07 July 2013

Tasman Cargo Airlines - the Express Trans-Tasman Air Freighter



On four nights each week, and on Saturday mornings, Tasman Cargo Airlines’ Boeing 757 flies across the Tasman from Auckland to Sydney and return on behalf of DHL as well as horse-transport customers and a variety of local freight forwarders. Tasman Cargo Airlines Pty Ltd is an Australian registered airline but bases its only aircraft at Auckland.

Prior to July 1991 DHL had moved its air freight between Auckland and Sydney by purchasing air freight space on other carrier’s flights. 

On the 16th of July 1991 DHL launched its own dedicated Trans-Tasman overnight air freight service from Sydney to Auckland and return. The first service was operated by Pel Air’s IAI Westwind VH-AJS. The Westwind carried anywhere from 300 to 600kgs each night and the service was immediately successful necessitating a larger aircraft.

For a photo of the IAI Westwind see : 

Boeing 727-77C VH-TBS (c/n 20278-768) which was owned by Rothchild Aircraft Leasing but leased to and operated by National Jet Systems was hired. This first 727 was capable of flying eight tonnes of air cargo across the Tasman. Connecting services were flown to Sydney from Melbourne using Metroliners and from Brisbane using Mitsubishi Mu2, VH-MUG. 
In early 1993 the operations base was moved from Sydney to Auckland with the aircraft flying an Auckland-Sydney-Auckland pattern. On the 3rd of September 1992 the 727 was leased to Qantas who operated the service for two years with the aircraft based in Sydney and once again flying a Sydney-Auckland-Sydney pattern of overnight freight services. About the same time the Boeing was repainted in full DHL colours.

On the 5th of September 1994 Premier Airlines took over operating the service with the aircraft again being based at Auckland. Premier continued to operate the Boeing 727 VH-TBS until the 30th of March 1995. As an interim replacement for the 727 an American airline, Air Transport International LLC, was chartered to operate the service using a McDonnell-Douglas DC-8-62F, N735PL (c/n 46153). The DC-8 flew the Tasman three times a week, westbound on Monday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons and eastbound on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Premier Airlines ultimately replaced the original 100 series Boeing 727 with a larger 200 series, Boeing 727-2J4, VH-DHE (c/n 22080-1598). This staged through Auckland on delivery to Sydney on 3 June 1995 having crossed the Pacific from Los Angeles via Honolulu and Apia.

For a photo of VH-DHE in its original DHL scheme see : 
Shortly after DHL and Ansett Air Freight entered an agreement to share capacity on the trans-Tasman flights. This arrangement lasted for two years after which Ansett leased a Boeing 727 from Kitty Hawk Air Cargo of Dallas, Texas for their own use.

Premier Airlines was renamed Asian Express Airlines on the 22nd of November 1996. In many ways the operation of the DHL trans-Tasman freight service goes unnoticed. With only having one aircraft in the fleet replacements have to be sought while the aircraft is on extended maintenance. In the past these have included aircraft from Pel-Air, Polynesian Airlines, Air Transport International, Transmile Air Services and HeavyLift Cargo Airlines. On one of these extended checks during the quieter post-Christmas period of 1999-2000 VH-DHE’s engines received hush kit modifications to meet with stricter noise restrictions. Over the 2002-2003 Christmas period the 727 was repainted in the new yellow and red DHL livery.

Tasman Cargo Airlines' Boeing 727-200 VH-DHE in the new colour scheme in Auckland on 15 May 2009

While the mainstay of the operation is the trans-Tasman service the company has also operated other services. From 2000 through to late 2002 the airline also operated a weekly service from Auckland to Noumea for Aircalin. However the carrier continues to operate ad hoc charter services between Auckland and Noumea, with a flight having operated the route last month on 4 June 2013. With the major emphasis of the company’s operation being the Auckland-Sydney service the Asian Express Airlines was renamed Tasman Cargo Airlines on the 1st of October 2008 reflecting this focus.

From the 1st of September 2010 changes to the Australian Federal Government’s noise regulations banned “marginally noise-compliant” older hush-kitted aircraft from Australian airspace. This brought about the retirement of Boeing 727 VH-DHE which operated its final Tasman Cargo Airlines’ service on the night of 31st of August 2010.

Initially replacing the 727 was a wet leased 757-200 Freighter GBMRJ (c/n 24268/214) which was wet-leased from DHL Air (UK) Ltd. The new 757 offered an additional capacity of 15 tonnes per flight, giving a total payload of 35 tonnes. At the same time the frequency was increased with a fifth weekly service being added to the schedule. The 757 was also described as being 25 percent more fuel efficient, significantly quieter and emitting less greenhouse gases.

