06 March 2011

From Hamilton to Greymouth - Golden Coast Airlines

The definitive texts on Golden Coast Airlines are found in Graeme McConnel's chapter in "Taking Off - Pioneering Small Airlines of New Zealand 1945-1970" by Richard Waugh, Bruce Gavin, Peter Layne and Graeme McConnell and in Bruce Gavin's chapter on air service operators to the West Coast in "Hoki to Haast" by Richard Waugh. This first post draws largely on their work while the second post is drawn largely from my research in the Greymouth Evening Star.

In 1958 Bill Evans formed a banner towing operation called Aerial Advertising Ltd. When he established Golden Coast Airways in 1960 to operate an air taxi and charter operation between Nelson and Karamea it used two of Aerial Advertising's aircraft, Auster J/1B Aiglet, ZK-AWZ (c/n 2669), and De Havilland 82A Tiger Moth, ZK-BAT (c/n 82139).

Aerial Advertising's de Havilland 82 Tiger Moth ZK-BAT at Christchurch

With Karamea being quite isolated there was a lot of local interest in an air service to Nelson. Capitalising on this Bill Evans arranged a contract to carry the Nelson Evening Mail to Karamea and enabling the establishment of a Monday to Friday service between Nelson and Karamea on the 1st of September 1960. The Nelson Evening Mail of that day carried a good account of the first flight which was flown in the Auster, ZK-AWZ...

Today, for the first time, "The Mail" was to be air-freighted to Karamea, 70 air miles away on the West Coast. The service, previously impracticable, will daily provide isolated Karamea residents with world and local news on their front-door steps. An Auster aircraft, piloted by Mr W. Evans, was to leave Nelson Airport soon after 4 p.m. with a load of today's issue of "The Mail". Forty-five minutes later the aircraft would touch down at Karamea Airport, to be received by a welcoming committee of residents. One of the passengers on the plane was to be Mr R. D. Lucas, managing-director of "The Nelson Evening Mail," whose co-operation had made the service possible. Mr Evans, 25, of Nelson, has been flying for about eight years, and had operated between Nelson and Karamea for 12 months, carrying everything from passengers to stud calves, venison, whitebait, and even cats and dogs. 

Thriving Township 
Karamea, a thriving township of about 900 people, supports, apart from dairy farming, four timber mills, a flax mill, and a freezing unit installed by Nelson Fisheries Limited to hold up to six tons of venison or whitebait. However, the main industry of the area is dairy farming, and there are about 80 suppliers. Three passengers arrived from Karamea on the plane this morning—Mrs L M. Wicker, who with her husband, a Government medical officer from Christchurch, are holidaying in Karamea; Mrs M. E. Rex, of Nelson, who was visiting relatives, and Mr R. Tunnicliff, chairman of the Karamea Co-operative Dairy Company Limited, to attend a meeting of directors of the Karamea Shipping Company. Both Mrs Wicker and Mr Tunnicliff were to be passengers on the return flight this afternoon. All the passengers were happy after this morning's flight and had no complaints. 

Papers And Letters 
Karamea residents will receive "The Mail" each night from Monday to Friday. If Mr Evans is in Nelson on a Saturday they will also receive that day's edition as well. The "Sports Edition" will be delivered on Monday afternoons along with the daily edition. To ensure that as many residents as possible can take advantage of the service, the present Rural Mail Delivery run has been extended another 20 miles. Subscribers 60 miles apart will receive their letters and "The Mail" together. The mail delivery van will meet the plane at Karamea each night to take its load of papers. Mr Evans said today that without the co-operation of Mr Lucas he could not have attempted the daily service. "I feel sure that the residents of Karamea will also support it,” he added. "Since starting at Karamea I have had installed a base radio as well as a high performance air-craft radio at a cost of £370. I have a van at Nelson to take passengers and handle freight, while in Karamea I have a second van which will be making a daily call round the district collecting supplies of whitebait to be flown out later," he said. In a circular to residents, Mr Lucas stressed that it was the paper's policy to do its best for the outlying areas of the province. "We have every confidence that Karamea residents will support the air service, and 'The Mail,' to ensure the success of the service," he said.

Nelson Evening Mail, 1 September 1960

The departure time from Karamea to Nelson was flexible allowing a time to suit local passengers while the return flight to Karamea left Nelson at 4.00pm arriving at 4.45pm.

Auster J/1B Aiglet ZK-AWZ after it had passed from Golden Coast Airways ownership at Wellington in the late 1960s.

