15 March 2011

Au Revoir Air National

Air National was founded as E C Menzies Aviation Ltd in 1989 as a dedicated charter airline that found a niche in the New Zealand charter market with a variety of aircraft types. 

Early Turbo Props

In 1992 the company moved to Auckland International Airport and renamed Air National Corporate Ltd. The first aircraft on the line was GAF N24A Nomad ZK-ECM (c/n N24A-117) which was registered to the company on the 27th of June 1990. A second GAF N24A Nomad, ZK-ECN (c/n N24A-42), was part of the fleet between June 1992 and 1997. Among other things these aircraft were used as back up for Air New Zealand Link and Ansett New Zealand.

The original Nomad, ZK-ECM, at Nelson on 26 November 1990.

The second Nomad, ZK-ECN, at Hamilton on 15 December 1993 on charter for Eagle Air.

The Nomads were also used to establish what was Air National’s only scheduled air service in its own right. On the 6th of October 1995 the company operated Auckland-Great Barrier Island flights under the name Air National Great Barrier Express. These flights continued into at least 1996.

NZ Herald 29 September 1995

Airborne from Dairy Flat is ZK-ECN on 11 March 1996 with Air National Great Barrier Express titles.

For a more detailed post on the Air National Great Barrier Express service see :

In 1994 the first Nomad, ZK-ECM, was replaced by an Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante (c/n 110383) which was also registered ZK-ECM. This aircraft was available for charter and supported scheduled regional airline services for ten years before being sold in 2004.

Bandeirante ZK-ECM at Wellington on 15 October 1999 supporting regional operations for Air New Zealand Link or Ansett New Zealand.

A smaller turboprop was added to the fleet in the form of Mitsubishi MU-2B-26A ZK-ECR (c/n 371SA). A major contract this aircraft was used for was a calibration contract for the Airways Corporation of New Zealand. This involved calibration work for navaids and lights throughout New Zealand as well as in a number of South Pacific nations. This aircraft was operated between June 1995 and October 2000.

Mitsubishi Mu2 ZK-ECR in her calibration role at Christchurch on a wet and miserable 5th of August 1999.

Also used often by Air National in 1998 and 1999 was wet leased Fairchild SA227AC Metroliner III ZK-CIC (c/n AC632B).

Metroliner ZK-CIC at New Plymouth on 8 October 1999 being operated for Origin Pacific with an Air National callsign.

In addition to these early turbo props Air National earlier on operated a number of piston aircraft in the early years. These were mainly used for charter work. Added first was Cessna 404 Titan ZK-ECP (c/n 404-0818) which Air National operated between October 1994 and March 1998. 

Above, Cessna 404 Titan at Auckland on 5 February 1995 while below, it is seen at New Plymouth in full Air National colours.

Piper Pa31-325 Navajo C/R ZK-ECQ (c/n 31-7612090) arrived the following year and was operated from April 1995 until it was sold to the New Plymouth Aero Club in August 1996.

Above, Piper Navajo ZK-ECQ at Auckland on 1 October 1995. Below ZK-ECQ is seen at Hokitika on 4 December 1998 while with the New Plymouth Aero Club - it still carries the Air National circle, minus the stars on the tail. 

Air National also operated Great Barrier Airline’s Embraer EMB-820C ZK-RDT (c/n 820127) between July 1998 and November 2001.

Embraer 820 ZK-RDT at Greymouth on 2 May 1999.

Piper Pa23-250 Aztec ZK-ECM (c/n 27-8154001) was added to the fleet in July 2005. It was most often used for the support of the airline operations, ferrying crew and engineers around the country as needed.

Piper Aztec, ZK-ECM, the third Air National aircraft to carry that registration arrives at Auckland on 10 October 2008. 


To the general public Air National was perhaps best known for its Jetstream operations. From 1996 to 2011 Air National Jetstreams operated regular services for Ansett New Zealand, Qantas New Zealand and Air New Zealand as well as providing back up services for these airlines when engineering or other needs dictated.

