! Initial support from both passengers and freight customers for the service has been "overwhelming" according to Mr Christie with the people of Wairarapa already aware of the opportunities offered by the airline. Wairarapa and Masterton in particular is no longer so isolated from the rest of New Zealand, Wairarapa Airlines can have its passengers and freight in. Auckland or Christchurch in the time it takes to drive to Wellington Airport and generally at less cost than established Wellington-based services.

Yesterday's delivery flight was piloted by father and son team Harry and Russell Jenkins of Associated Aviation, the pair will fly the Piper on a rostered basis when timetabled services commence on Monday. The seven-year-old $221,000 aircraft had arrived in Auckland a fortnight ago after a 48-hour flight from Florida via California, Hawaii and Pago Pago. Also aboard the shiny white Piper with its gold, tan and brown stripes on yesterday's flight were Mr Christie's parents, the wives of the pilots, Associated Aviation pilot Ron Powncepy and media representatives. Though affected a little by turbulence over the Tararua ranges the Navajo Chieftain rides more like a large aircraft, than a light aircraft:  The interior is cosy without being cramped with the pilot and nine passengers accommodated with ease. Seats are as comfortable as those in larger aircraft and noise little more noticeable. It flies lower (maximum ceiling 10,000') and gives the occupant a clear view of the scenery through its wide windows beside every seat. Pictured is part of the crowd gathered to view the aircraft at Hood Aerodrome yesterday. Following speeches by company directors the mayor of Masterton Mr Frank Cody cut a ribbon leading to the aircraft's cabin, launching the new venture on its skyward journey,

Weekday flights from Masterton to Auckland and Christchurch began on 17 August 1981. The Chieftain had an early morning departure for Auckland before returning to Masterton. The aircraft then headed south to Christchurch, returning to Masterton by mid-afternoon. The schedule was later changed so that on a Wednesday the Chieftain would spend the whole day in Auckland offering Masterton business people a same day return service. At the same time the Chieftain received its weekly maintenance check at Airwork at Ardmore. From November 1983 the company introduced a late Friday afternoon Masterton-Auckland service which returned in the early evening.

The first timetable effective, from the beginning of the service on 17 August 1981

Three months later and the local newspaper reported that...since the inaugural flight from Masterton to Auckland three months ago, the company's single aircraft , a Piper Navajo Chieftain, has carried 1700 passengers on the weekday Auckland-Masterton-Christchurch flights. "There are no idle moments at Hood Aerodrome," Mr Christie said today. "Christmas bookings are chock-a-block, and we're receiving an average of 40 bookings a day." But, as the 10-seat aircraft can take only 36 passengers on its daily four flights, the service has reached saturation point. Upper Hutt businessmen are finding the flights save time and money. It takes them only three-quarters of an hour to drive to Masterton and there are no parking fees at the aerodrome. The demand for freight bookings has also increased, and the transport of fresh berry fruit and other produce from the Wairarapa to Auckland is only just beginning. Wairarapa Airlines also handles airmail to Auckland and Christchurch. Mr Christie says he urgently needs another aircraft. He is looking at suitable types, and hopes to have a second plane operating in three or four weeks. Another pressing need is a sealed runway to cover the grass strip at the Masterton airport. Although the Piper lands on barely half the runway with its retracting under-carriage absorbing the bumps, wet conditions can be a serious handicap. "If we don't get a sealed runway, we'll be playing cards in the reception room instead of flying when it rains this winter," said Mr Christie. The airline service started in August, when the worst of the winter's wet weather was over, but twice he had to make alternative arrangements and transport passengers by bus to Palmerston North airport, when he considered the grass runway too wet for a loaded aircraft to take off safely... Mr Christie said another urgent need was runway lights for the additional flights during the holiday season. He feels he has made an adequate contribution to the service by directing the terminal building and keeping the runway mowed. He has to pay out 22 percent of his revenue in airways dues and travel taxes. In spite of the popularity of the service, he has no plans to extend it further afield, as he feels he must fulfil his responsibility of providing the local service on a reliable and economic basis.