Bill Evans was an entrepreneur who was skilled at finding a load back to Nelson and so the service grew in popularity. The Auster soon became too small and negotiations were made with the Nelson Evening Mail to guarantee a loan enabling the purchase a more modern Cessna 180, ZK-BFD (c/n 30867). With the introduction of the Cessna 180 in late 1960 the Tiger Moth was sold. The Cessna 180, being larger than the Auster enabled the extension of the service south to Westport from the 27th of December 1960. 

Bought from Poverty Bay Airways, Bill Evans in front of Golden Coast Airways' Cessna 180 ZK-BFD at Nelson

The availability of the Nelson Evening Mail in Westport, made possible by the extended air service, meant competition for Westport's local newspaper, The News, which struggled to compete. The Nelson Evening Mail took the opportunity to purchase the News. Printing of the newspaper was moved to Nelson and the paper was flown to Westport each day. This led to Golden Coast Airways needing to purchase a larger Cessna 185 Skywagon, ZK-CAK (c/n 185-0017). CAK was the first Cessna 185 registered in New Zealand and it entered service on the 4th of August 1961. Its introduction led to the sale of the Auster.

ZK-CAK was a larger 6-seater Cessna 185. It is seen above photographed at Nelson shortly after its arrival and below after at it was repainted in Golden Coast Airways colour scheme, taken at Ardmore.

The Cessna 185 ZK-CAK (in front) with the Cessna 180 ZK-BFD (at rear) with the Nelson Evening Mail VW combi van at Nelson

Further expansion occurred in 1963 when the company purchased Piper PA23-160 Apache ZK-BYB (c/n 23-1828). With the arrival of the Apache the Cessna 185 was sold to Cookson Airspread of Wairoa and, as part payment, Golden Coast received from them Cessna 180 ZK-BVQ (c/n 31342). The addition of the Apache enabled the extension of Nelson-Karamea-Westport service south to Greymouth. The extended service began on the 11th of July 1963.

The first Piper Pa23 Apache ZK-BYB photographed at Nelson with Golden Coast AIRWAYS titles

Cessna 180 ZK-BVQ photographed at Nelson

Later that year, on the 31st of October 1963, Bill Evans, the pioneer founder of the company, sold it to Aircraft Hire Ltd of Masterton who renamed it Golden Coast Airlines Ltd. Meanwhile a plaque was unveiled in the Karamea Airport building as a tribute to Bill Evan's pioneering efforts for the district on the 4th of January 1964. The plaque reads, "This plaque is inscribed by the people of Karamea to commemorate the faith and enterprise of Mr W. P. Evans in inaugurating a regular air service and establishing a high standard of safety and reliability." 

The new ownership allowed Aircraft Hire Ltd's Cessna 205 aircraft, ZK-CEZ (c/n 205-0134) and ZK-CFF (c/n 205-0412), to be used, at times, on Golden Coast Airlines’  West Coast service. At the end of the year ZK-BVQ went to Phoenix Aviation of Greymouth and the company took over Piper PA23-160 Apache ZK-BLP (c/n 23-1089) which Phoenix Aviation had used to pioneer a Greymouth-Christchurch service.

One of Aircraft Hires' Cessna 205s, ZK-CEZ

A couple of photos of Piper Apache ZK-BLP with Golden Coast AIRLINES' titles. The photo above was taken at Nelson.

The company experienced a setback in May 1965 when Apache ZK-BYB suffered a landing incident at Westport. The aircraft was subsequently sold.

Ouch - ZK-BYB on its nose at Westport. Nelson Evening Mail, 8 May 1965

In August 1965 the airline was sold to Nelson businessmen who renamed it Golden Coast Airlines (1965) Ltd. 

