13 February 2011

Sunair - The Big Little Airline


Sunair is one of those interesting airlines that ply our skies but despite being around for nearly 40 years not many people know about it. Despite this it has found its niche and continues to not only survive but to shine where so many others have failed.

Sunair Aviation Ltd was established in by Dan Power and his wife Bev in 1985 initially offering aircraft maintenance and aircraft import and sales. Trading commenced from a 300 sqm hangar at Tauranga Airport adjacent to the Tauranga Gliding Club. In May 1985 Dan Power told 'Aviation News' he does not look toward the future of light aircraft operations within New Zealand with great optimism. "Operating costs are rising daily, and aircraft operators are not moving their charges for their services accordingly. It is now a fact that a number of aircraft operations (whether they be flying training establishments or air transport operators) are now simply uneconomic", he told us. Mr Power believes the reason these organisations are able to remain in business is largely due to the fact that many have directors with alternative sources of income or are tied to a parent company unrelated to the Aviation Industry. "For those operators solely dependent upon their aviation related income, I cannot see easier times in the foreseeable future

On the 17th of November 1988 Piper PA-32-260E Cherokee Six ZK-DEF was registered to Sunair Aviation having been purchased from the Pegasus Flying School. 

Sunair's first aircraft, Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee 6 ZK-DEF taken at Tauranga on 27 March 1989.

The acquisition of the Cherokee 6 led Sunair Aviation to commence air service operations including a summer service from Tauranga to Great Barrier Island in November 1988. As part of this initial service Sunair offered a same day shopper service to Tauranga. Generally, however, only one flight was flown on demand in competition with Great Barrier Airlines who were also operating a similar service. 

Barrier Bulletin advertising in more primitive days, December 1988. Note the telephone number for bookings, 2D!

Further expansion was to come the following month when Sunair commenced a Tauranga-Auckland service in December 1988 using Cessna 402B Utililiner ZK-EHS which was leased from Neil Jensen who had previously operated the Cessna 402 on the route as Jensen Air. By this time Eagle Air Bandeirantes had taken over the Air New Zealand's Fokker Friendship service between Tauranga and Auckland. Initially Eagle operated three Bandeirante flights but the aircraft did not overnight in Tauranga. Seeing a gap for an evening service Sunair service a operated daily service 

Wearing its Sunair titles, Cessna 402B Utililiner ZK-EHS at Tauranga on 30 December 1989

...and on 25 January 1990

Sunair's Auckland service... the 1989 summer schedule 

These initial services were formalised in February 1989 when Sunair applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to operate a Category B air transport service from Tauranga to any licensed aerodrome or authorised landing place in New Zealand with one Piper PA32 Cherokee 6, one Cessna U206 and one Cessna 402B aircraft. 

... and the 1989 winter schedule

From the 4th of June 1989 to the 16th of July Sunair added a second flight to Auckland while Eagle Air  withdrew one of its three flights due to a maintenance schedule. Eagle's competition, however, was too great and the Auckland service ended sometime after this. Also in June 1989 Sunair added its first Cessna 206, Cessna U206F Stationair ZK-DFW to the fleet.

Cessna 206 ZK-DFW at the Warbirds over Wanaka air show on 14 April 1990

...and at Rotorua on 23 January 1992 with the standard Sunair titles on the tail

In late 1989/early 1990 Sunair purchased Island Air Safaris and took over their flights from Tauranga to Motiti Island. The purchase included Island Air Charters'  Cessna P206 Super Skylane ZK-DRD (c/n P206-0135)  The Motiti Island service was initially operated as Island Air Services. The operation flew under that name during the 1989/1990 summer but by mid-1990 it operated under Sunair's own name. See http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2021/12/island-air-services-sunair-subsidiary.html

1990 saw the arrival of the first Cessna 172 in Sunair's fleet with Cessna 172N ZK-ELG being registered to the company on the 4th of September 1990.

Cessna 172 ZK-ELG at Tauranga on 26 November 1996.

Meanwhile, Sunair continued to operate summer flights between Tauranga and Great Barrier Island each summer.

Barrier Bulletin November 1990

These services were well patronised and in 1991 they were extended by offering stops at Pauanui or Whangamata and offering an extension to Rotorua with flights being offered on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday to both Claris and Okiwi.

