18 September 2011

The Air Services of the Northland Districts Aero Club

The Northland Districts Aero Club started at Kaikohe in 1952 with 20 members. In 1954 a Tiger Moth was purchased for £600, the money raised by debentures. In 1957 it moved its headquarters to Whangarei, basing itself in an old tin shed on the southern side of the aerodrome which, in those days, was just a big grassy paddock. Over time the club made two moves, first to an old, nearby NAC building and then to the large spacious headquarters on the northern side of the airport next to the main terminal. Over the years the Club, in addition to pilot training, was involved in charter and scenic trips, aerial photography, supply drops and air ambulance work and so it developed a commercial division trading as Northland Air Taxis.

Sporting Northland Air Taxis titles, Piper Pa28-140 Cherokee ZK-BZH taken at Whangarei on 4 August 1966.

In August 1970 NAC replaced their Douglas DC-3 service to Northland with Fokker Friendships. As part of the timetable reshuffle Whangarei lost its early morning service to Auckland. The Northland Districts Aero Club took this opportunity to introduce a twice daily return air taxi service to Auckland on each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The service, which operated under the name of Executive Air Taxis, started on the 21st of August 1970 using their newly imported Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee Six ZK-DBP (c/n 32-1117).

Executive Air Taxis' first Piper Cherokee Six, ZK-DBP, taken a long way from home, at Timaru on 10 February 1976.

Timetable effective, October 1970

By the end of 1974 the service was expanded to offer a twice daily Monday to Friday morning and afternoon return service. Other aircraft that were used on service included Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee Six ZK-DSQ (c/n 32-1012), Piper Pa28-181 Archer ZK-NDA (c/n 28-7990423) and Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee Six ZK-DUO (c/n 32-7400043) which originally belonged to Culham Engineering Ltd but was later purchased by the Club.

Executive Air Taxis' Piper Cherokee Six ZK-DSQ at Rotorua on 27 January 1984.
Timetable effective December 1974

The Club always saw their service as complementary to NAC’s Auckland-Whangarei service and providing Whangarei business people an early morning departure. The overnighting of a Friendship at Whangarei from the mid-1970s caused some competition for the Club but the service continued. In October 1980, however, the Air New Zealand schedule was changed and the early morning service to Auckland was withdrawn. The club realised it needed a larger aircraft for the expected increase in passengers on the Auckland service. In late 1977, Dave Culham, an aero club member and director of Culham Engineering Ltd, had purchased four De Havilland 104 Devons from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The Club introduced Devon ZK-UDO (c/n 04412) to the Auckland air service on the 27th of October 1980. Initially only a morning return service was operated but a late afternoon service was added later. A second Devon, ZK-KTT (c/n 04324), was also used on the service.

In 1983 a group of Northland rugby enthusiasts were following the Northland rugby team around the South Island in Executive Air Taxis' De Havilland Devon ZK-UDO. Unfortunately weather precluded them getting to one of the games and so the Devon flew them to the sunny West Coast. I was lucky enough to get on board a flight offered to local aero club members. Taken at Hokitika on 13 August 1983.
On its home patch, De Havilland Devon ZK-KTT at Whangarei on 1 November 1986.

By 1985 the service had been rebranded as Whangarei Air Taxis and by the late 1980s the Club was offering three return flights each weekday. Flights departed Whangarei at 6.50am, 9.00am and 3.00pm and return flights departed Auckland at 8.00am, 10.00am and 5.00pm. By this time the costs of operating the aging Devon aircraft were becoming prohibitive and the Club decided to replace the Devons with a 12 seat Nomad aircraft. The cost of introducing the new aircraft was a $300,000 project, which included the purchase price, training, ground support and advertising, and it sought to raise this capital by way of debentures, the same way it had financed its first aircraft. The GAF N22B Nomad, ZK-NDB (c/n N22B-37), was registered to the Club in mid-August 1988 and introduced to the service some time after this.

De Havilland Devon ZK-UDO rebranded as Whangarei Air Taxi in March 1985. Photographer unknown

Northern Advocate, 25 July 1987

Whangarei Air Taxis GAF N22 Nomad at Auckland in 1989. Photographer unknown

In addition to the Auckland service the Club also operated flights to Great Barrier Island in competition with Great Barrier Airlines. These were normally on a charter basis but in November 1990 the club commenced scheduled flights to and from the Island on Mondays and Fridays. Plans to operate the service all year around did not come to pass and the service remained a summer only service. The scheduled service was last advertised in the Barrier Bulletin during the summer of 1992/1993 though an air taxi air service continued on demand.

Barrier Bulletin, November 1990
Barrier Bulletin, April 1993

In 1988 Air New Zealand announced the withdrawal of the their twice daily Friendship service to Whangarei in favour of Eagle Air offering up to five Bandeirante flights a day. The Northland District Aero Club manager, Mr Alan Ward, told the Northern Advocate he “was shattered when he heard news of the service changes.” While the Club had seen off competition on the Auckland-Whangarei route from Southern Cross Airways and Great Barrier Airlines the competition from the new Eagle Air service had a major impact. To counter this the club reached an inter-airline fare agreement with Ansett New Zealand for fares between Whangarei and Wellington and Christchurch. Ansett New Zealand, however, would not establish a formal link with an incorporated society and so in November 1989 the Northland Districts Aero Club formed Northern Commuter Airlines Ltd which was 40% owned by the club with 60% of the shares being held by private shareholders.

Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-DUO at Palmerston North on 25 June 1988 (above) and at Hokitika on 7 April 1996 (below)

Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-DBP at Christchurch on 7 September 1985
The Northland Districts Aero Club's Piper Archer ZK-NDA taken at West Melton on 28 March 1987.

In mid 2012 the Northland Districts Aero Club merged with the Whangarei Flying Club.

A post on Northern Commuter Airlines will follow at a later date.

As with all my posts I am open to correction, addition or deletion. I would love to hear from passengers or pilots of there experiences on any of these airlines to I can put a human face to the histories of NZ's smaller airlines. Thanks Steve - westland831@gmail.com

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