In October 1998 Air National introduced its first British Aerospace J32EP Jetstream, ZK-ECN (c/n 967) to its fleet. The aircraft was named “City of Rotorua” and began operating Auckland-Rotorua flights on behalf of Ansett New Zealand Regional. In September 2000 ECN was registered to Tasman Pacific Regional Airlines, operating with Tasman Pacific Connection titles and with their colours on the tail.  (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/09/qantas-new-zealand-took-off-10-years.html and http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/09/tasman-pacific-connection-qantas-new.html). It returned to Air National in July the following year after the collapse of Qantas New Zealand.

ZK-ECN, the Spirit of Rotorua, at Rotorua on the 15th of September 1999

On the 8th of February 2008 an Air National flight hit the headlines when a knife-wielding hijacker demanded to be flown to Australia. Air New Zealand Link flight NZ2279 operated by Air National with Jetstream ZK-ECN was on a flight from Blenheim to Christchurch when Asha Ali Abdille, a 33 year old Somalian refugee, demanded to be flown to Australia. As the events unfolded she stabbed two pilots in mid-air, injured a passenger and threatened others. The plane landed safely at Christchurch whereupon she was arrested by armed police.

ZK-ECN continued to operate with Air National until October 2010 when it was sold in Australia.

Ready for export, ex ZK-ECN in her new Australian registration VH-OTH before leaving Auckland. Taken on the 27th of October 2010.

The second Jetstream, ZK-ECP (c/n 878), was added to Air National’s fleet on the 30th of July 1999. Like ECN it too had 10 months with Tasman Pacific Connection.

Above, BAe Jetstream 32 Enhanced Performance ZK-ECP as she first arrived in New Zealand at Hokitika on 17 September 1999 while on a rugby league charter. Below, ECP reflects her time with Tasman Pacific Connection at Nelson, being in their colours but being back in Air National service, on 2 November 2001

ECP, above, in what was the standard scheme at Hokitika on 10 September 2006 on a typically fine Hokitika day. Below, ECP has adopted an Origin Pacific blue belly, as seen at Christchurch on 25 July 2008. 

In January 2006 Air National commenced support services for Air New Zealand Link’s Eagle Air between Auckland and Kaitaia providing twice daily return services on weekdays. Later that year, in August, Air National also received a contract to fly Air New Zealand Link’s new Christchurch-Oamaru service as well as offering additional flights between Christchurch and Hokitika. To facilitate this, and other back up work for Eagle Air, Air National obtained three additional Jetstreams.

The first of these, ZK-ECI (c/n 946), had several personas in New Zealand. It began as ZK-REY operating for Ansett Regional from March 1999 to the end of August 2000. It too saw service with Tasman Pacific Connection who reregistered it as ZK-TPC. Following the collapse of Qantas New Zealand it was unused for some time before being picked up by Origin Pacific who registered it ZK-JSU in May 2006. Following the subsequent collapse of Origin Pacific it again languished until purchased by Air National in July 2006. It was registered ZK-ECI and named “Spirit of Waitaki” and flew the inaugural Christchurch-Oamaru service on the 6th of August 2006. The Oamaru flights ended on the 31st of December 2009.

ZK-ECI, the Spirit of Waitaki, at Oamaru on the 7th of December 2009 shortly before the air service to Oamaru ended

The other two Jetstreams had a similar journey through New Zealand companies. ZK-ECJ (c/n 969) began life in New Zealand as ZK-RES with Ansett New Zealand Regional. It retained this registration with Tasman Pacific Connection before becoming ZK-JSR with Origin Pacific. It was registered to Air National as ZK-ECJ in July 2006.

On the taxi for Wellington's Runway 16 is Jetstream ZK-ECJ on the 16th of November 2007

ZK-ECR (c/n 968) also did service with Ansett New Zealand Regional and Tasman Pacific Connection as ZK-REW before going to Origin as ZK-JSQ. It was also registered to Air National in July 2006.

Jetstream ZK-ECR arrives at Hokitika on the 4th of September 2007.

At various times Air National’s Jetstreams ran regular services for Air New Zealand Link between Auckland and Taupo, Wellington and Wanganui, Wellington and Westport and Wellington to Blenheim and onto Christchurch as well as the routes mentioned above and for back up work for Eagle’s Beeches that were on maintenance or went unserviceable. With the economic recession of 2009-2010 these regular flights all but disappeared with the Christchurch-Hokitika flights being the last regular sector Air National operated, though there was also a weekly return Christchurch-Blenheim-Auckland service when the Christchurch-based aircraft was swapped over.