Barrier Bulletin November/December 1991

Annoyance... light in the camera or a flaw in the film in the only photo I took of Cessna 206, ZK-DRD with Sunair titles. Covered in mud it had probably been serving Motiti Island. Taken at Tauranga on 22 January 1992.

Sunair's Great Barrier Island 1991/1992 summer schedule

ZK-MAP (c/n U206-0511), a Cessna TU206A Super Skywagon, was added to the fleet in September 1991. This aircraft was operated by Air Maps for aerial photography work. As part of Sunair's acquisition of the 206 it did all Air Maps' aerial photography flying in the years following. ZK-MAP was reregistered as ZK-SUN on the 16th of December 1993.

Cessna 206, ex ZK-MAP, a day after being reregistered as ZK-SUN at Tauranga on 17 December 1993

A later advert when Air Maps were using Sunair's Aztecs for their aerial photography platform. Bay of Plenty Times, 29 May 1996

By 1992 pilot training was also part of Sunair's operations and Cessna 152 ZK-ETY was operated by Sunair for 12 months from September 1992. From here on Sunair's training operations were offered using Cessna 172s which offered more flexibility for other use. To that end Cessna 172 ZK-SAL joined the fleet in August 1993.

Sunair did not operate the Great Barrier Island summer service during the 1992/93 and 1993/94 summer seasons due to a lack of aircraft availability, but on the 16th of December 1994 the service stared again with flights offered on Fridays and Sundays. A similar service was offered over the next two summers, with an addition Wednesday flight being offered in the 1996/97 season. However, the 1996/97 summer season marked the last flights to Great Barrier Island for some 13 years.

Barrier Bulletin, December 1996

In June 1995 Sunair bought its first Piper PA23 Aztec, ZK-DIR, and this was used to introduce scheduled flights between Tauranga and Napier on the 5th of February 1996. These flights operated twice a day, Monday to Friday.

Sunair's first Aztec, ZK-DIR. Imported from Australia in 1993 it first flew in New Zealand for Air Direct. In 1995 it was sold to Sunair and was used to inaugurate Sunair's flight between Tauranga and Napier on 5 February 1996. It is photographed above at Timaru on 1 October 1995. 

ZK-DIR was later repainted in the "standard" Sunair scheme as seen at Tauranga on 23 November 1996

...and subsequently it had a nose job as seen at Gisborne on 14 April 2009

The Tauranga-Napier service was extended to include Hamilton from the 8th of July 1996 with Piper Pa31-310 Navajo C ZK-FIL being added to the fleet to facilitate growth. The Bay of Plenty Times of the 29th of May 1997 reported Sunair's marketing manager David Lyon saying "Now, our two twin-engined, high performance aircraft give us the opportunity to offer both a scheduled airline service between Tauranga, Hamilton and Napier, plus offer an on demand charter service to any other airport right throughout the country. The incredible growth of Tauranga in recent times means that there are now a large number of companies doing business with companies or branches else-where, and the need for convenient, virtually instant inter-city transport is increasing." The new scheduled airliner and charter service opportunities available from the Tauranga Airport are the result of a joint venture arrangement between Sunair Aviation and the Piper Navajo aircraft's owners, FIL Industries. FIL Industries managing director Arthur Jordon, an experienced pilot in his own right, said, "FIL has a New Zealand-wide operation and recognises the benefits of corporate aircraft as business tools. "We are therefore very pleased to be associated with the announcement of our joint venture and its resulting Napier-Hamilton-Tauranga twice-daily, five-days a week service." 

Piper Navajo ZK-FIL at Gisborne on 13 October 1999

In March 1997 Sunair announced that Hamilton-New Plymouth flights were to be introduced to provide Taranaki with a direct link to Hawkes Bay, the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. The first flight was flown by Carl Clark, the operations manager, in Piper Aztec ZK-DIR on the 11th of April 1997. The Hamilton-New Plymouth flights had a mixed fortune and over the years the service was dropped and reintroduced according to demand. 

