17 May 2015

The Barrier Connection - Great Barrier Airlines

The Creation of an Airline - the 1980s

In February 1983 Jim Bergman wrote a letter to the Great Barrier Island newsletter, the Barrier Bulletin, advising Barrier residents that “Island Air Services” had applied to the Air Services Licencing Authority for an Air Service Certificate to allow air charter, air taxi, scenic and joy riding flights from Great Barrier Island as well as a non-scheduled timetabled air service between Great Barrier Island and Auckland. At this stage Great Barrier Island was also served by the Auckland Aero Club which flew to both Claris and Okiwi and Sea Bee Air which flew into Tryphena, Whangaparapara and Port Fitzroy. In the months that followed the name was changed and Great Barrier Airlines Ltd was registered with Jim and Ruth Bergman, Chris Barlow, Niol Lockington and Gerard Rea as the shareholders.

Operations began on the 3rd of December 1983 with Jim Bergman the pilot on the first flight in his own Cessna 172M Skyhawk, ZK-DKH (c/n 17261709), with Jim and his wife Ruth, being the first pilots. For the first few weeks the fleet consisted of the 172 and a leased Cessna 206 Super Skywagon, ZK-DOV (c/n 206-0248). An eight-seater De Havilland DHA-3 Drover Mk 3A, ZK-DDD (c/n 5019) was introduced to the fleet in mid-January 1984. The company initially offered three flights a day. These departed from the company’s base at Ardmore and flew via Auckland International Airport to Claris. To launch the service Barrier-ratepayers were offered a 20% discounted introductory fares.

Great Barrier Airlines fleet number 1, Cessna 172 ZK-DKH. Photo taken at Auckland on 6 August 1984

My first photo of a Great Barrier Airlines aircraft, leased Cessna 206 ZK-DOV taken at Hokitika on 15 April 1984 

De Havilland Australia Drover ZK-DDD taken at Ardmore on 19 May 1988.

Timetable number 1, 3 December 1983

The cheap fares certainly helped and with a successful first summer behind them the Barrier Bulletin of March 1984 announced the company had purchased a Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee 6 ZK-CUV (c/n 32-673). The company also changed its flight plan with flights originating and terminating at Auckland International and calling at Ardmore as required.

Great Barrier Airlines' first Piper Pa32 Cherokee 6 ZK-CUV taken at Auckland on 1985. Photographer unknown

On the 1st of July 1984 the Auckland Aero Club cut its air service to the Barrier. Aero Club officials acknowledged that their Great Barrier Service was, at best, only marginally profitable and generally running at a loss. An agreement was reached between the Club and Great Barrier Airlines whereby GBA made a goodwill financial payment to the Club and provision was made for GBA to lease two Aero Club Piper Cherokee 6 aircraft and have maintenance services made available. The take-over off the Aero Club service also gave Great Barrier Airlines the regular mail contract as well carrying basic provisions such as bread and milk. The take-over also enabled Great Barrier Airlines to operate to and from Okiwi as well as Claris. By August 1984 two direct, separate flights were offered each day from Auckland to Claris and Okiwi while, at the same time Ardmore was dropped as a pick-up or drop-off point.

One of the ex-Auckland Aero Club Cherokee 6s, ZK-ELK with ZK-CUV behind. Photo taken at Auckland on 6 August 1984.

By the end of the company’s first year the need was identified for an IFR-equipped aircraft. A Britten-Norman Islander, as Mount Cook Airlines had previously operated to the Barrier, was deemed to be the most suitable, and ZK-JSB (c/n 458), the first of many this aircraft type, entered service in December 1984. At the same time the company introduced a ground shuttle service between Claris Airport and Tryphena and Whangaparapara, two of the three Sea Bee Air destinations.

The first Britten Norman Islander ZK-JSB taken at Auckland. Photographer unknown.  This colour scheme became the basis of the company's first attempt to have a standardised colour scheme and Piper Cherokee 6s ZK-CNS and ZK-DDF were repainted in this scheme. Below, ZK-DDF at Ardmore on 23 May 1998.