Pressure was brought to bear on the local authorities for runway lights and these were installed in January 1982. The appeals for a sealed runway fell on deaf ears for many years. 

On the 10th of February 1982 Wellington's Evening Post reported on a joint venture with Auckland-based United Pacific Airlines. Wairarapa Airlines will provide two extra aircraft to cope with the increased passenger bookings and greater demand for the freight service. And the general manager, Mr Peter Christie, says he is amalgamating his company on a 50-50 basis with another businessman, who will provide the capital necessary for the major investment. In a letter to the Masterton County Council airport committee, Mr Christie denied a rumour he claimed was circulating, that Wairarapa Airlines had sold its business to outside interests, and he assured the committee that the airline would continue to use Masterton as its base. The aim of the company was to provide a regular and efficient freight service. Mr Christie stated that the passenger loads for the original plane, the Chieftain, had reached a level where the company was unable to guarantee adequate space for freight. "For some time, the company has been looking at various propositions, including a second, larger aircraft. Such expansion requires additional capital, and a calculated assessment as to whether the future passenger and freight loads will justify the increased expenditure." Mr Christie told the committee the company would acquire a 19-seater, pressurised jet-propelled aircraft, a Metro II, which is expected to be delivered in six to eight weeks. The new aircraft will be used twice daily for Auckland and Christchurch flights, but higher passenger or freight loadings will be required for the economic use of the Metro. The new partner will extend the service in North Auckland, and provide flights to Kaitaia and Kaikohe. The Chieftain will be used on these routes when not required as a backup for the Metro on the flights from Masterton. When the Chieftain is required for flights locally, the company will hire a Partenavia from the Auckland Aero Club and, in the immediate future, will have available a Beech C90 King. To undertake the maintenance for the Metro, the company will set up a prop-jet engineering facility. Mr Christie said that the new aircraft would initially be leased, so that if after three months there was in-sufficient business available to fly it economically, the lease might be terminated. However, he was confident that the extra freight and passenger capacity, and the advantages of a jet-prop pressurised aircraft would enable the Metro to be used economically on the company's routes. Mr Christie told the "Post" there had been a big demand for the freightage of perishable goods, specially fruit, to Auckland. However, his immediate problem was the urgent need to seal the runway at Masterton's Hood Aerodrome before the wet weather set in. A safety factor was involved. Twice last spring, the services were interrupted because of the soggy conditions of the runway. "We do not expect sealing for a 747, but we urgently need the grass runway sealed by winter," he said. 

In May 1982 the Partenavia was dropped from the company’s approved fleet and replaced with Piper Pa32-300 Cherokee 6 ZK-ERL (c/n 32-7540184) which was used for charter work.

Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-ERL was used for charter. It is seen at Masterton on the 12th of July 1982.

Finally, in October 1982 the company applied for a Temporary Air Service Licence to operate a Swearingen Metroliner II aircraft on its routes for a period of three months. The company was also looking at a merger with Auckland-based United Pacific Airlines. In its application the company said it had carried over 8,000 passengers since commencing services and that the passenger demand in December and January was already heavy and unlikely to be met without supplementary aircraft. The merger with United Pacific Airlines would have seen Peter Christie with a 50 per cent shareholding in a new company with the Metroliner flying out of Masterton to Auckland and Christchurch while the Chieftain would have been used on United Pacific’s Auckland-Kaikohe and Auckland-Kaitaia services. In the end plans to operate the Metroliner were canned. Managing director Mr Peter Christie said he cannot chance using the 12,500 lb Swearingen Metro II on Hood Aerodrome’s grass runway during a wet winter, and said he will consider leaving Wairarapa with his nine-seat Piper Navajo Chieftain if the runway is not sealed soon. The Swearingen importers, Stillwell Aviation, had assured him the aircraft would be no more difficult to use on the grass than the 7,000 lb Piper, as it had duel wheels to compensate for the weight. However Mr Christie has contacted Australian operators of similar aircraft and believes the puggy surface could render the service unsafe, a risk he is not prepared to take.