Later that year, on the 15th of September 1997, Sunair introduced a twice daily service between Gisborne and Hamilton replacing the service previously operated by Aotearoa Airways. Sunair Aviation manager Daniel Power told the Gisborne Herald the new service would complement those already being provided by his company. He said Sunair Aviation’s objective was to provide fast, convenient and cost effective links between significant provincial cities. 

Waikato Times, 10 October 1997

Further expansion of Gisborne services began in early 1999 after Air Wellington ceased their East Coast service enabling Sunair to operate flights between Gisborne and  Napier. This led to Gisborne being developed as a second hub for Sunair’s passenger services. Rotorua was later added as a stopover on Sunair flights between Hamilton and the East Coast.

In 1999 Sunair introduced two Partenavia P68Bs to their fleet, ZK-LGO and ZK-ZSP. The Partenavias did not offer the same performance as the Piper Aztec and they were sold in mid 2002. 

The two Partenavias - above ZK-ZSP on the 12th of October 1999 and, below, ZK-LGO on the 9th of February 2001. Both photos taken at Gisborne

Instead Sunair focused on Piper PA23 Aztecs. Over the years Sunair has operated eleven of them; ZK-DGS, ZK-DIR, ZK-ECM, ZK-ERM, ZK-EVP, ZK-FHO, ZK-FVP, ZK-MTY, ZK-PIW, ZK-PIX, ZK-TDM and ZK-WDP. ZK-WDP is the only aircraft not to wear Sunair titles. 

Piper Aztec ZK-FVP arrives at Tauranga from Gisborne on  27 November 2015

Photos of all Sunair's Aztecs can be found at

In addition to these Sunair also operated Piper Pa31-350 Chieftain ZK-KAP between July 2003 and January 2004 and Cessna 421C Golden Eagle ZK-WLG was purchased in 1999. Both aircraft were used on Sunair services and for charter work. The Golden Eagle was eventually sold in 2008 but it had not been used for some time before that. Piper PA34-200 Seneca ZK-DCL was registered to Sunair for six months in 1999 and Piper PA31-310 Navajo ZK-WHW was registered to the company for two months in the same year.

The Cessna 421 Golden Eagle, ZK-WLG taken at Tauranga on the 23rd of January 2002. 

Piper Chieftain ZK-KAP taken at Hamilton on the 6th of June 2003. 

A great line-up of the Sunair fleet... Piper Aztec ZK-DIR, Cessna 421 Golden Eagle ZK-WLG, Piper Navajo ZK-FIL and Partenavia ZK-LGO taken at Tauranga on 28 December 2001 by F B Gavin

In 2002 Sunair picked up Air Freight’s East Coast courier service. This involved a dedicated freighter Aztec leaving Palmerston North at 5.30am and flying through Wairoa to Gisborne. In the evening the southbound flight also called at Napier from whence the flight flew to Paraparaumu stopping at Palmerston North if there were passengers. Wairoa never appeared on Sunair’s published timetable and the stops there were for courier freight only. 

From the 30th of September 2002 Sunair began operating a Tauranga-Hamilton service on behalf of Origin Pacific to link with other flights over Origin’s network.

Piper Aztec ZK-FHO at Gisborne on 14 November 2007

In 2003 the company offered a New Plymouth-Palmerston North extension to their flights to New Plymouth from Hamilton. The service was not successful and it was withdrawn from the 31st of May 2004 timetable. In 2005 the freight flight south from Gisborne and Napier was extended to Wellington and this continued to be in the schedule until September 2007.

From the 30th of August 2004 the company introduced Whangarei-Hamilton flights which connected with other Sunair flights from Hamilton to Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier and New Plymouth. The service never really took off and was relaunched a number of times. Quantum Aviation, a Whangarei based flight school were appointed as the agents. Quantum students were already doing some training with Sunair in Tauranga and the connection opened up opportunities for advanced training and future employment. The flights were extended to include Kerikeri in September 2007 but according to the company timetable these flights to Northland were dropped from the 2nd of March 2009.