When Air New Zealand reduced its service to Kaitaia Great Barrier Airlines saw an opportunity to spread its wings. On the 15th of January 1985 Great Barrier Airlines inaugurated an Auckland-Kaitaia service using either the Islander or a leased Piper Aztec, ZK-CUS. The northbound flight to Kaitaia operated after the last flight arrived from Great Barrier Island. The service operated northbound on Tuesday and Thursday evenings with the aircraft overnighting at Kaitaia and returning to Auckland early on Wednesday and Friday mornings in time to operate the first flight to the Barrier. While the service was ideal for Kaitaia business people, pressure from Air New Zealand led to the service being discontinued.

Piper Aztec ZK-CUS at Ardmore on 19 May 1985.

In mid-1985 Ardmore was once again added as an on-demand stopping point on the flights from Auckland to the Barrier. However, it was not until the 10th of December 1986 that Great Barrier Airlines really started to spread its wings. On that day it began operating a twice weekly service between Great Barrier Island and Pauanui and Tauranga. The flights operated on Wednesdays and Sundays with additional flights being scheduled on demand. December 1986 also saw Great Barrier Airline’s first attempt to fly into the new Reeve Airfield on Waiheke Island. The company was due to start a scheduled service to the Island on the 20th of December 1986 but the day before the Waiheke Council's Planning Committee denied them use of the Reeve Airfield.

The expanding network, iincluding flights to Pauanui and Tauranga and the Waiheke service which never really got off the ground. Timetable effective 10 December 1986.

In early 1986, Sea Bea Air looked at establishing a land-based operation. The general manager of Sea Bee Air, Murray Pope, announced to Great Barrier Airlines that Sea Bee Air were prepared to go into competition with GBA or to buy them out. Great Barrier Airlines chose a wait-and-see and attitude. Things looked ominous when later that year Sea Bee Air added a Piper Aztec and a Britten-Norman Islander their fleet. As an interim measure Great Barrier Airlines forestalled competition by leasing the Islander before a decision was taken by Great Barrier Airlines to sell out to Sea Bee Air in April 1987.

Reflecting the change of ownership... Islander ZK-FMS carrying both Sea Bee Air and Great Barrier Airlines taken at Koromiko on 14 May 1988 while on charter to Skyferry.

Later that year the company looked again to Northland as a way of diversifying and have a broader economic base and it started a new air service between Auckland and Whangarei in competition with Air New Zealand and the Northland Districts Aero Club services. Flights left Whangarei Airport at 7.10 a.m. Monday to Friday with the return flight leaving Auckland for Whangarei at 5 p.m. on Sundays to Fridays. A 6.00 pm service on a Friday night positioned the aircraft back to Auckland. Flights were scheduled to start on the 2nd of August 1987 but lack of patronage led to the first flight being cancelled. The service was extended to include Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, in October 1987 and this became the terminus for the service with stopovers being made on demand at Dargaville or Whangarei as needed.

Carrying "Northland and Island commuter" subtitles, Piper Aztec ZK-FMU reflects an expanded Great Barrier Airlines. Photo taken at Christchurch on 26 December 1987

Northern Advocate, 25 July 1987

The Early and Mid 1990s - Competition and Take Overs

In 1991 Murray Pope offered to sell 50 percent of Great Barrier Airlines back to Jim and Ruth Bergman and he returned as manager. Jim Bergman, writing on the history of GBA in NZ Aviation News, states that “when Sea Bee Air purchased GBA it brought its very efficient and excellent maintenance team and set up a base at Ardmore. Sea Bee Air under the new ownership arrangement continued to maintain our aircraft and we leased aircraft from them where applicable.”

Still in its Sea Bee Air yellow and white colour scheme Piper Aztec ZK-CEU was used, among other things, for towing drones for target practice for the Navy. Photo taken at Ardmore on 17 November 1990

The second attempt at a colour scheme - the orange and white scheme as seen on Piper Aztec ZK-FMU (above) photographed above at Nelson on 2 October 1990 and on Britten Norman Islander ZK-FVD (immediately below) taken at Auckland on 30 January 1992 and on Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-CNS (far below) taken at Claris on 27 December 1992.