Leased from DHL Air (UK) Ltd, Boeing 757 G-BMRJ on approach to Auckland on 6 February 2011
Tasman Cargo Airlines' timetable in 2013

Tasman Cargo Airlines’ own Boeing 757, G-CSVS, arrived in New Zealand on the 14th of August 2011.

Arriving back from Noumea, G-CSVS at Auckland on 12 May 2013

The changing of the guard... Tasman Cargo Airlines' new Boeing 757, G-CSVS in the foreground while behind is the leased G-BMRJ. Photo supplied
A look inside the new Boeing 757 G-CSVS. Photos supplied

Arriving back from Noumea, G-CSVS at Auckland on 12 May 2013
In 2012, Tasman Cargo's Boeing 757 operated a horse charter between Auckland and Perth direct, the company's longest direct charter flight to date. On the 3rd of July 2013 the 757 was placed on the Australian aircraft register as VH-TCA and it continued to fly Tasman Cargo Airlines' service to Sydney until July 2018. 

Wearing its Australian registration... Tasman Cargo Airlines' Boeing 757 VH-TCA taxis for departure for Sydney from Auckland on 3 August 2013
Caught while I was on take off, the VH-TCA with Rugby World Cup advertising at Auckland on 30th of November 2015
Featuring Jeremy Clarkson on the tail VH-TCA was used to promote the TV series "The Grand Tour" for which DHL was the official logistics partner. It is seen here arriving back into Auckland on 11 November 2017. 

On the 7th of July 2018 DHL Air's Boeing 767-3JHF(ER)(WL) G-DHLH commenced operations for Tasman Cargo Airlines while the company's Boeing 757 freighter VH-TCA was in Singapore for major maintenance.

Wearing its British registration, the Boeing 767-300 G-DHLH on its first day of operation, 7 July 2018 at Auckland.

During this time the Boeing 767 was purchased by Tasman Cargo Airlines and it was placed on the Australian register as VH-EXZ operating its first flights as such on the 26th of September 2018.

Wearing its Australian registration, the Boeing 67-300 VH-EXZ arrives back into Auckland from Brisbane on 30 December 2018

The dedicated freighters used by Tasman Cargo Airlines and its predecessors have proved to be ideal aircraft for trans-Tasman trade. The company’s website say they have offered “the flexibility to not only carry courier freight, but oversized cargo, (such as helicopter blades) various type of animals and livestock including horses, cattle, lama's, alpaca's, sheep and goats, the airline has also transported music bands stage and sound equipment, as well as perishable fish and fruit, plus a wide range of dangerous goods not accepted by commercial carriers.” As the business has grown so have the aircraft with Tasman Cargo Airlines moving into wide-body operations. A 767 is certainly a big step up from a Westwind!

Tasman Cargo Airlines' Boeing 767-300 VH-EXZ at Auckland on 2 March 2019

Operating TASMAN 1 to Sydney, Tasman Cargo Airlines' Boeing 767-300 VH-EXZ taxis at Auckland on 6 June 2020
Tasman Cargo Airlines' Boeing 767-300 VH-EZX - at Auckland on 3 April 2022

On the 17th of October 2022 a second Boeing 767-300F was placed on the Australian civil aircraft register as being operated by Tasman Cargo Airlines in the form of Boeing 767-3JHF VH-XQU.  The additional aircraft enabled the launch of a new five weekly Melbourne-Singapore service. 


  1. I was the original loadmaster with DHL at Sydney on the Westwind then TBS. I have many memories and flights working for DHL in Sydney for on 10 yr's. TBS was my baby. I called the shots on loading and departing.

    1. We started off with the Westwind with anywhere from 3-600 kg's each night. The service expanded so rapidly we needed a larger aircraft so TBS was hired. I used to load her with 16-18 tonnes every night. We also did race horse charters too. That was fun when they started acting up being loaded and tried to jump out of the pallet stalls. We did have a few calls that I had to make to get dispensation out of Sydney after curfew though. I had to wait on the Metroliners ex YMML to get the freight loaded for NZ. The two Metros that ran were VH-SSL and VH-SSM. We had an MU-2, VH-MUG that ran out of Brisbane to Sydney too. I flew on MUG many times myself

    2. Thank you... That is an an excellent piece of history that adds to the story. I have incorporated some into the post

    3. My pleasure Steve. They were good times.
      Rgds Glenn.