In November 2006 the Civil Aviation Authority suspended the licence of Island Air, another Tauranga-based operator, over concerns that unauthorised maintenance had been carried out on the company’s aircraft. Operations resumed together with the appointment of a new maintenance controller and chief executive. However the operator’s problems compounded the following month when Britten-Norman Islander ZK-WNZ suffered two forced landings. To continue their operations, particularly the essential link to Motiti Island, Island Air initially utilised the licence of Mountain Air Ltd but in the first part of 2007 a more permanent arrangement with Sunair Aviation Ltd was put in place. Both the Cessna 206, ZK-PAI, and Cessna 172, ZK-WGE, were registered to Sunair on 18 May 2007 who operated the Motiti service on Island Air's behalf.

Sunair Timetable effective, 29 September 2008

Sunair opened its own flight training school at Rotorua on the 26th of February 2007 with the aim of training quality airline standard pilots. The course was designed to include PPL and CPL theory, 100 hours of flight time and is scheduled to last 26 weeks before commencing a new initial course. Meanwhile, it was planned the graduating students from the first course would embark on a professional flight training course of 32 weeks which would encompass CPL flight test, a C category instructor rating and Multi engine instrument rating. Initially, the MEIF work was planned to remain at Tauranga until students from the first courses filtered through. 

In February 2008, the Navajo ZK-FIL was involved in an incident at Hawera and was withdrawn from the fleet.

In September 2008 the company changed its services from Palmerston North after losing the dedicated freight flight contract from Palmerston North to Napier, Wairoa and Gisborne. Flights were scheduled to leave Palmerston North at a more civilised hour of 7.00 am instead of the previous 5.00 am but there seemed to be little demand and the timetable shows Palmerston North was subsequently dropped from the 5th of April 2010.

In March 2009 Sunair announced that it would include Whakatane as a stopover on its flights between Gisborne/Napier and Hamilton/Rotorua/Tauranga. The demand was not there, however, and the Whakatane was not listed in the timetable effective the 5th of April 2010.

Piper Aztec ZK-ERM arrives at Whakatane on 6 November 2015

On the 14th of December 2009 Whitianga was added to the Sunair network when the airline introduced flights between Whitianga and Auckland using Cessna 172 or Piper Aztec aircraft according to demand. There had been a a 10-year absence of any operator on the Whitianga to Auckland route. Sunair offered two flights seven days a week using either Cessna 172 or Piper Aztec aircraft. Cessna 172s ZK-DHN and ZK-DKK were purchased to use on these and other Sunair routes. These were later been joined by Cessna 172s ZK-CBZ and ZK-TAB, the latter being used to conduct flying training for the Tauranga Aero Club and an on-demand service to Motiti Island.

The crew and aircraft of the first Whitianga Auckland flight, Sunair pilots Charlie Chilwell (left) and Kevin Lloyd (right) with Cessna 172 ZK-DHN. Peninsula Post 17 December 2009.

Peninsula Post 31 December 2009

A few days later flights Great Barrier Island returned to the Sunair network with flights between Whitianga and Great Barrier Island advertised as being available. Two return flights a day being offered. In October 2010 the company rearranged their flights between Whitianga and Great Barrier Island with flights to the Barrier being offered from Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua via Whitianga enabling passengers to fly from these centres to Whitianga. Whitianga was overflown if there was no traffic offering. This highlights a feature of the Sunair timetable that has always been indicative and it is operated  more to customer’s requirements than to strictly adhering to the times in the timetable. 

Sunair timetable, effective 4 October 2010

Cessna 172 ZK-DHN arrives back to Tauranga from Motiti Island on 14 March 2016

For photos of all the Sunair Cessna 172s see

Paraparaumu was offered as a passenger destination from the 5th of April 2010 in conjunction with the courier service from Napier to Paraparaumu. Courier items from Gisborne and Wairoa were flown to Napier by Air Napier where they are transferred to the Sunair flight to Paraparaumu. From 4 June 2012 Sunair expanded their freight flights to and from Paraparaumu by offering twice daily passenger flights to and from Napier and Gisborne, the southbound evening service being the courier flight with limited passenger accommodation. However, within the next four weeks the NZ Couriers changed its destination for its freight flights from Paraparaumu to Hamilton and from 2 July 2012 all services to Paraparaumu were deleted. 

Kapiti Observer, 28 May 2012

For a photo essay on one of the courier services see

In early 2013 the Hamilton-New Plymouth route was reinstated following a request from the Taranaki District Health Board to include New Plymouth. The Health Board sought the reintroduction of the air service to transfer patients who needed non-emergency medical treatment as well as medical professionals and support people, The New Plymouth service was not well patronised and was removed from the timetable by late 2013.