From the late 1980’s Great Barrier Airlines had faced competition from both fast ferries and other aerial competitors. Gulf Air, Air National, Trans Island Air and Northern Air all tried to compete on the main Auckland-Great Barrier route but this aerial competition soon disappeared. While the fast ferries decimated air services to Waiheke Island they did not succeed to the same extent on the Barrier run and tended to operate a seasonal service. They were, however, a major threat especially when they were first introduced. To counter this threat Great Barrier Airlines made friends with the enemy, so to speak, and established a fly/boat scheme with the ferry operators offering visitors to the island a flight in one direction and the ferry in the other.

In 1991 the company started offering summer services to and from Great Barrier Island from Whangarei on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays in addition to the Great Barrier Island-Tauranga and Coromandel services. Such flights, including flights to the Coromandel Peninsula, have become a feature of the Great Barrier Airlines’ summer timetable until recent times. Normally they have been operated by GBA’s smaller aircraft, though at times these services have been contracted out to other operators. Tower Aviation of Whangarei, for example, were operating Great Barrier Airline’s twice weekly service between Whangarei and Great Barrier Island in the year 2000.

Waiheke Island had been on Great Barrier Airlines’ radar for some time, however, the Stonyridge Airfield was closed to all operators other than the leaseholder, Motor Holdings, and commercial operations were not permitted from Reeve Airfield.  On the 24th of July 1992 Motor Holdings sold their Waiheke Air Services operation to Flightline Aviation and soon after negotiations began to open the Stonyridge airfield to other users. In late October 1992 Flightline Aviation announced their air service to Waiheke Island would change to an on-demand service from the 2nd of November 1992 and that Stonyridge airfield would be available for other operators to use. Great Barrier Airlines immediately announced their intention to start flights to Waiheke. The Stonyridge airstrip proved, however, to be unsuitable and so Gulf Island Air was contracted to provide a link to Auckland and Great Barrier Island using their Piper Cherokee 180 and later a Piper Cherokee 6. (For more on Gulf Island Air see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/09/gulf-island-air-transfer-flights-from.html)

Gulf News, 6 November 1992

In 1993 ownership of the company changed again with Great Barrier Airlines’ flight operations being leased back to Jim Bergman as a separate company while the parent company owned the aircraft and maintenance organisation. John King, in NZ Wings describes the complex changes of ownership by saying “the following year Jim bought half the operating company, which he sold in 1996 to Gerard Rea and Mark Roberts, while GBA Ltd also sold its aircraft to GB Air. Further restructuring and consolidation have seen ownership settle down into thirds, held by Gerard Rea, GBA Ltd (the original Sea Bee Air proprietors Colin Campbell, Murray Pope and Norm Sanson) and Mark Roberts and his extended family.” Subsequently ownership of Great Barrier Airlines is now mainly in the hands of Gerard Rea, with Mark Roberts being the other shareholder.

Leased BN Islander ZK-FXY was used in late 1993 to mid 1994. It is seen here at Hamilton on 20 October 1993.

In January 1994 Air Fiji leased Great Barrier Airlines a 19-seat de Havilland Canada Twin Otter, DQ-FDK, for the summer. The lease was a great success and the Twin Otter returned the following summer. Buoyed by their experience, in early 1995 the company decided to purchase their own Twin Otter. Having sourced an aircraft it departed mainland USA on the 16th of March 1995 on its ferry flight to Auckland via Hawaii. Some 740km northeast from Honolulu the crew experienced fuel transfer problems and ended up ditching. Fortunately a nearby ship rescued the 3 occupants. Undeterred the company subsequently purchased Twin Otter ZK-FQK from Royal Tongan Airlines.

The first, Twin Otter, Fijian registered DQ-FDK, during its first summer in operation from Air Fiji. Photo taken at Auckland on 22 May 1994
Great Barrier Airline's own Twin Otter, ZK-FQK. This had previously been on the New Zealand register while being operated by Friendly Island Airways and Royal Tongan Airlines. It was then placed on the new Tongan register as A3-FQK where, as well as operating for Royal Tongan, it also operated for Air Fiji. It is seen here in Air Fiji colours at Auckland on 31 May 1996.