A sad line up of Jetstreams taken at Auckland on the 15th of February 2011 after Air National's grounding. In the top photo the company's Piper Aztec ZK-ECM can also be seen.

Corporate Jets 
Mike Condon  

In addition to the airline style passenger charter and adhoc operations, Air National established a corporate jet management service in conjunction with their fixed base ground handling operation "Skycare" and JetPlus.  

The first corporate jet to be operated by Air National was Gulfstream 4SP ZK-KFB (c/n 1362) on behalf of Wellington based movie director, Peter Jackson.  As N888LK, this top end Gulfstream arrived at Auckland on 31 May 2003 from Taipei and Cairns and for the next 6 weeks conducted flying operations on the US registration.  It became ZK-KFB/1 on  15 July 2003 (personalised registration for Jackson's daughter Kate, partner Fran and son Billy).  The GIV flew a training detail using the callsign "National 401" on 07 August 2003 and it visited Palmerston North and Wellington including an instrument approach at Nelson.  The following day it departed Auckland for Apia and Honolulu on its first international foray on the ZK register. 
The owner signalled his intention to upgrade to the larger Gulfstream 550 in 2008 and its pending arrival in 2010 saw Execujet takeover the management of Jackson's jet and ZK-KFB/1, the Gulfstream 4SP, departed Auckland 30 April 2010 for Papeete and Los Angeles before later heading to Savannah.  It spent a short time on the US register and has since become VQ-BMT.

November 2006 in its original livery. Photo : M Condon

Queenstown March 2008 in its new livery (also worn by the G550 bearing the same registration) Photo : M Condon

The second bizjet to arrive for Air National was an IAI Westwind registered ZK-RML (c/n 339).  It arrived on the register 07 April 2005 having arrived as N90KC on 22 March at the conclusion of its delivery flight.  It carried out a weekend trip to Fiji and back a few days later still on the N register.  The jet was employed on occasion for aeromedical evacuation flights to the Pacific Islands however in later years this was taken over by Careflight with Australian based aircraft.  ZK-RML was registered to Airwork Flight Operations Limited in October 2011.

Departing Ardmore June 2006

Carrying on the tradition of introducing first of type's to NZ skies, Air National took delivery of a Gulfstream G200 (previously known as the IAI Galaxy) in 2007 when ZK-RGB (c/n 158) arrived for the Bagnall Family.  As N658GA, the G200 made its first visit to Auckland on 08 September 2007 arriving from Brisbane and it had departed from Dallas/ Love Field in July and spent much of the NZ winter in Europe.  It became ZK-RGB on 28 November 2007. It was exported to the United States in December 2011 becoming N818TS.

Auckland December 2007. Photo : Wayne Grant photo

Auckland November 2007. Photo : Colin Hunter

Long time NZ resident joined the ZK register on 15 June 2010 when Citation 501 N800DT became ZK-NBR (c/n 501-0198).  Operated on behalf of Barry Coleman, owner of the National Business Review and Liberty Press, N800DT arrived in NZ back in December 2002 and was operated out of Ardmore by Corporate Flight Services.  The aircraft was wooed to move "camp" and arrived at Auckland from Ardmore on 19 May 2010.  It was first noted marked as ZK-NBR on 28 May but was not offically registered until three weeks later.  Its first flight as ZK-NBR was recorded on 28 June when it flew from Auckland to Hamilton and back. In April 2011 it was registered to Dennis Thompson International Ltd, and re-registered as ZK-NDT the following month.

 At Auckland on 25 October 2010. Photo : S Lowe

Air National Corporate were contracted to provide management for another Gulfstream G200 Galaxy in 2010 on behalf of the Vela Family in Hamilton and Lane Family of Auckland.  N533GA arrived at Auckland from Singapore via Darwin and Brisbane on 05 October 2010 wearing its future markings of ZK-VGL under the temporary N registration.   However prior to its arrival circumstances changed and the jet's operation was bought 'in house' to be managed by its owners so it remains as N533GA and resides at Hamilton where it first arrived on 20 October having initally taken hangarage with Network Jets at  Auckland.