Sunair's Dan Power at Whakatane

Another Cessna 172, ZK-DPN, was added to the fleet in August 2014. 

From the 1st of December 2014 Sunair the Auckland terminus of its Whitianga flights was moved from Auckland International to Ardmore Airport strengthening the Whitianga flights by removing the "two passengers required" restriction. Passengers at Ardmore were to park for free at Sunair’s secure parking facility, while those arriving from Great Barrier Island or Whitianga who did not have vehicles could choose to either rent a car from the airport or take a $5 regular shuttle to the nearby Papakura train hub. Sunair's first flight operated on Wednesday 3 December 2014, 31 years to the day after Great Barrier Airlines’ operated their first flight between Auckland and Great Barrier Island, Sunair commenced their service from Ardmore. The first flight was operated in Cessna 172 ZK-DHN under the command of Ryan Bergman. The flight left Ardmore at 8.00am, landing at Whitianga before continuing on to the Barrier.

The new Great Barrier Island and Whitianga services.
Barrier Bulletin, November 2014

Ryan Bergman with the first passenger to Whitianga on the "new" Sunair services on 3 December 2014.
Photo : Mercury Informer

Sunair timetable, effective 1 December 2014

Cessna 172 ZK-DPN being used for training at Tauranga on 20 March 2015

In their first summer of operation the new services from Ardmore to Whitianga and Great Barrier Island proved very popular and from 1 May 2015 these were extended by the offering of two new services between Great Barrier Island and Hamilton and Great Barrier Island and Whangarei. On the same day Whakatane was again included on flights to and from Gisborne, Napier and Hamilton.

On the 22nd of May 2015 the contract to fly bank data between Gisborne and Napier on Air Napier and from Napier to Hamilton on Sunair ended marking the end of dedicated bank data courier flights in New Zealand. This freight is now carried on Air New Zealand flights. With the loss of this business Sunair then withdrew all flights to and from Napier from the 5th of October 2015 ending 19 years of Sunair operating regular air services to the Hawkes Bay. At the same time the Great Barrier-Whangarei connection was withdrawn from the Sunair timetable after failing to generate sufficient traffic.

Loading Sunair Aztec ZK-PIW at Napier on 23 November 2011 for a courier run to Hamilton
Piper Aztec ZK-PIW at Hamilton on 23 November 2011

Sunair ended 2015 by announcing that it would introduce North Shore as a new destination in February 2016. Twice daily weekday flights are planned to and from Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua. In preparation for this service Sunair added Piper Navajo ZK-JGA to its fleet in January 2016.

Piper Navajo ZK-JGA at Tauranga on 13 March 2016

The North Shore service never really took off and by August 2016 the Navajo had been sold. Meanwhile, in late August 2016 Barrier Air removed its Piper Chieftains from its fleet and this led to Sunair taking over the doctors flights between Whangarei and Kaitaia.

Sunair experienced a brief glitch in December 2016 when the Civil Aviation Authority grounded the company. Sunair co-owner Dan Power was reported as saying that during a routine audit, the CAA became concerned the company's senior team was too small for the size of the business. “They had concerns around our management structure as not being adequate for the size and complexity of the business. I addressed that, and they're accepting of the fix.” The company resumed services within ten days.

In March 2017 it was announced that Sunair Aviation had become the first regional non-jet operator in the North Island to be selected as a preferred air carrier on the All of Government panel allowing the airline has already to carry government personnel.

With an Aztec based at Whangarei it seemed logical for Sunair to restart flights from Whangarei and this happened from the 3rd of April 2017 with Whangarei replacing North Shore as a destination. Flights are operated from Whangarei to Great Barrier Island, Hamilton, Tauranga or Rotorua. Sunair took over the old North Districts Aero Club building and also announced their intention to offer flight training at Whangarei.

Whangarei Leader, 29 March 2017

At the same time Whakatane was also withdrawn as a stopping point on the Gisborne-Hamilton service. April 2017 also saw the addition of Cessna 172 ZK-COS to its fleet.