In the mid-1990s the company also introduced a charter operation using Brazilian-built Piper Chieftain, Embraer EMB-820C ZK-RDT and later, Piper Pa31 Navajo ZK-NSN.

The Brazilian built Chieftain, Embraer 820C ZK-RDT, when it carried small Great Barrier Airlines titles on its nose. Photo taken at Auckland on 31 May 1996.


On the 26th of August 1994 Great Barrier Airlines finally began operating a full schedule to Waiheke Island in their own right using the Reeve Airfield which was finally made available for commercial operations. The service was short lived and was dropped by the 21st of April 1995, the airline citing the standard of the islands two airfields and competition from local operators, Gulf Island Air and Waiheke Air Services, as the reasons.

The Waiheke Island timetable, effective August 1994

From the 1st of August 1995 the company rebranded itself as an "Island Air Shuttle" offering up to seven daily return flights to the island.

Barrier Bulletin, August 1995

Above, Britten Norman Islander ZK-FVD in the fourth attempt at a colour scheme at Auckland with "Air Shuttle" titles on the engine nacelles. Photo taken at Auckland on 31 May 1996. Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-CNS was also painted in the scheme. It is seen wearing both Great Barrier Airlines and Air Coromandel titles at Auckland on 16 October 1998. 

Great Barrier Timetable, August 1995

In the mid-1990s the company expanded by the purchase of three companies. In 1995 Air Coromandel, with its Cessna 172 and Partenavia as well as sole commercial rights to Whitianga, was bought from Les Sampson. "Whitianga has a great positive feeling and a potential that's undeveloped and still to be realised," says Mark. "It was a strategic move and tied up the centre of operations. We now operate to all the holiday destinations between Rotorua and the Bay of Islands in our route structure, and Whitianga is also a good base for training and pilot checks."

My one and only GBA baggage tag showing the merger with Air Coromandel... I bought on ebay from Estonia of all places!!!

The following year, in October 1996, the company bought NZ Air Services which had started its North Shore-Claris service in 1993. The takeover included the purchase of their BN Islander ZK-WNZ and Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-ENZ. Then, in early 1997, the company also took over Waiheke Island’s Gulf Island Air. Great Barrier Airlines had had a long association with Gulf Island Air from when it was getting itself established it operated under GBA's air services licence. Traffic volumes had increased between Waiheke and Great Barrier Island so the take-over was seen as a timely.

In November 1996 the company extended their network to include flights to Rotorua and the Bay of Islands using Paihia's Hururu Falls airfield. Later the Paihia flights stopped at Whangarei or Dargaville on demand. 

Great Barrier Airlines timetable, ca January 1997

NZ Herald, 20 November 1996

2000 and Beyond

From 1998 Great Barrier Airlines' fleet was rebranded with the aircraft being painted white with "Great Barrier" in large blue writing on each side of the fuselage and a native bird painted on the tail. This stunning colour scheme was a feature of the fleet for the next ten years. Sadly the cost of applying it has meant a move to a more simple colour scheme with the current logo being on a white tail.

Piper Cherokee Six ZK-CNS, Stitchbird, at North Shore on 26 January 2009.
Britten Norman Islander ZK-CRA, Kaka, at Auckland on 8 October 1998.

Piper Cherokee Six ZK-ENZ, Tomtit, at Whitianga on 10 February 2001.

DHC Twin Otter ZK-FQK, Kingfisher, at Auckland on 18 January 1998. 

Britten Norman Islander, ZK-FVD, NZ Pigeon, at Kaitaia on 24 July 2008.

GAF N24 Nomad, ZK-NAD, Kaka, taken at Ardmore on 22 December 2001. 

Piper Navajo ZK-NSN, Bellbird, at Wanaka on 22 April 2000.

