26 January 2011

United Aviation - the late 1990s lower North Island Operator

United Aviation Ltd was established by John Plank in 1984 and initially operated as a flying school as well as offering air charter and aircraft maintenance services.

In late April 1993 United Aviation took over N B MacDonald Services' contract NZ Post to fly mail from Napier to Wairoa and Gisborne with Air Napier flying this service on their behalf. Courier services expanded that year to include flights from Palmerston North to Christchurch, Wellington, New Plymouth as well as up the East Coast to Napier, Wairoa and Gisborne. The company used a fleet of 4 Beech 58 Barons, ZK-KVL (c/n TH-492), ZK-KVT (c/n TH-425), ZK-KVX (c/n TH-438) and ZK-KVY (c/n TH-553). The company also operated two of its own Piper Pa31-350 Navajo Chieftains, ZK-KVW (c/n 31-7752004) and ZK-NSO (c/n 31-7552035) as well as using Wairarapa Airline’s Chieftain ZK-PKC on its services. United also used Cessna 402C ZK-VAB (c/n 402C-0803) for a time.

Beech 58 Baron ZK-KVX at Hokitika on 19 May 1996.

Piper Chieftain ZK-KVW at Nelson on 9 June 1994. 

While the services were primarily courier-oriented a schedule was published and passengers were flown when space was available.

The company was not without its troubles, however. On the 8th of March 1994 the leased Wairarapa Airlines Chieftain ZK-PKC made a wheels up landing at Christchurch. After taking off from Christchurch for its flight back to Palmerston North the undercarriage did not successfully retract. After burning off fuel the aircraft successfully landed without bodily injury. Some years later, Chieftain ZK-NSO, experienced the passenger door flying open on one of the East Coast flights.

A sad PKC on a United Aviation flight. Soure : The Press, 9 September 1994

Two of United Aviation's Beech Barons photographed at Nelson. Above ZK-KVT taken on 10 February 1997 and below ZK-KVY taken on 29 August 1992

With the sudden collapse of Cookson Air in February 1993 the company looked at replacing the Baron on the six day a week Palmerston North-Napier-Wairoa-Gisborne service with the 10-seater Piper Chieftain. At this stage United Aviation flight left Palmerston North at 5.40am stopping at Napier and Wairoa to arrive in Gisborne at 7am. It left for Napier 10 minutes later and returned via Wairoa by 8.30am. It made the return trip from Gisborne at 5.30pm arriving in Palmerston North just after 7pm.

Timetable effective 27 March 1995

In the end it was Eagle Air’s withdrawal from its Napier-Gisborne service that led to the Chieftain being operated on the 14th of August 1995 using Piper Chieftain ZK-NSO which was obtained from Air Nelson.

Piper Chieftain ZK-NSO at Palmerston North on 21 November 1996.

Timetable as at May 1996 

On the East Coast service, Piper Chieftain ZK-NSO taxis into Napier on 4 December 1996

Tragedy struck the company on the 11th of June 1997 when Beech 58 Baron, ZK-KVL, crashed in the Tararua Ranges, north of Wellington while on a freight flight between Palmerston North and Christchurch. The pilot, Timothy Thompson, was killed in the accident, the wreckage being found the next day. The accident report blaming ice and a defective heater that raised the level of carbon monoxide in the pilot's body for the crash. The accident led to the revoking of United Aviation’s operating certificate. At the time of the grounding the company had 22 employees and was operating seven aircraft. Services never resumed and the company's directors placed the company in receivership on 15 August 1997.

The ill-fated Baron, ZK-KVL at Gisborne on 17 January 1996.

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