On the 8th of September 2017 Sunair Aviation was grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority for the second time in nine months with the company's Air Operator Certificate suspended along with the Certificate of Airworthiness for the Sunair fleet. While the initial grounding was for only 10 days Sunair still remained grounded for 203 days, finally being granted permission to fly again in April 2018.

The first service resumed in its own right was the doctor service between Whangarei and Kaitaia, which Sunair had been able to continue to operate using leased aircraft. Scheduled services were offered again from the 28th of May 2018 with flights being offered from Hamilton or Tauranga to Great Barrier Island or Whangarei, and from Great Barrier Island to Whitianga or Whangarei.

Several times a week Sunair flies doctors and other medical staff from Whangarei to Kaitaia. On Wednesday 16 November 2022 Piper PA23 Aztec ZK-EVP was the duty aircraft. 

Timetable 58, effective 28 May 2018

In November 2018 Sunair's Cessna 172, ZK-DHN was sold leaving only Cessna 172 ZK-DPN in the fleet.

On 4 April 2019 Sunair resumed flights between Hamilton and/or Tauranga and Gisborne. The first flight was operated by Piper Aztec ZK-PIW flying from Hamilton for Gisborne on the morning service. Sunair current schedule offers twice daily return flights on Thursdays and Fridays. The 2019 winter schedule has a generally much reduced schedule with scheduled flights only operating on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

From the 5th of August 2019 Sunair increased the frequency of the Gisborne and Whangarei flights. Gisborne to Tauranga/Hamilton flights were offered on weekdays with two return flights each day. The flight from Whangarei to Tauranga/Hamilton was offered each weekday as well. Flights leave Whangarei in the morning and return in the late afternoon.

Piper Aztec ZK-PIX arrives into Hamilton on 12 April 2019

Sunair's Piper Aztec ZK-PIW at Great Barrier Island on 8 April 2019

Sunair's Piper Aztec ZK-EVP at Great Barrier Island... Photo from the Sunair Facebook page

Cessna 172M ZK-CBZ (c/n 17261691) returned to the Sunair fleet being registered to Sunair Aviation Ltd on the 1st of March 2020.

Like all other domestic airlines Sunair had to close down during the Covid 19 lockdown. When Sunair resumed services its 2020 winter schedule once again saw the flights to Great Barrier Island reduced to flight on Fridays and Sundays from Whangarei and on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays from Tauranga. Interestingly there Sunday, Wednesday and Friday flights were offered from Whangārei to Hamilton. The Gisborne to Tauranga and/or Hamilton schedule was reduced to twice daily flights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Over the 2020/21 summer the airline returned to a more full summer schedule and were very busy with flights from Whangarei, Whitianga and Tauranga to Great Barrier Island. The summer schedule saw the airline dramatically increase its fares from Gisborne and Whangarei to Tauranga/Hamilton on the airline's business services reflecting the lack of patronage and the need to recoup its expenses. 

The 2021 winter schedule again reduced the frequency of these flights offered to thrice weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Flights offered from Hamilton and Whangarei to Great Barrier Island were reduced to twice weekly on Fridays and Sundays while the flights from Tauranga and Whitianga to Great Barrier Island are offered from Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. 

Sunair's 2021 winter schedule
Sunair's Piper Aztec ZK-DGS arriving at Hamilton from Whangarei on 22 September 2021

Sunair returned to Ardmore on the 16th of December 2021, with Piper Aztec ZK-FVP doing the first flight from Great Barrier Island to Ardmore as SUNAIR 16 PAPA. These flights had ceased on the 8th of September 2017 when Air Auckland had taken them over. 

In winter 2022 Sunair quietly relinquished its services to Gisborne which had operated since the 15th of September 1997 with the airline focusing on services to and from Great Barrier Island.

Sunair's 2022 winter schedule

Piper Aztec ZK-FVP at Claris airport, Great Barrier Island on 20 January 2021

In November 2020 Sunair had purchased Cessna 172 ZK-DXO. The 172 had languished in Hamilton for some years and Sunair gave it a major renovation before it entered service in September 2022. 

Sunair's latest Cessna 172 ZK-DXO at Whangarei on 29 September 2022. 