In September 1982 started a relationship with Wairarapa Airlines that was to extend over many years. It invested $28,000 in Wairarapa Airlines Ltd in the form of a debenture. Hansells NZ Ltd general manager Mr John Mahoney said the company is only temporarily involved but is not actually diversifying.  He said Hansells as a company was not interested in the aviation industry other than as an "excellent  service for us". Meanwhile the Wairarapa Information Centre has been appointed as the Masterton booking office of Wairarapa Airlines. Public Relations Officer Mr Graham Dearsly said the new arrangement would provide both a service to the public and revenue for the information centre. The centre will act as the airline's booking agent and freight depot, and will take telephone calls for the airline, The airline's Hood aerodrome office will be open only briefly before and after each flight. The managing director of Wairarapa Airlines, Mr Peter Christie, said he was pleased to be able to offer an improved service through having a town office to handle bookings and freight. The new arrangement will operate from January 5 1983

In April 1983 another change was made to the licence, this time the Cherokee 6 being replaced by Beechcraft 58 Baron, ZK-STG (c/n TH-1103). This aircraft was owned by Stewart Dawson Jewellers and it was made available for the company for hire for when the Chieftain was out of service and for smaller charters.

On the 4th of October 1983 it was announced that Hansells (NZ) Ltd, the Masterton-based drink and food concentrate manufacturer, had bought Wairarapa Airlines Limited. Peter Christie was retained as a pilot and office employee. The chairman of directors and managing director of Hansells, Mr John Maunsell, became managing director and he wasted no time in applying pressure for the sealing of Hood Aerodrome’s runway and looking for expansion. The following month the company announced it was considering extending its service to include Taupo, Rotorua and Nelson.

In December 1983 approval was given for flights to begin to Rotorua and Nelson and notification was given to the Air Services Licensing Authority that Masterton-owned Piper Pa23-250 Aztec D, ZK-CUS (c/n 27-4499), was to replace the Baron as the backup aircraft and to operate the new routes. The company also advised the Authority that Piper Pa31-350 Chieftain ZK-EVD (c/n 31-7405241) would be used when the company’s own Chieftain was being serviced. The new Masterton-Nelson and Masterton-Rotorua routes began in January 1984.

Piper Pa23 Aztec ZK-CUS (above) was normally used for flights to Nelson, Hamilton, Rotorua or Tauranga but it is seen here arriving at Auckland on 11 May 1984 after a flight from Masterton.  The Aztec was being used after ZK-PKC aquaplaned at Masterton.