With the demise of SPANZ on the 28th of February 1966 Golden Coast took the opportunity to expand further north and inaugurate a new Nelson to New Plymouth daily return service. At the same time the airline also announced its intention to purchase a larger aircraft. On the 5th of March 1966 the Nelson Evening Mail reported Mr A W Hellyer, chairman of directors of the company, saying that the service was subject to final approval but he expected the necessary licences to be granted. It is hoped to have an inaugural flight, with invited guests as passengers, on Monday, March 14. At first the service will be conducted with Piper Apache aircraft but it is hoped to have an Aero Commander in operation on the service by August. The proposals have the support of the National Airways Corporation. Under the new service it will be possible for a passenger to leave Greymouth at 7.45 a.m. and be in Auckland at 12.05 p.m. after transferring from the Golden Coast Apache to an N.A.C. flight at New Plymouth. The aircraft will leave Nelson at 9.30 a.m., seven days a week, and is due to arrive at New Plymouth at 10.30. It will leave New Plymouth on the return flight at 11 a.m. and arrive at noon. The N.A.C. flight to Auckland leaves New Plymouth at 11 a.m. The Golden Coast aircraft calls at Westport and Karamea on the flight from Greymouth to Nelson. The timetable is subject to change in August to coincide with a revised N.A.C. timetable. The fare between Nelson and New Plymouth will be £5/10/-. The twin-engined Piper Apache aircraft can take four passengers. The Aero Commander can take seven passengers and 350 lb. of freight in addition to the passengers' luggage. It has a speed of about 260 m.p.h., approximately the same as a Friendship. The Aero Commander will cut the flying time between Nelson and New Plymouth from the hour of the S.P.A.N.Z Dakotas and Golden Coast Apaches to about 40 minutes. Both the Karamea and Greymouth runways will need to be extended to take the Aero Commander and this work is already well under way. The Karamea work, which will increase the runway from 2600 ft to about 3200 ft at a cost of about £4000, is expected to be completed this month. The work at Greymouth to lengthen the runway from 2600 ft to about 3600 ft at a cost of about £10,000, should be completed in two months. Mr Hellyer, who is also president of the Nelson Aero Club, said the Golden Coast company was proving successful with the type of aircraft that were being used. Granting a licence to operate between Nelson and New Plymouth would mean a better and more economical service. 
A few days later, on the 8th of March 1966, the Nelson Evening Mail announced that the New Zealand agents for the Aero Commander aircraft have applied to the Customs Department for a licence to import one passenger type for eventual use on the Greymouth-Nelson-New Plymouth route. The service would at first be conducted with Piper Apache aircraft, he said, but it was hoped to have an Aero Commander in operation by August. Mr A. H. Harding, a director of the agent company Flight and Field Services Ltd, in a telephone interview, said that an application had been lodged with the Customs Department. "We would like to think that we will have the licence in about six weeks. "In the meantime we are making enquiries through our principals, the Rockwell Standard Corporation (Aero Commander Division), of Oklahoma, for a suitable aircraft.” He said the Commander aircraft could be supplied in various forms to meet the needs of a particular service. The type mentioned for the Greymouth - Nelson - New Plymouth service was the high-powered model. This could take seven passengers and 350 lb of freight in addition to passengers' luggage. It had a speed of about 260 m.p.h., about the same as a Friendship. 

The Nelson Public Relations Officer, Mr Sean O'Hagan is pleased to hear the news that Golden Coast Airlines is about to institute a Nelson - New Plymouth service. Mr O'Hagan said that until now the Golden Coast Airlines has operated mainly in the Nelson and West Coast regions and it was heartening to see that is now able to branch out into the North Island by providing a daily service from Nelson to New Plymouth. The manager of N.A.C. in Nelson; Mr C. F. Bryan, said the idea of a new air service for the Nelson company was a good development and served to promote air travel in the country. He said the service was an ideal one for a smaller aircraft. "The community interest between Nelson and New Plymouth is not great, and there will never be a vast potential," Mr Bryan said. "The service would provide a good link, which would justify the use of smaller aircraft than the corporation has.”

On the 21st of March Golden Coast Airlines Ltd used two Piper Apaches to make a proving flight between the two Nelson and New Plymouth. On board was Mr A. Glowacki, Supervisor of Aviation Operations with the Department of Civil Aviation official as well as a number of VIPs and a trolley-load of Nelson products which were wheeled into the New Plymouth Airport terminal building. Those on the flights were Messrs J. A. Harley, J.P., manager of Nelson Breweries Ltd; R. D. Lucas, managing director of the "Nelson Evening Mail"; C. F. Bryan, branch manager N.A.C.; A. Ransby, manager of the West Coast office of the airline; A. W. Hellyer; S, O’Hagan, Public Relations Officer; R. A. Sigley, secretary Golden Coast Airlines Ltd; and A. Glowacki, who is superintendent of commercial operations for Civil Aviation Administration. The two pilots were Messrs M. J. Dunn, flying ZK-CHU, and A. J. Bradshaw, flying ZK-BLP. The Nelson guests of the airline on the inaugural flights between the two cities distributed the gifts among their New Plymouth hosts at an informal reception at the airport. The two aircraft arrived about 11.30 a.m., and stayed for two hours. As they left to return to Nelson they circled over New Plymouth. The regular daily service is to begin tomorrow. Passengers found the flight of 65 minutes to be one of contrast. The northern area is a patchwork of luscious green, hedged fields encircling the majestic peak of Mt. Egmont while Nelson nestles at the foot of mountains rising to the east, west and south. Mt. Egmont was in view almost as the aircraft left Nelson Haven. About 20 minutes out they were midway between Farewell Spit and Stephen's Island. A perfect view of the spit clearly showed the growth of sand beyond the site of the lighthouse. The party from Nelson inspected the new airport at New Plymouth which is due to be opened in August. It has a 4300 ft sealed runway. The products distributed came from the Nelson Apple Cannery, S. Kirkpatrick & Co. Ltd, Griffin & Sons Ltd, Trafalgar Textiles and Coles (Nelson) Ltd. There was a statue of Lord Nelson by A. R. Birch, New Zealand ceramic souvenirs by L. J. Le Cren, a vase by. Mirek Smisek, scallops from Nelson Fisheries Ltd, frozen chickens from A. L. Burden & Son, an assortment of drinks from Nelson Breweries Ltd, copies of the centennial edition from "The Mail", and a collection of Nelson magazines and brochures from the Public Relations Office. 

