18 December 2011

The Bay's Airline - Bay of Plenty Airways

This week, fifty years ago, Bay of Plenty Airways Ltd ceased operations. This is the story of this fascinating airline as told by Bruce Gavin.

Bay of Plenty Airways Ltd was a pioneering regional airline of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which introduced many Tauranga and Bay of Plenty people to the benefits of aviation. The airline was a New Zealand pioneer in the use of light fast twin-engine aircraft with all-weather capability on frequent multi-sector services. Tauranga based, Bay of Plenty Airways was a trendsetter with many of its innovations not entering general usage in New Zealand until many years after the airline had ceased operations.

The airline took over the expanding operations of Tauranga Air Services Ltd, which had commenced air services from Tauranga in December 1956. Founded by Alfred W. ‘Alf’ Bartlett and supported financially by a number of Bay of Plenty investors, Tauranga Air Services Ltd, operated Cessna 182 ZK-BRI and built up a regular air taxi service from Tauranga (both Tauranga Aerodrome and an airstrip at Tauriko), Whakatane and Opotiki to Auckland. As a result of increasing demand for the service, plus the requirement to join Rotorua into the network, and to carry the afternoon Auckland Star newspaper from Auckland to the Bay of Plenty, a larger aircraft was required. New Zealand Newspapers Ltd (publishers of the Auckland Star) provided the increased finance and became a significant shareholder in Bay of Plenty Airways.

Cessna 182 ZK-BRI

The founder and managing director of Tauranga Air Services and Bay of Plenty Airways, Alf Bartlett, travelled to the United States and purchased an Aero Commander 680F aircraft, which he ferried all the way to New Zealand.  This aircraft, registered ZK-BWA (Alf Bartlett’s initials spelled backwards), entered scheduled service on Monday 10 November 1958. The Aero Commander flew the main services between Tauranga and Rotorua and Auckland while the Cessna 182 linked Tauranga with Whakatane, and for a short time, Opotiki. Public response was very favourable and a Tauranga to Wellington service, via Rotorua, commenced on 2 September 1959.

Aero Commander 680F ZK-BWA

Alf Bartlett engendered tremendous support from his staff who all worked strenuously to make the airline a success. All staff, including chief pilot Alistair McLeod, financial controller Paddy Carey and chief reservations officer and administrator Brian Head, deserve credit for the loyalty the airline built up amongst Bay of Plenty people. The busy Aero Commander would fly up to sixteen sectors a day and became a source of pride for Bay of Plenty people.

Auckland Star, 2 May 1959

The Aero Commander was very well equipped for navigation in all weathers so to improve operational flexibility and remove the requirement to have two pilots when flying in marginal conditions, the company’s pilots underwent rigorous instrument flight training. In late 1959 approval to fly with a single pilot in instrument flying conditions (SPIFR) was gained from the Civil Aviation Administration. This was a first for a small New Zealand airline.

Bay of Plenty Airways' incredibly demanding timetable, effective 29 November 1959

The ill-fated Aero Commander, ZK-BWA, loading the NZ Herald at Whenuapai. Photographer unknown

Capacity limitations with the Aero Commander, and the forthcoming availability of a sealed airstrip at Whakatane, led to the search for another aircraft in Australia. A de Havilland DH.104 Dove Mark 5, registered ZK-BZP, was imported on a three month trial and entered service on an expanded timetable on 1 February 1961. Despite all the efforts and near full loadings the airline lost money and was placed in receivership in April 1961. Events happened quickly and the company made strenuous attempts to gain support from Government owned national airline New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC). Meanwhile the private airline SPANZ made what was to be an unsuccessful attempt to take over the airline. By June 1961 the Dove was removed from service because the runway at Whakatane had deteriorated and was closed to twin-engine aircraft. Following financial restructuring one third of the company shares were held by NAC, one third by NZ Newspapers Ltd and the other third by the original Bay of Plenty shareholders.

De Havilland Dove ZK-BZP at Whenuapai

Operations designed to bring the airline into profitability continued.  However when Aero Commander ZK-BWA broke up in the air over Mt Ruapehu on 21 November 1961, with the loss of all on board, including Alf Bartlett, the airline’s future was in peril.  An interim service using James Aviation’s Piper Apache ZK-BYB, together with Cessna 182 ZK-BRI, was operated by the airline for a short time. This feeder service linked Rotorua and Whakatane with NAC’s Douglas DC-3 services at Tauranga. An Australian Piaggio P.166 aircraft, registered VH-BBG, was evaluated in November 1961 and moves were made to keep the company flying but to no avail. A decision to suspend services and wind the company up was made at a Board Meeting in December 1961.


A.W. ‘Alf’ Bartlett - founder, managing director, operations manager and chief pilot
Graham Bayliss - pilot
A.P. ‘Paddy’ Carey - financial controller
Dave Cohu - part time pilot
Don Cummings - part time pilot
Rod Dahlberg - part time pilot
Carol Frith - office and reservations
S.B. ‘Brian’ Head - chief reservations officer and general administrator
Russ Hilder - part time pilot
Bett Lorrigan - office and reservations
F.W. ‘Fred’ Lysaght - director, later chairman of directors
R. King - chairman of directors
A.J. ‘Alistair’ McLeod - chief pilot and operations manager
J.D. ‘Jack’ Magon - pilot
Nicholas Murray Leslie - pilot
Leon Musgrove - pilot
Barbara Pidding - office and reservations
G.N. (Geoffrey) Roberts - director


ZK-BRI - Cessna 182 (c/n 182-33690)
ZK-BWA - Aero Commander 680F (previously registered N6810S, and N1085S) (c/n 680-437-109)
ZK-BZP - de Havilland DH.104 Dove Mark 5 (c/n 04508) leased from de Havilland (Australia) Ltd

In addition, the airline also leased other aircraft from time to time, including:

ZK-BJU - Cessna 180 (c/n 180-31451) leased from Midland Air Services Ltd
ZK-BLB - Piper PA.22-150 Tri Pacer (c/n 22-3379) leased from Tauranga Aero Club
ZK-BLP - Piper PA.23 Apache 150 (c/n 23-1089) leased from Auckland Aero Club
ZK-BQI - Cessna 180 (c/n 180-32373) leased from Airspread Ltd
ZK-BSC - Piper PA.22-150 Tri Pacer (c/n 22-5410) leased from Tauranga Aero Club
ZK-BUK - Cessna 182 (c/n 182-34416) leased from James Aviation (Rotorua) Ltd
ZK-BYB - Piper PA.23 Apache 160 (c/n 23-1828) leased from James Aviation (Rotorua) Ltd


‘Taking Off- Pioneering Small Airlines of New Zealand 1945-1970’ Written by Richard Waugh with Bruce Gavin, Peter Layne and Graeme McConnell. Published by The Kynaston Charitable Trust, 2003. Particularly Chapter 9 ‘To and From the Bay by Speedy Aero Commander’, by Bruce Gavin. Pages 142-157. See also Appendix 3 ‘Air Crash Injustice – Bay of Plenty Airways Aero Commander’ by Professor Les Erasmus. Pages 213-219.

Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand Volume 21, No. 1 Autumn 1978. Particularly Airlines in Miniature ‘Bay of Plenty Airways’ Written by Bruce Gavin. Pages 6-8.

Original research undertaken by Bruce Gavin since the early 1970s.


The considerable assistance of Richard Waugh, Peter Layne and Graeme McConnell is greatly appreciated.


  1. R.I.P Jack Magon.
    A wonderful man.

  2. Mrs Bartlet taught me at Tauranga girls College. Such a lovely family and teacher.