Partenavia ZK-PLA, Tui, at Auckland on 9 October 1999

Britten Norman Islander ZK-REA, Kotare, taken at Kaitaia on 1 April 2009.

Britten Norman Islander ZK-WNZ, Kingfisher, taken at Auckland on 6 October 1998.

A major hiccup in the Great Barrier Airlines story occurred on the 14th of June 1998 when the Civil Aviation Authority grounded Great Barrier Airlines after a week-long investigation after an audit of the airline the previous year. In its initial press release CAA director Kevin Ward said: "[The November] audit highlighted 15 non-compliances with aviation rules. The airline reported actions to correct these had been put in place. However, the investigation shows this not to have been the case." Mr Ward said the grounding meant the suspension of GBA's operational, maintenance, training and airworthiness certificates, the suspension of the company's chief engineer's licence and conditions placed on the eight pilots' licences. He also said the investigation showed unreported or misreported accidents, critical deficiencies in maintenance and pilot training, aircraft being flown with known defects and suspected falsification of records.  On the 26th of June the suspension was extended for a further two weeks while investigations continued.

To keep the service flying Great Barrier Airlines contracted their competitor on the Barrier run, Northern Air and Taumarunui-based Mountain Air to continue the Auckland-Barrier scheduled service while Tauranga, Coromandel and Waiheke flights were suspended. The grounding did not come without a cost, setting the airline back an estimated $10,000 for every week the suspension continued.

Reflecting on the grounding GBA’s general manager, Mark Roberts, told the Barrier Bulletin that the Civil Aviation Authority “is in the midst of changing its rules and regulations, and all airlines have to apply for re-certification under the new codes. GBA were well ahead in its process, but its diligence may have been its downfall. By drawing itself to the attention of CAA, under investigation itself by the Ministry of Transport over a fatal light plane crash last year (the crash of a United Aviation Beech Baron), Mark Roberts says the grounding of GBA could have been political. "I think there is definitely a connection. We'd just been through part of the re-certification process and were ahead of any other operator in the country in that we had prepared our Part 135 manual, had already submitted it to Wellington, had it approved and we were expecting our certificate in the mail. Instead we got a team of auditors. They moved the goalposts and then decided to get in there boots and all.”

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the grounding, and despite the cost of the grounding amounting to some $120,000, Great Barrier Airlines came out of it a stronger airline. Mark Roberts told the Barrier Bulletin that the company “passed its Part 135 licence, a new CAA regulatory requirement which all operators have to comply with before the end of next year. GBA had already prepared its new manual, well ahead of any other airline and submitted it to Wellington when the Authority decided to investigate its operation. Part 135 is quite an achievement. It's a higher certification which we were going for anyway, so to actually come out of this process with that is good. It means we've actually achieved something. I think we are going to be a better organisation for this.”

Perhaps a greater impact for Great Barrier Airlines was Mountain Air, who had been contracted to help fill the gap during the grounding stayed as a competitor on the Barrier service beginning its own service under the Great Barrier Xpress banner on the 1st of September 1998. Mountain Air, or Fly My Sky as it is known today, has been GBA’s only serious competition on the Barrier service ever since.

Part of the fallout from the grounding was the selling of the DHC Twin Otter ZK-FQK. Because of the very large costs incurred through the grounding the company decided the Twin Otter had to go and it subsequently sold in the United States. A new maintenance facility was established at North Shore airport and the company went through the CAA process of gaining certification to become a Part 125 operator, allowing for the operation of aircraft up to a maximum of 30 passenger seats.

Later that year, with the collapse of Northern Air in November 1998 the company took over some of their aircraft and the courier runs to and from Auckland and Whangarei and Taupo. The latter flight flew southbound to Taupo via Tauranga and Rotorua and returned to Auckland via Rotorua and Hamilton to Auckland. These flights set out from Auckland in the early morning and returned in the late afternoon/evening.

Partenavia ZK-DMA was one of the aircraft taken over from Northern Air in addition to Piper Navajo, ZK-VNA, and Partenavias ZK-ERA (which returned to Great Barrier Airlines) and ZK-LAL. Still carrying its Northern Air logo while registered to Great Barrier Airlines ZK-DMA arrives at Mount Cook on 5 April 1999.