On the 9th of April 1984 The Star newspaper in Christchurch carried a story on Wairarapa Airlines that gave a good insight into the airline's operation... Christchurch-born David Atkinson now lives in Masterton, but he makes regular flying visits back here usually for 30 minutes at a time. He is the chief pilot for Wairarapa Airlines and flies to Christchurch three times a week, in command of a $300,000, nine-seater Piper Chieftain. Mr Atkinson, 24, has logged 2300 hours in the air and has been with the Masterton based airline 14 months. Before that he worked as a pilot in Australia. Since Wairarapa Airlines took off three years ago it has carried more than 17,000 passengers on its Masterton-Auckland and Masterton-Christchurch services. Early this year it introduced a five-seater Aztec from Masterton to Rotorua and Nelson. A subsidiary of Hansells (NZ), the soft drinks and essences company, Wairarapa Airlines caters for Christchurch and Auckland-bound travellers on week days. It is now assessing the potential of a Saturday Auckland service. What the airline lacks in in-flight service - no tea, coffee or soft drinks are provided - it makes up for in other ways. Speed and value for money are the main attractions for South Islanders using the enterprising commuter airline. The Chieftain takes 90 minutes on its Christchurch-Masterton service which cost adults $87, senior citizens $74 and children $54. Air New Zealand's Christchurch-Wellington normal adult fare is $88 and the road trip between the capital and Masterton takes about two hours. Wairarapa Airlines has carried about 3500 passengers from Christchurch. According to the airline's secretary-manager, Mr Alan Stewart, Wairarapa Airlines has halted big losses it suffered early on and is now breaking even on its Christchurch and Auckland routes. "Our average Chieftain load is five passengers and we've had only one day when there were no passengers either way and we didn't operate," he says. "Now and again we've had a full load going to Christchurch but gone back to Masterton without any passengers." The Mount Cook Line handles all Wairarapa Airlines business at Christchurch Airport. Often piles of cargo destined for. Masterton are seen at the Mount Cook Line counter, waiting to be loaded by David Atkinson or one of the airline's two part-time pilots. Freight accounts for about 10 per cent of Wairarapa Airlines southern business. Mr Stewart said the Chieftain recently carried three 10-speed bicycles owned by university students bound for Canterbury. "Fish from Christchurch is a regular cargo and we've even carried a tractor tyre or two." One regular small item of cargo is a facsimile of "The Star" Classroom page, used by the "Wairarapa Times-Age." The airline's part-time pilots are radio technician Jeff Sayer, who also has experience in helicopters, and former Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot Kim McKay, now a farmer. The trio take turns to fly the Chieftain because of the limit on flying hours. The airline was started by a private pilot and electrician who has sold his interest in the enterprise. Over coffee at Christchurch Airport, Mr Stewart said: "Running an airline is a business, not a pilot's dream. That's one reason why we offer student stand-by fares which cost only $54 from Masterton to Christchurch." The regular visits by the Chieftain mean extra money for the Airport Authority and the Ministry of Transport in the form of landing and airways dues. The Government also collects a 5 per cent tax. Like its big brothers, Wairarapa Airlines sometimes encounters emergencies. The Chieftain is not equipped with a toilet and on one flight to Auckland the sleek, twin-engined aircraft made an unscheduled landing at Palmerston North - to allow a passenger to answer the call of nature.

The airline must have been doing a media promotion as on the same day there was an article in the Wairarapa Times-Age... There’s something awfully responsible about flying Wairarapa Airlines. The responsibility of travelling in the cockpit with myriads of little controls is almost overwhelming. I mean there you sit - or at least I did, there are other seats behind - right up next to the pilot. You can even converse with him, discover he's human, he talks. He's not just a set of earphones and a microphone in a fancy uniform like the Air New Zealand boys. Above the drum of the plane it is possible to talk even to someone in the back row of the plane. There's something very reassuring about actually being able to discuss what something is or why something is happening when you're in the air. I recollect past flights overseas when airborne I've heard a noise, and like many other amateur aviators wondered just what it was. But with Wairarapa Airlines the anxiety doesn't persist. You can see what happened, and if you can't work it out, then you simply ask. I flew down to Christchurch in a Piper and when the wheels go down (I think the expert term is when the undercarriage engages) there's a clunk in the cockpit. But a glance sideways at the pilot's face is enough to reassure - even the most concerned passenger that nothing untoward is up. Then there's the view, unique to light low-flying planes. We took off about 6.45am and flew the approximately 80-minute flight in glorious clear conditions. You fly straight down the Wairarapa valley and over the sea, close enough to the shores of the South Island to enjoy the mountains. So while you don't have an orange juice, a plate of lollies and a choice of magazines to read, you don't need them. That boredom, flying minute after minute above the cotton wool mass, doesn't exist in little planes. Instead it's a more intimate affair. Wairarapa Airlines have scheduled flights, but, if all passengers due to fly, are at the airport, the airline can and will fly early. And then, once out at the plane, there's the choice of where you sit. Choice I say - once you've taken that step up on to the wing, you can peer in the plane door and select. Again there's a certain maturity about choosing, which is pleasant. But it's the awesome responsibility of sitting next to the controls which is so overpowering. As a non-pilot it's probably as close as I'll ever come to aeroplane controls. There above my knees was what looked suspiciously like an aviation-type steering wheel. And at my feet were foot levers, maybe to make the plane turn. Then practically at my .fingertips were a couple of throttle levers and a couple more mixture levers. So many controls, so much to watch and try to work out just what means what. There's also a certain fascination with a pilot when he talks into his headset. Like a true professional he talks without being heard by his passengers. The ultimate luxury in flying Wairarapa Airlines must surely be in the ten minutes of approach into Masterton's Hood aerodrome. The pilot, and I understand it's normal practice, asks passengers if anyone requires a taxi. Taxi orders are then radioed to the airline base, and on arrival required taxis-are waiting. Wairarapa Airlines set out, like other small airlines, to fill a gap Air New Zealand was not handling. The airline has done it admirably, and in a very intimate way.
Disaster struck the company on the 9th of May 1984. After a scheduled flight from Auckland the Chieftain, ZK-PKC, was coming in to land at Masterton in darkness and heavy rain. After touching down the plane aquaplaned on the grass runway. The pilot, David Atkinson, attempted to slow the plane down by ground looping it as it neared the northern end of the runway. The aircraft, however, slid for about 100 metres before hitting a wire fence and coming to rest with its left wheel in a roadside ditch damaging the port wing and undercarriage. None of the eight passengers or the pilot were injured in the incident. 