Dash 8s and the Whisper Jet

In August 2001 Air National upsized in the form of ex Ansett New Zealand De Havilland Canada DHC-8-102 Dash 8 ZK-NEZ (c/n 60). A second Dash 8, Bombardier DHC-8-202 Dash 8 ZK-ECR (c/n 475) was added to the fleet in April 2003. Both these aircraft were used on charter work and on support of Air Nelson and Mount Cook Airlines services.

Dash 8 ZK-NEZ at Tauranga on an Air Nelson service on 8 October 2002

ZK-ECR also did a stint in Tonga flying for Flyniu Airlines. This airline was established after the demise of the Royal Tongan Airlines by Venisi Taufa, Samuela Folaumoetu'i, Micheal Fa'asolo and 'Atu Finau (CEO) as an airline run by people of Tonga for the people of Tonga and the traveling public. Receiving their trading licence the company decided Air National’s Dash8-200 was the most efficient and suitable aircraft available. The aircraft arrived in Tonga on the 7th of June 2004, the flight taking just 3hrs 40mins from Auckland! A proving flight was carried out the following day to both Vava'u and Ha'apai with scheduled services starting on the 16th of June 2004. The airline operated a twice daily Monday to Saturday service from Tongatapu to Vava’u, with the exception of Wednesdays when there was only one flight and a daily Monday to Saturday service from Tongatapu to Ha’apai.

FlyNiu timetable
ZK-ECR while in service in Tonga. Photo : http://www.flyniu.com/

Just a couple of months after starting the Tongan government decided that there would only one carrier licensed to fly domestically in Tonga and this was awarded to Peau Vava'u. Flyniu won an injunction to allow them to keep flying, however, on the 10th of September 2004 the announced they had ceased trading in accordance with the Court decision of 8 September 2004 when the Court lifted the injunction against the revocation of their operating licence. A notice on the website said, “Unfortunately, we the people's airline are the ones to be put out of business.”

ZK-ECR at Auckland on 2 November 2003.

There was never a great deal of charter work for the Dash 8s and in 2005 the decision was made to withdraw them from the fleet. ZK-NEZ went to Vincent Aviation while ZK-ECR returned to the lessors.

Air National’s final addition to its fleet came with the arrival of a British Aerospace 146 Series 200 ‘Whisper Jet’ in Auckland on the 15th December 2008. Registered ZK-ECO (c/n E2130) on the 14th of January 2009 the aircraft and it undertook a 'proving flight' between Auckland and Palmerston North on the 17th of February 2009 as part of its process for Civil Aviation Authority approvals. Charter operations saw the aircraft flying into numerous New Zealand airports from Kaitaia in the north to Invercargill in the south including, Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenheim, Nelson Christchurch and Queenstown. Charters included flights for the Exclusive Brethren, the band Pearl Jam, Tauck Tours and two golf charters into Kaitaia.

On the second golfing charter to Kaitaia, ZK-ECO on 1 December 2010.

The Whisper Jet has also had five sorties into Australia being used for among things for the band Pearl Jam and in supporting Julia Gillard’s election campaign in the lead up to the 2010 Australian elections.

The Demise

Air National's troubles began in September 2010 Air National was forced to ground its fleet after its flight operations and training manager quit suddenly. Air New Zealand, which chartered Jetstreams from Air National, was forced to cancel flights and reschedule others. It also impacted on its corporate operations. It took six days for the airline to gain CAA approval for a new manager. Air National's chief executive Jason Gray's letter to his customers addressed speculation that flew around the industry at news of the grounding, stated, "Our actions were taken in full consultation with the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, who have been very supportive throughout this process. We must ensure that passenger safety is paramount and must be put ahead of any commercial considerations." 

On the 28th of January 2011 the Civil Aviation Authority handed down a 10-day suspension on Air National due to flight simulator training records for two pilots being wrong, possibly falsified. The CAA’s lawyer, Kim Murray, said this is not the first incident with Air National. “The applicant has an appalling history of non-compliance with minimum safety standards and suspension was inevitable when falsified training records were discovered,” Mr Murray says. However, the company’s lawyer, Sherridan Cook, said if that was the case then the CAA would have acted sooner. In early March 2011 Air National wrote to the Civil Aviation Authority voluntarily asking it to revoke its air operator certificate. It was revoked immediately.


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