Following Cyclone Gabrielle which devastated the Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti region in February 2023 Air New Zealand operated a temporary air service between Gisborne and Napier which ended on the 10th of June. The local authorities were keen to continue an air service between the two centres and they approached Sunair to operate an air service as the long term clean-up and repair of the roadng infrastructure continued. On the 16th of June 2023 Sunair announced new East Coast services with two new routes, Gisborne-Napier and Wairoa-Napier being introduced from the 23rd of June 2023. 

In a press release from the Hawke's Bay Airport Rob Stratford, the  airport's CEO, said, news of the Sunair service will be welcomed by travellers, regional leaders, and the business community. “Especially with Air New Zealand’s temporary Napier-Gisborne service wrapping up last week, it is vital that we have an alternative way to connect with Wairoa and Gisborne while State Highway 2 remains vulnerable. “We can only see demand for direct air service connection growing as Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti move further into the cyclone recovery phase. It’s important that Hawke’s Bay Airport plays a leadership role as a key regional transport asset in maintaining and growing our connectivity with other parts of New Zealand. “We’ve collaborated with our Wairoa and Gisborne counterparts to make this happen, and appreciate Sunair’s ability to work with us in establishing this service,” says Mr Stratford. Dan Power, Flight Operations Manager Sunair Aviation, says the airline is pleased to help. “We saw a need, and are very happy to do our bit to support East Coast communities. Even though the road network is operational, some people may be reluctant to travel by road. It is good to be able to offer travellers an alternative, and we are very grateful for the support of Hawke’s Bay, Wairoa, and Gisborne airports to allow us to offer this service.”

The timetable offered twice daily flights between Gisborne and Napier with flights leaving Gisborne for Napier at 7.30am and 3.15pm and the return flights leaving Napier for Gisborne at 8.30am and 4.15pm. Flights between Wairoa and Napier offered depart Wairoa for Napier at 7.45am and 3.30pm and leave Napier for Wairoa at 8.30am and 4.15pm. Effectively the two services operate in tandem with the aircraft landing at Wairoa to pick up or drop off passengers as needed.

The first flights were flown by Paul Corrin and Vince Gardner in Piper Aztec ZK-EVP on the 26th of June 2023. The Aztec positioned from Tauranga to Gisborne early in the morning and then operated the first Gisborne-Wairoa-Napier service followed by a direct Napier-Gisborne service.

Sunair's Piper Aztec, ZK-EVP, at Wairoa on 28 June 2023. Photo : Sunair Facebook page

Although it is not advertised on the timetable flights are offered between Wairoa and Gisborne.

Wairoa Star, 4 July 2023

At the same time as the introduction of the new East Coast service Hamilton was dropped from the Sunair network.

Twelve months on in Sunair's 2024 Winter timetable Hamilton returned to the Sunair network. From the 29th of April 2024 Monday to Friday flights were again being offered between from Napier and/or Gisborne to Hamilton and/or Tauranga according to demand with a single daily flight offered departing Gisborne at 9.30am and the return flight departing Hamilton at 2.00pm. Monday to Friday flights were also again being offered between Hamilton and or Tauranga to Whangarei departing Hamilton at 7.00am with the return flight departing Whangarei for Hamilton and or Tauranga at 5.00pm.

As is typical for Sunair's winter timetable, the Whangarei-Great Barrier Island-(Whitianga)-Tauranga service reverted to three days a week, being offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Flights between Great Barrier Island and Ardmore were dropped from the schedule.

On the East Coast the twice daily weekday flights between Gisborne and Napier continued with Wairoa as a destination offered on the morning northbound flights from Napier and afternoon flights south from Gisborne. 