The accident report published in September by the Office of Air Accident Investigation reported that the incident occurred because the plane landed downwind on a wet, grass runway. It made a number of recommendations for future use of Hood aerodrome for commuter flights, particularly night flights. It called on the airline to have a person on the ground at the airport to radio runway information, particularly wind speed, to the pilot; for the pilot not to terminate his flight plan with air traffic control until the plane is taxi-ing towards the terminal building; for air traffic control to evolve an alerting system for local emergency services if nothing is heard from the plane after its advised landing time; and for the installation of a wind speed reader in the airline's terminal. 

With ZK-PKC out of the air the Piper Aztec was used to maintain the Auckland and Christchurch flights while Mount Cook Airlines’ Chieftain ZK-MCM was chartered when loads necessitated a larger aircraft until such time as a new Chieftain arrived.

A rather forlorn looking ZK-PKC after running off the runway on the 9th of May 1984. Photo : Wairarapa Times Age 

The company had initially experienced big losses but by 1984 was breaking even on its Christchurch and Auckland routes with an average of five passengers per flight. PKC was out of the air for longer than expected, needing a new wing, so a second Piper Chieftain, ZK-WAI (c/n 31-7405185), was obtained. This flew its first charter on the 15th of June 1984 and then operated the normal scheduled from the 18th of June. ZK-WAI had been modified which enabled it to land at a lower speed making it more suitable for operations into Hood Aerodrome. Similar modifications were also done to ZK-PKC which returned to service late in July.

The second Chieftain, ZK-WAI, displaying the company's Hansell's ownership at Masterton on 16 January 1986

With ZK-PKC back on line the company inaugurated a third weekly Masterton-Nelson flight on Wednesday mornings with the aircraft then continuing on to Christchurch. The flight returned in the late afternoon/early evening meaning Masterton people could have a full day in Christchurch or Nelson. These flights commenced on the 5th of September 1984. At that time the company said loadings on the Nelson-Masterton services varied from full to one passenger which was “marginally economic.” The hope was that the Nelson-Christchurch service would put the Nelson flights comfortably in the black.

Christmas 1984 presented Wairarapa Airlines with an unexpected Christmas bonus. Air New Zealand was affected by strike action with flights galore cancelled in the days before Christmas. Along with many other commuter airlines and aero clubs Wairarapa Airlines was quick to step in and offer extra flights for the desperate Christmas travellers stranded by the strike action.

In August 1985 the company advised the ASLA that a third Chieftain, ZK-PAI (c/n 31-7852118), had been added to their fleet and that from the 12th of August 1985 the company was adding Tauranga to its Rotorua flights in favour of Hamilton. However, the Tauranga flights were short-lived. The following month the company announced that with continuing substantial losses the directors had decided to concentrate on the major routes and to curtail those that were unprofitable. The timetable from the 1st of October 1985 saw the cutting of services to Rotorua, Tauranga and Nelson leaving the company concentrating on the core Auckland and Christchurch routes.

ZK-PAI was only operated by Wairarapa Airlines for a relatively short time. It is seen here at Christchurch on the 24th of November 1985.

