11 August 2013

Farewell to the Friendship - Oamaru's Air New Zealand Service

On the 1st of April 1978 the National Airways Corporation merged with Air New Zealand. The timetable remained unchanged from the NAC Fokker Friendship service to Oamaru, that is, a daily Friendship service to Oamaru on the basis of a morning service via Timaru to Wellington and then an evening service back. At the time of the merger Air New Zealand was increasing its fleet of the 48-seat 500 series Friendships and these became the mainstay of the Oamaru service.

One feature of the short 25 minute hop between Oamaru and Timaru was that is was mainly flown VFR with the Friendship often passing low over Timaru city on its departure from or approach to Timaru’s Richard Pearce airport. This short hop, however, was also one of the problems of the Oamaru service; as there was no passenger demand for flights between Oamaru and Timaru the service was always flying largely empty. This was revealed in the Ministry of Transport’s 1981 paper on domestic aviation policy.

The report indicated that travellers on main trunk air routes paid much higher fares than would normally be required because of the need to recoup on Ioss-making provincial services. It conceded that while the figures showed in many cases the passenger load factors achieved were of a satisfactory level by world standards, the additional revenue required to recover costs on each route was of a substantial magnitude. It would be inevitable that the implementation of the fare increases necessary to recover such additional revenue would result immediately in a significant traffic dilution to an extent that would require the abandonment of air services to some communities.

In terms of the services to Timaru and Oamaru the report showed that during the year ending 31 March 1980 the Wellington-Timaru sector, which had two flights each day, had a load factor of 73% while the Timaru-Oamaru sector, flown once a day, had a 31.7% load factor with the loss of that sector for the year being $240,900. The report did not support suggestions that Air New Zealand should develop a third level aircraft fleet with 20-seat aircraft, but rather that private operators would be better able to operate on these routes at economic levels because the smaller nature of their operations would involve less costly overheads, including lower staffing levels and servicing requirements.

Air New Zealand Fokker Friendship ZK-NAN 20 March 1989

The early 1980s did see the rise of a new generation of third level airlines but it was not until 1989 that this started to impact on Oamaru. On the 3rd of July 1989 Air Nelson extended its regional network south from Christchurch to Oamaru using a 10-seat Piper Pa31 Chieftain to supplement the Air New Zealand Friendship service. This was the beginning of the end as one by one the Friendships were withdrawn from the provincial towns and cities.

The last time Air New Zealand Friendships appeared in the Air New Zealand timetable flying from Oamaru to Timaru and Wellington... Also appearing in this timetable was Air Nelson's Piper Chieftain service to Christchurch. Also shown is the Air New Zealand route map with both the Friendship and Chieftain services shown. Timetable effective : 30 October 1989

For Oamaru the last Air New Zealand Friendship service was flown on 21st or 23rd of April 1990… The “21st or the 23rd?” Well the Oamaru Mail of Monday the 23rd of April 1990 was somewhat confusing when it recorded, “What was recognised as the last Air New Zealand flight out of Oamaru left on Saturday afternoon (21st), managing director of Lindsay Walker House of Travel and principal agent for Air New Zealand in Oamaru said today, The last Air New Zealand flight left this morning and from now on the service will be run by Air Nelson.”

Out of all the provincial centres in New Zealand Oamaru was the biggest loser… it went from a pressurised 48-seat turbo prop to a 9-seat unpressurised piston aircraft with a poorly thought out timetable. Air Nelson’s Oamaru story will be in a future post.

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