12 January 2014

From Friendship to Chieftain - Air Nelson's Oamaru Service

On the 3rd of July 1989 Air Nelson extended its regional network south from Christchurch to Oamaru using a 10-seat Piper Pa31 Chieftain. In announcing the new service Air Nelson’s managing director Robert Inglis said “the new schedule is designed to complement the Air New Zealand service.” At this time Oamaru was serviced by a daily morning Oamaru-Timaru-Wellington service with a return flight in the evening. The Air Nelson service offered two return services on weekdays with departures from Christchurch for Oamaru at 8.40am and 3.10pm and the return flights from Oamaru departing at 9.45am and 4.15pm.

The Press, 8 July 1989

From the 25th of October 1989 the service was altered to include Timaru, with the Chieftain flying a Christchurch-Timaru-Oamaru-Christchurch pattern in the morning and a reverse schedule in the afternoon.  

While Air New Zealand Friendships were still running to Timaru... the  Air Nelson Oamaru  schedule with the afternoon service going to Christchurch via Timaru. Schedule effective 25 October 1989

In March 1990 it was announced that Air New Zealand was to withdraw its Friendship services to Timaru and Oamaru. The Oamaru Friendship service was to be replaced with three Piper Chieftain weekday flights with a lesser schedule over the weekend. Air Nelson took over Air New Zealand’s Oamaru service on 23rd of April 1990.

On weekdays the Chieftain departed Oamaru for Christchurch at 8.15am. The return service operated via Timaru arriving back in Oamaru at 10.35am. The Chieftain then flew an Oamaru-Timaru service which departed Oamaru at 10.50am and connected at Timaru with a Metroliner service to Wellington. In the afternoon, upon the arrival of the Metroliner from Wellington, the Chieftain departed Timaru for Oamaru at 3.15pm. The Chieftain then flew a direct service to Christchurch leaving Oamaru at 4.00pm. The direct southbound flight left Christchurch at 5.40pm. During the weekend flights operated between Oamaru and Timaru with departures from Oamaru at 7.20am on Saturdays and at 1.25pm and 3.00pm on Sundays. These flights connected with Air Nelson Metroliner services to and from Wellington. A Chieftain and two Air Nelson pilots were based in Oamaru as part of the new service, though often the service was operated by smaller 8-seat Piper Navajos.

Air Nelson Piper Navajo ZK-JGA at Oamaru on 17 October 1990

For Oamaru it was a big loss moving from a 48-seat pressurised Friendship to the unpressurised Piper Navajos or Chieftains. Locals were also unhappy with the later morning departure. The Air New Zealand service had departed at 7.10am while the Air Nelson service didn’t leave until 8.15am. Air Nelson countered this saying that “the present 8.15am flight to Christchurch was being well patronised by business people and those on leisure trips.”

From the Air Nelson timetable, effective 15 April 1991

Not surprisingly the Oamaru-Timaru-Oamaru service which connected with a Metroliner service to Wellington was not viable and it was cut from the schedule from the 1st of July 1991. This left Oamaru with morning and late afternoon services with Christchurch. From the 1st of August 1991 the early morning flight was retimed to leave Oamaru at 7.10am enabling passengers to connect with the 8.25am Boeing flight to Wellington.

Despite the change the Oamaru service failed to gain adequate loadings and on the 11th of September 1991 Air Nelson announced that it was withdrawing its flights from Oamaru. Digby Lawley, Air Nelson’s marketing and public relations manager, was reported as saying the decision to pull out of Oamaru had not been easy but the service was not economic. "Oamaru has some unique factors that, when added up, just don't allow us to continue operations. The fact the airport is 20km out of town towards Timaru, and the easy drive to there and Christchurch makes the road option a strong competitor. The combination of high Government user pays charges, especially the 100% increase in Airways Corporation charges, and poor yields meant Air Nelson needed more than a 100% load factor to break even on the Oamaru route. One full-time and one part-time position will be lost when the service ends. Mr Lawley said Air Nelson had looked at a range of options to continue an air service to Oamaru, but all would have required an impossible 125% loading to just break even.”

The final Air Nelson service from Oamaru was flown on the 27th of September 1991.

For more posts on air services to Oamaru see : http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/oamaru-index-of-posts.html

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