04 September 2011

Gulf Island Air - Transfer Flights from Waiheke

When Flightline Aviation opened Waiheke Island’s Stonyridge Airstrip to general use in November 1992 one of the first operators to use the strip was locally owned Gulf Island Air. This company was formed by George and Janet Richardson who owned the land the on which Stonyridge airstrip was situated and their Piper Pa28-180 Cherokee ZK-SNE. (c/n 28-1509). In the March 2021 issue of Aviation News Geroge Richardson recounted how he taught students to fly off the Stonyridge airstrip, but the challenges of the airstrip meant that they went to Thames for their first solo flights. Flight training was Gulf Island Air's primary role. 

Great Barrier Airlines had found the strip was unsuitable for their aircraft and so for a time Gulf Island Air was contracted to maintain Great Barrier Airline's service to Auckland and Great Barrier Island with its four-seater Cherokee.
The only time I photographed Piper Cherokee ZK-SNE was at Matamata on 20 May 1988, four years before it was used for operations with Gulf Island Air.
Gulf News, 6 November 1992

In July 1993 Gulf Island Air added Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee 6 ZK-DDF (c/n 32-1509) to its fleet. This aircraft received a STOL kit to enable it to use the short Stonyridge strip. The connection with Great Barrier Airlines soon faded however the company continued to operate transfer flights to Auckland, Great Barrier Islands and other destinations in the Gulf as required in its own right.

Again, before being used by Gulf Island Air, Piper Cherokee Six ZK-DDF at Tauranga on 2 February 1992.

On the 22nd of December 1994 the Cherokee Six had an accident while landing at Stonyridge in cross-wind conditions with a nose wheel mounting failing on touchdown. George Richardson describes the incident... I did a scenic flight around Waiheke Island in SNE. It was blustery day with the wind being up to 35kt from the northwest with all the associated mechanical turbulence when down low, below 1000ft. I received a phone call to go to Auckland Airport and pick up two passengers from Auckland to be taken to Waiheke Island. Great Barrier Airlines considered the conditions too rough for its pilots. I went over to NZAA and picked up the passengers and returned to Waiheke. On final to land I hit some severe turbulence that was at the limit of the Cherokee 6 that I was flying, and just as I went to flare for landing on the uphill slope, I ran into a savage windshear. I had a reasonable amount of power on as I hit this shear, and I went to full power but couldn’t arrest the rate of descent and the Cherokee Six hit hard. I distinctly remember thinking this will be a hard one but it should be OK. The crosswind was about 15kt, so there was a fair amount of right rudder applied and left wing down for the touchdown. On contact with the ground the nose-wheel snapped off and the propeller struck the ground and folded around the engine cowling. DDF skidded on its nose for about 100ft and came to a halt. I opened the door and advised the passengers to get out NOW, which they did. I sat in the cockpit and proceeded to make a logbook entry to the bent prop, when one of the passengers came back and said I had better get out because there was fuel everywhere. I exited DDF very quickly, and to my astonishment I discovered that both wings had fractured at the aileron interface so that one wing tip tank was on the ground and spilling fuel. George told the Gulf News that one of the passengers had said, “It was better than his last flight in a small plane. That time he ended up upside down."

A rather forlorn looking Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-DDF on the Stonyridge strip on the 30th of December 1994. Photo : Gulf News

Gulf News 30 November 1994

The Cherokee ZK-SNE was still serviceable so Gulf Island Air flew on using it until the Cherokee 6 ZK-DDF was rebuilt. 

The rebuilt Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-DDF at Thames on 18 March 2000 with Waiheke Wings titles

In early 1997 Gulf Island Air merged with Great Barrier Airlines. Flights were again offered by Great Barrier Airlines to and from Waiheke but once again these were short lived.

Gulf News, 20 February 1997

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