Over the years Sunair has showed itself as an operator that has looked for a niche in the face of high fuel prices, lean routes and a national carrier that increasingly offers cheap fares. By necessity it diversified its services. Its passenger services were unique in that although there was a printed timetable the operation of the timetable was very much driven by available passengers and when they wanted to fly. Routings varied with flights stopping at various airports as needed, and in the same way timings were arranged to suit the passengers with the company seeking to provide a direct province-to-province passenger service which catered mainly for business people. Pilot training, particularly offering young pilots wanting to gain twin IFR experience as part of their flying career, was an important part of the Sunair story. Many of these have gone on to the larger carriers. Courier work was another feature of Sunair trying to find its niche and like a lot of operators it felt the effect of these courier flights being replaced by road transport. In latter year the tourist/leisure flyer market was tapped by connecting Whitianga and Great Barrier to Auckland and Tauranga. Such boutique services proved to be a winner for Sunair. Sunair also looked for opportunities not only in the air but also on the ground and the company continues to maintain an engineering workshop and it manages the handling for Air New Zealand Link at Tauranga. For a number of years until early 2015 it also operated Tauranga Airport's rescue fire service. Sunair continues to find niches 

Sunair, the big little airline remains happily flying towards its 40th birthday.

Sunair's aircraft over the years have included (Bold indicates current):-

ZK-CBZ, Cessna 172M Skyhawk (c/n 17261691)
ZK-COS, Cessna 172S Skyhawk, (c/n 172S9752)
ZK-DCL, Piper PA34-200 Seneca (c/n 34-7250281)
ZK-DEF, Piper PA32-260 Cherokee 6 (c/n 32-7200007)
ZK-DFW, Cessna U206F Stationair II (c/n U20601838)
ZK-DGS, Piper PA23-250 Aztec E (c/n 27-7304959) 
ZK-DHN, Cessna 172H Skyhawk (c/n 17256507)
ZK-DIR, Piper PA23-250 Aztec D (c/n 27-4242)
ZK-DKK, Cessna 172M Skyhawk (c/n 17261742)
ZK-DPN, Cessna 172M Skyhawk (c/n 17263243)
ZK-DRD, Cessna P206 Stationair (c/n P206-0135)
ZK-DXO, Cessna 172M Skyhawk (c/n 17265417)
ZK-ECM, Piper PA23-250 Aztec F (c/n 27-8154001) 
ZK-EHS. Cessna 402B Utililiner (c/n 402B0217)
ZK-ELG, Cessna 172N Skyhawk II (c/n 17271386)
ZK-ERM, Piper PA23-250 Aztec E (c/n 27-7405435) 
ZK-ETY, Cessna 152 (c/n 15285023)
ZK-EVP, Piper PA23-250 Aztec F (c/n 27-8054053) 
ZK-FHO, Piper PA23-250 Aztec E (c/n 27-4585)
ZK-FIL, Piper Pa31-310 Navajo C (c/n 31-7712014)
ZK-FVP, Piper PA23-250 Aztec F (c/n 7854096) 
ZK-JGA, Piper PA31 Navajo (c/n 31-7612102)
ZK-KAP, Piper PA31-350 Chieftain (c/n 31-7405407)
ZK-LGO, Partenavia P68B (c/n 25)
ZK-MAP, Cessna TU206A Stationair (c/n U206-0511)
ZK-MTY, Piper PA23-250 Aztec F (c/n 27-7654137) 
ZK-PAI, Cessna TU206A Stationair (c/n U206-0511)
ZK-PIW, Piper PA23-250 Aztec E (c/n 27-7305089)
ZK-PIX, Piper PA23-250 Aztec E (c/n 27-4738) 
ZK-SAL, Cessna 172N Skyhawk II (c/n 17273454)
ZK-SUN, Cessna TU206A Stationair (c/n U206-0511)
ZK-TAB, Cessna 172N Skyhawk (c/n 17273811)
ZK-TDM, Piper PA23-250 Aztec F (c/n 27-7754045) 
ZK-WDP, Piper PA23-250 Aztec F (c/n 27-8054025)
ZK-WGE, Cessna 172K Skyhawk (c/n 17258978)
ZK-WHW, Piper PA31-310 Navajo (c/n 31-437)
ZK-WLG, Cessna 421C Golden Eagle (c/n 421C-0492)
ZK-ZSP, Partenavia P68B (c/n 129)

Sunair has served the following airports over the years (Bold indicates current):-

Great Barrier Island
North Shore
Motiti Island
New Plymouth
Palmerston North

As always I am happy to be corrected, or have more information, photos or stories to come through to be posted. Cheers, Steve, westland831@gmail.com 

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing history, hoping for another 25 years of success, I had a quick flight as a Aid worker after the earthquake, it was an amazing experience.