With the collapse of Air Albatross in December 1985 Wairarapa Airlines returned to Nelson. Starting on the 24th of December 1985 the company introduced a daily Masterton-Nelson-Christchurch service from Monday to Friday departing Masterton at 7am and returning in the evening at 8prn. The service was not successful, however, and on the 21st of April 1986 the company cut the Nelson-Christchurch service and the Masterton-Nelson service was reduced to two flights a week on Mondays and Thursdays. Eventually these flights were also cut with the timetable of 16 March 1987 showing flights to and from Auckland and Christchurch only.

The airline had been at a break-even point for some time and previous losses had caused problems in funding capital repayments. In early 1987 the Wairarapa business community was asked to invest $200,000 to keep it flying. This did not eventuate, despite good support from local businesses. On the 3rd of April 1987 the Dominion reported the airline had been bought from Hansells NZ Ltd by a consortium of Auckland travel companies, later revealed as Worldwide Air Travel Ltd managing director Lindy Christian and Gulliver's Travel Ltd managing director Andrew Bagnall. The airline was absorbed into Pacific Midland Airlines Ltd but continued to trade as Wairarapa Airlines.

At some point in 1987 the Nelson service was dropped. With once again the need for only one Chieftain ZK-WAI stopped flying in 1988 and was used as a source of spares for ZK-PKC.

On the 20th of January 1988 there was another article on Wairarapa Airlines in the Times-Age advocating Wairarapa Airlines a Great Way to Fly...  There’s no doubt about it - modern humanity is a regimented crowd. Stamped and numbered, we spend our lives bound up in red tape. We're clocked, processed, charted, graphed - mere cyphers in a hi-tech world. That, I guess, was what I found so pleasing about a flight I made last week on Wairarapa's little airline. Don't get me wrong. It's hi-tech all right - but Wairarapa Airlines doesn't let that get in the way of either service or a delightfully human scale of things. Without a care in the world I drove my little car up to the Hood Aerodrome terminal building. I was 20 minutes from home, and as I left the car there I had cause to remember that it had cost me nothing to park. Somehow, also, I just knew it would be there when I got back! Fronting up at the reporting counter was also a very humanising experience. Checking me in was Mike Bamford, our pilot for today's Auckland flight. "Right." he said "we'll go when everybody's here!" Go, when everybody's here?' Contrast that if you will with places like Wellington Airport! Blaring loudspeakers with gravely voices that speak a language you can barely understand. At Hood you quite simply "go when everybody's here!" And nor did it stop there. All day I was reminded time and time again that this local little outfit had one aim in life - to get you there and back as painlessly as possible! Take the little Piper Navajo Chieftain, for example. Brought up on a travel diet of 737s, we tend to overlook the fact that a tiny aircraft like the Chieftain can be roomy and comfortable - with everyone guaranteed a window seat! I was one of six passengers taking advantage of Wairarapa Airlines' Wednesday "businessmen/shopper" up in the morning, full business day in town, back in time for dinner service. The object of my day in Auckland was to have a peek at the aeroplane servicing and safety aspect of our airline - and I also managed to get in a barbecue lunch at Ardmore, NZ's busiest non-commercial airport; a look at an exciting arcade shopping complex in Kyhber Pass take in a photographic gallery and shelter from Auckland's sub-tropical mid-afternoon heat under the biggest moccha and chocolate chip ice-cream I've ever seen. True to pilot Bamford's word, when all of the passengers arrived we climbed aboard. "Pop the headphones on," Mike said to me as I sunk down into the co-pilot's seat.  He had a few words with Wellington air traffic control and we were gone. Mike had no sooner reached his 9000 cruising altitude and throttled back the twin 750 horsepower engines than he was on the radio to Masterton recording his regular morning weather chat for broadcast a few minutes later. Now, I'm not an aircraft buff or anything like that. Over the past 30-odd years I guess I've flown as a passenger in all sorts of planes from DC3's and Avro Ansons through to international 747's. But I have to tell you that I have never enjoyed a flight half so much as I did on last Wednesday's Wairarapa Airlines commuter hop to Auckland. The reason is simple. Never before have I understood how it all works. But under Mike Bamford's patient tuition I came to grips with the wonders of radio navigation - and it's all so simple. All planes flying into Auckland pass over various radio beacons along the way. Cunning little instruments in the cockpit keep tuned into them and continually update the plane's position in both minutes of flying time and distance in nautical miles. Somewhere along the flight path we passed off Wellington's radar screen and out of their control. Moments later Auckland air traffic reported they had identified us and from then on until touchdown we were under their wing. Electronic miracles or not, when we emerged from the cloud cover over Mangere I was little short of amazed to see the, Chieftain's nose pointing straight down the middle of the runway - and I don't mean in the general direction, I mean RIGHT down the very middle! From up and down the country people and planes all had the same ideas as us - to get down in Auckland in time to get on with a full business day in the city. To the untutored ear, the consequent radio traffic sounded, little short of bedlam as737's vied with other little commuter aircraft for places in the descent queue. Wairarapa flight 50 was fourth in landing order and we came in sandwiched between 737's, one taking off and one landing behind us. While I found it all quite exciting, for Mike Bamford it was all in a day's work. Mike's been with Wairarapa Airlines fulltime for the past three years since giving, up his horticultural involvements on the outskirts of Masterton. Wairarapa born and raised, before that this Nuffield Scholar of 1966 was sheep and cattle farming "out towards the coast". On the way from the Chieftain across the tarmac to the terminal building at Mangere I counted 13 "commuter" planes parked on the apron - from Whangarei, Waiheke Island, Rotorua, New Plymouth - half of New Zealand, it seemed was now travelling on these third level airlines, and suddenly I knew why. They get you there, .They get you home again. And they do it all so matter-of-factIy and without hassle. Once out of the terminal building, it took more nervous energy for rne to negotiate the southern motorway's horrendous traffic into the city - not to mention just about as much time - as it had taken to get from Masterton to Mangere. At Ardmore I spoke to Airwork's chief engineer Mike Knudson. Airwork had sold Wairarapa Airlines one of their two Pipers and Mike knew the full service history. Yes, Wairarapa did clock up more Chieftain hours than most other commuter airlines. No, there were no problems. Airwork employs a staff of 30 servicing Pipers, helicopters and "private jets" - there are now 11 of these in New Zealand. Two years ago there were none. On the way home I shared the plane with one of my fellow passengers from the morning flight "going home after a full office day in Auckland" and two schoolboys on their way to spend a week "with Gran at Carterton" I was right. The little car was still at Hood when we arrived back shortly after 7pm. Twelve hours away - I could hardly believe that I had packed everything into that one day! Amazing, but so available! 