With the launch of the service Miss Justice Wilson of Richmond took up her duties as ground hostess at Nelson Airport for the company. Miss Wilson, who is aged 19 and "likes meeting people" was formerly employed by S.P.A.N.Z. as a receptionist at the airline's booking centre in Nelson. 

The air service formally started on the 23rd of March 1966. The first passengers to fly from New Plymouth to Nelson on Golden Coast Airlines (1965) Ltd, were Mrs David Gilchrist and her 3-year-old daughter Jane of Stoke. They had been holidaying for the past week with Mrs Gilchrist's sister who is the wife of Sergeant A. P. Barber of the New Plymouth Police. Prior to living in Stoke Mr and Mrs Gilchrist were dairy farming at Karamea. Flying conditions were ideal today for the inaugural flights and the outward and inward flights took seventy and sixty-seven minutes respectively. Although Mt Egmont was not visible today the large number or vertical fingered cumulonimbus clouds which covered the mountain were a spectacular sight. 

First day cover for the Nelson-New Plymouth service, 23 March 1966

The launch of the New Plymouth service. Nelson Evening Mail, 21 March 1966

Golden Coast Airlines' timetable sometime after March 1966

On the 15th of September 1966 the Nelson Evening Mail reported that Golden Coast Airlines Ltd applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to operate a Nelson-New Plymouth-Hamilton service which intended to operate Monday to Saturday. At the same time the Waikato Aero Club applied for a service between New Plymouth and Hamilton, with intermediate stops. In early November 1966 Golden Coast was granted a licence to operate between New Plymouth and Hamilton, the Authority favouring the airline over the Waikato Aero Club because of the better service it could offer. The Nelson Evening Mail reported that the secretary of the Air Services Licensing Authority, Mr W H F Lyons said: "There was no competition between the two for the licence, but I could say they both wanted it. The Authority felt that Golden Coast, as a commercial organisation, had a better claim to the service than Waikato Aero Club. The equipment Golden Coast uses is more acceptable to the public. Waikato Aero Club intended to use a four-seater single-engine Cessna 172. Mr Lyons said that Waikato Aero Club was told that the Authority did not think it advisable to grant a second licence for the service. The extension of the New Plymouth service to Hamilton commenced on the 14th of December 1966 with Alan Hackston flying the first service in Piper Apache ZK-CHU.

Nelson Aero Club's Piper Apache, ZK-CHU, taken at Omaka. 

Nelson Evening Mail, 4 June 1966

At the end of 1966 the company's new Aero Commander 500A ZK-CTM arrived in New Zealand after its delivery flight from the United States. The colour scheme was white with green trim edged in brown and registration letters only on the fuselage. It went into service on Golden Coast's northern routes in early 1967. At this point the Aero Commander was unable to operate into Greymouth aerodrome as it required upgrading for the higher performance machine. 

On the 27th of  June 1967 the Greymouth Evening Star reported that the Greymouth airport is now operational for an Aero Commander aircraft. The Aero Commander commenced operations on Golden Coast's southern route from Nelson to Karamea, Westport and Greymouth on Friday the 30th of June 1967. The Aero Commander then operated the normal Saturday services but the "joy rides" on the Sunday were cancelled because of heavy rain. 

The Aero Commander ZK-CTM taken on the West Coast run at Karamea,

...at Westport,

and at Greymouth.