In mid-2000 the company moved back into turbo prop operations with the acquisition of GAF N24 Nomad ZK-NAD. The aircraft didn’t prove to be successful in the long-term for the Barrier service but in 2003 it spent the March, April and May of that year on charter in the Marshall Islands and July that year flying in Tonga for Royal Tongan Airlines. It also was chartered to Air Fiji before it too was sold.

GAF N24 Nomad ZK-NAD at Ardmore shortly after arriving from Air Tours Kaikoura. The latter company's titles were soon removed. Photo taken on 10 May 2000.

Another new type entered service the following year, with a Britten Norman Trislander ZK-LGR starting services on the 24th of December 2002. Three other Trislanders were too serve in the fleet. The arrival of the Trislanders marked the introduction of the new logo with the sun rising over Great Barrier Island.

The first BN Trislander, ZK-LGR at Auckland on 1 August 2006. Both LGR and ZK-LOU were the short-nosed Mark III-1 variant Britten-Norman Trislanders.  

ZK-LOU at Auckland on 14 November 2008 

Long-nosed BN Trislander ZK-LGF, a Mark III-2 variant, landing at North Shore on 30 January 2011.

In the years following Great Barrier Airlines consolidated its business around the core Auckland-Great Barrier Island service and charter work. A regular charter was operated between Whangarei and Kaitaia for the Northland District Health Board using the Embraer 820 or Piper Navajo. The courier flights disappeared in the late 1990s as well as the air service between Auckland and Whitianga. The flights to and from Whangarei, Tauranga and Coromandel became less a feature of the timetable and usually required a minimum load before they operate.

Piper Navajo ZK-NSN at Kaitaia whilst on a Northland District Health Board charter on 1 December 2010. 

New Beginnings : From Great Barrier Airlines to Barrier Air

In May 2012 Great Barrier Airlines’ CEO Gerard Rea retired and half the company's shares were sold to NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd, an aerial survey company dating back to 1936 who at this time was owned by Mark Roberts and Mohammed Hanno. Mark Roberts already held an approximate 38% shareholding in Great Barrier Airlines. Both companies had Part 145 Certified Maintenance hangars.

On 2 May 2014 a sealed runway at Okiwi was opened. Following this regular flights were operated to Okiwi but the main terminus on Great Barrier Island remains at Claris.

Britten Norman Trislander ZK-LGF at Okiwi on the day of the opening of the sealed runway.

Partenavia ZK-PLA at Okiwi on the same day. The Partenavia was operating regular flights to Okiwi after the opening of the sealed runway

In May 2012 NZ Aerial Mapping decided to move some parts of its business to Auckland and sell its Hastings Aerodrome headquarters. Managing director Mark Roberts said the shift of some parts of the business to Auckland followed the company's 2012 acquisition of Great Barrier Airlines. "Although the two businesses are different (an aerial survey company and a commuter airline) there are synergies to be made," Mr Roberts said. "Some benefits have already been extracted, however, it is now time for the group to implement the combining of the engineering and flight operations of both businesses," he said. "Due to the types of planes the group owns and regular passenger transport operation being flown, it was decided the new facility is best based in Auckland and therefore the Bridge Pa facilities become surplus to requirements." Despite these moves NZ Aerial Mapping was placed in receivership on 2 July 2014.

On 22 August 2014 Great Barrier Airlines retired its Britten Norman Trislander fleet. The last flight was operated from Great Barrier Island to North Shore in ZK-LGF. 

In retirement... BN Trislanders ZK-LGC and ZK-LGF at North Shore on 14 September 2014

Over the next few months there was some speculation within the aviation industry as to what would happen to Great Barrier Airlines.  on 22 September 2014 a new company, Great Barrier Airlines Ltd was formed (the previous company was Great Barrier Airlines Flight Operations) with Graham Reynolds as the sole shareholder. Following the takeover the company continued to operate as Great Barrier Airlines.