Despite the convenience of having a local airline the advent of the Ansett NZ and Air New Zealand air wars and cheap fares from Wellington greatly affected Wairarapa Airlines. Cheap fares on the main trunk enticed passengers to drive to Wellington to pick up these fares to Christchurch and Auckland. In particular this impacted on flights to the South Island. 

In July 1989 the Christchurch service was reduced from four to two flights a week on Mondays and Fridays and in mid-1990 the Christchurch service was cut completely. Despite these cuts the airline still did not make a profit. On the 1st of August 1990 Alan Stewart revealed the challenges the airline was facing to the Times-Age. Wairarapa Airlines has been dealt another body blow with the news that Civil Aviation charges will cost the company $4000 more. Secretary-manager Alan Stewart said today the new charges were for policing activities which would include checking the airworthiness of aircraft and pilot’s ability to fly. Mr Stewart said the new charges meant Wairarapa Airlines would be paying Civil Aviation $44,000 a year and the rise may have to be passed on to passengers. "We increased our fares not too long ago and are obviously loath to do the same again but.it is something we will have to look at," he said. "Eventually we might have no option but to do that." He said Wairarapa Airlines had already drastically cut their costs by eliminating all flights to Christchurch but the company, which is owned by a group of Auckland travel agents, was still not making a profit. The plain fact is that we are being subsidised by the owners and when you take into account that times are hard financially it's difficult to see that situation improving in the relatively near future." Mr Stewart said there were days when the flights to Auckland - there are six scheduled per week - had very little patronage. Only yesterday a flight had been cancelled because just one passenger had booked for it and they were only intending to travel one way, he said. "When you take into account that it costs about $600 for just fuel and maintenance to fly to Auckland, let alone other costs such as wages and administration, you can see that you need three or four people on each flight to make it economic," Mr Stewart said. "However, there are times when we go with two and absorb the loss in the hope that the next day is more fruitful. But one is cutting it rather too fine." Mr Stewart said while the owners of Wairarapa Airlines were of course, aiming to make a profit the operation was only a small part of their overall interests in the travel business and therefore there seemed to be no immediate threat to its existence. However he said there was always the chance the situation would change and they might have to look more closely at just what operations like Wairarapa Airlines were achieving. "You could never say the future was guaranteed,” he said.