A second photo of the Aero Commander ZK-CTM at Greymouth with a simplified cheat line and Golden Coast Airlines' titles

From the 19th of September 1967 Golden Coast Airlines was given approval to operate under Instrument Flight Rules. The Nelson Evening Mail reported that the airline’s seven-seater Aero Commander is fully equipped to world standards with radio and radio-navigational equipment valued at $20,000. Initially, the Nelson-New Plymouth-Hamilton sectors of the company’s service will be brought under these rules. 

Getting a briefing on the situation at other airports on the route by Nelson air traffic control officer, Mr M. Clarkson, are Captain J, Pavitt and Captain M, Dunn. Captain Pavitt, officer in charge of the night exercise, is an N.A.C. Friendship line captain and a former training captain. Captain Dunn of Golden Coast Airlines, was pilot in command for the exercise. Nelson Evening Mail, 12 October 1967

On the 27th of June 1968 it was announced that an 11-seater, all-weather Grand Commander aircraft should be operating through Nelson Airport before Christmas. The Nelson-based company of Golden Coast Airlines Ltd announced today that it had been granted an import licence to purchase a Grand Commander for up to $ 98,000. The aircraft, powered by twin supercharged Lycoming  piston engines developing 380 horsepower are built by Aero Commander Incorporated, of Bethany, Oklahoma, U.S.A. The secretary of Golden Coast Airlines, Mr R. D. Sigley said the purchase would probably be made in Australia where several Grand Commanders were operating.  Directors of his company's yesterday gave their approval to the purchase subject to the availability of finance which was not expected to present any problems. The 11-seater plane will be used on the company's existing routes between Greymouth and Hamilton to supplement the service its seven-seater Aero Commander. Mr Sigley said the firm planned to sell an Apache five-seater in about six weeks. Pilots and engineering staff were already licensed to service and operate the new aircraft when it arrived. General passenger demand had been rising steadily, he said, and warranted the introduction of the larger machine.

Then, on the 7th of November 1968, the Nelson Evening Mail reported that Golden Coast Airlines Ltd. will introduce two new flights at the end of the month. These will provide a seven-day service between Nelson and the West Coast. On Saturday, November 30, a new flight will start from Greymouth for Westport, Karamea and Nelson departing at 4 p.m. This flight will be in addition to the morning flight which leaves Greymouth at 7.40 a.m. The arrival times of the new flight will be Westport 4.20 p.m., Karamea 4.50 p.m., and Nelson 5.20 p.m. The other new flight will begin on Sunday, December 1, departing from Nelson at 3.30 p.m. This flight will provide the only Sunday service to the West Coast of any company. The arrival times are Karamea 4 p.m., Westport 4.30 p.m. and Greymouth 5 p.m. The managing director of the airline, Mr R. D. Sigley, said agents would be advised later of the new flights. New schedules were being printed. Monday to Friday flights would continue as before. There would be a time change for the flight which leaves Nelson on Saturday afternoon. Departure would be advanced half an hour from 2.30 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Meanwhile in early December 1968 the New Plymouth-Hamilton service was discontinued due to lack of patronage.

Golden Coast Airlines' timetable after the Hamilton service was withdrawn and the additional West Coast flights were included.

The Aero Commander ZK-CTM taken at Christchurch

On the 5th of June 1970 NAC operated its final DC-3 services to Hokitika.and Westport. At this time Westport airport closed to enable reconstruction of the runway at Westport to take Fokker Friendships. While this work was underway Golden Coast Airlines were chartered to operate two extra flights from Westport to Nelson, Monday to Friday and one extra flight on Saturdays. The initial flights operated with a 75 per cent passenger load. 

The schedule Golden Coast Airline offered between Nelson and Westport was:-

Flight GC 11 Nelson, dep 10.40 am, Westport arr 11.30 am 
Flight GC 12 Westport dep 11.45 am, Nelson arr 12.35 pm
Flight GC 15 Nelson dep 1.10 pm, Westport arr 2.00 pm
Flight GC 16 Westport dep 2.15 pm, Nelson arr 3.05 pm

Flight GC 21 Nelson dep 11.15 am, Westport arr 12.05 pm
Flight GC 22 Westport dep 12.20 am, Nelson arr 1.10 pm

ABout this time the Nelson-New Plymouth service was cut. As work proceeded the airline was unable to use the Aero Commander and so Golden Coast used Nelson Aero Club’s Cessna 172 ZK-CGB. By this time the company had lost some contracts and was struggling financially. With NAC about to resume air services to Westport and the West Coast being the airline's only route the decision was made to cease operations. On the 17th of September 1970 the company ended its services with a final Nelson-Westport-Nelson service.

For more on the service to Greymouth see

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