Six weeks later on the 9th of September it was announced that Wairarapa Airlines was to stop flying for three months. Secretary manager AIan Stewart said although a drop-off in passenger numbers has forced the airline to suspend flights it is hoped the break will not mean the end of the airline. "There is always a danger we will not be able to get started again, but we are hopeful," Mr Stewart said. The 10-year old airline, which flies a return service from Hood Aerodrome to Auckland, is having its quietest period in at least two years. Mr Stewart blamed the recession and cheap fares on jet services out of Wellington. He said Wairarapa Airlines had been forced to cancel some flights, including two last week, and had finallv made the decision to take a three month stand-down, During this time directors will be shopping around, looking at opportunities to work with other domestic carriers. This, said Mr Stewart, would be aimed at trying to secure improved services from Masterton to other places in New Zealand. Mr Stewart said Wairarapa Airlines employs three people. "The office worker will probably look for a job elsewhere rather than sit out for three months but the pilots, Robert Thurston and Hugh Maxwell, are only part-time employees anyway," he said. Mr Stewart said no one would be more inconvenienced by the shutdown than himself. "I fly to Auckland once or twice every week for Hansells ... I'm the airline's best customer," he said. 

The company was relaunched late in February 1992, with one Wednesday flight between Masterton and Auckland each week. The left Masterton for Auckland at 7.00am, arriving at 8.40am. The return flight departed at 6.00pm to arrive at 7.40pm. A second flight that operated to the same timetable was later added on Fridays. During the rest of the week the Chieftain was used for other work, including night time courier work for United Aviation of Palmerston North. On the 8th of March 1994, on one these courier flights to Christchurch, ZK-PKC had a gear up landing at Christchurch. Neither of the two pilots were hurt.  

ZK-PKC looking rather bland at Palmerston North on the 20th of December 1993...
...and rather sad at Christchurch on the 8th of March 1994 (Photo : The Press).

In September 1996 Gullivers Pacific travel group put Pacific Midland Airlines up for sale for some $500,000 as a going concern. The assets included the Piper Chieftain and spares and the airline office building and equipment at Masterton Airport. 

The end came in January 1997. On the 17th the local newspaper reported that Wairarapa Airlines' wings have been clipped, as it no longer has a chief pilot and all flights have been suspended. General manager Alan Stewart could not be contacted for comment today but a recorded telephone message at the airline's base at Hood Aerodrome said the airline was not taking any bookings. 

So ended a valiant struggle. Runway issues and the domestic air fare wars made a casualty of Wairarapa Airlines, but nonetheless, it was an airline of which the Wairarapa can be justly proud.

People Included

David Atkinson - Pilot
Andrew Bagnall - Owner
Mike Bamford - Pilot
Lindy Christian - Owner
Peter Christie - Owner/Pilot
Stuart Hetherington - General Manager
Guy Houlbrooke - Pilot
Harry Jenkins - Pilot
Russell Jenkins - Pilot
Colin Kelly - Pilot
John Mahoney - Managing Director
John Maunsell - Managing Director
Kim McKay - Pilot
Guy McWilliams - Pilot
Jeff Sayer - Pilot
Alan Stewart - Secretary-Manager
Robert Thurston - Pilot
Chris Wright - Pilot

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