In late 2014 Air New Zealand announced it withdraw its Auckland to Kaitaia service. After entering into an agreement with Far North Holdings which operates Kaitaia airport Great Barrier Airlines announced in February 2015 that it would offer services to Kaitaia from 28 April 2015 with three daily flights each way on weekdays using a 12-seater Cessna 208B Grand Caravan with two flights a day on Saturdays and Sundays. Great Barrier Airlines General Manager Murray Pope said the new service would bring many benefits for Far North residents. “Our schedules mean that business people will be able to undertake a full day’s business in Auckland before flying home in the evening. They will also be able to transfer to and from Wellington services.” 

Great Barrier Airlines first service from Kaitaia to Auckland took off from Kaitaia at 2.15pm on Wednesday 29 April with the flight, GBA616, being flown by Embraer EMB-820C ZK-RDT. The first inbound flight to Kaitaia, GBA619, was again flown in Embraer EMB-820C ZK-RDT. One of these wrote on her Facebook page, Today was the first day that the new Great Barrier Airlines service between Kaitaia and Auckland operated and I really enjoyed being on the last flight in tonight. The WAKARERE was a 9 seater with 2 pilots and 4 passengers. Lovely takeoff, flight and landing. Bit bumpy coming in to KAITAIA but way quieter than the Air NZ flights used to be. Tenei taku whakatauki mo tena - Climb high, climb far. Your goal the sky, your aim the star. On 8 May 2015 Great Barrier Airlines started using Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZK-MYH on the service which was leased from air2there.

Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZK-MYH which services the Kaitaia route. Photo taken at Auckland on 5 May 2015

On the 15th of July 2015 Great Barrier Airlines was renamed as Barrier Air. For more on Barrier Air see : http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2015/08/barrier-air-new-name-to-barrier-and.html

If Great Barrier Island was an independent country Great Barrier Airlines would be described as the national carrier. The company set out to give the Barrier a new, business-like airline that fitted the island temperament, but kept mainland time. This was true in 1983 and was true in 2015, some 32 years later when the Great Barrier Airlines name passed into history.

The fleet has included :

The first ZK-REA - Beech 76 Duchess taken at North Shore on 10 October 1999.

Beech 76 Duchess:

Britten Norman Islanders:

Britten Norman Trislanders:

Cessna 172s:

Cessna 206: 

Cessna 402:                         

Cessna 421 Golden Eagle:  

De Havilland Australia Drover: 

De Havilland Canada Twin Otter: 

Embraer 820:

GAF N24 Nomad: 


Piper Pa23 Aztec:                

Piper Pa28 Archer: 

Piper Pa31 Navajo:

Piper Pa32 Cherokee 6:


  1. Great write up. What is GBA's fleet now with the Tris gone? The same must be asked for Air2there - they must be down to a couple of PA31s and that's it? From an outsiders point of view, it almost looks like both companies are shedding aircraft (and cost) to stick around. Hopefully they have both made it through the difficult times now.

  2. Air2there have the C208,PA31 and B200, and looks like they may be operating F406 XLF again looking at flightawares movements?

  3. Great write up ! Don't you think that time table is a little odd ? I would have thought one would want to leave kaitaia early to go to Auckland and do the days business and return at the end of the day. But trying to get to Auckland on time for a 530pm departure ?? Anyway good on Great Barrier I think these guys have to potential to make this route work

  4. I agree entirely about the schedule

  5. Interestingly, Caravan ZK-MYH flew from Auckland to Wellington 18 May and has since taken up duties with owner Air2There. So is that the end of the agreement or just a temporary measure? PA31 ZK-RDT and BN2 ZK-FVD @ AKL. Is PA31 ZK-NSN still at Whenuapai after its wheelsup?

  6. Is PA31 ZK-NSN still at Whenuapai after its wheelsup?

    As at last Sunday, yes.
    Looks relativly undamaged.

  7. Council entered into the arrangement for Kaitaia seemingly with clear understanding of the aircraft to be flown....Looks a little like they may have been short changed?
    I hope not, concerning though.

    1. These things take time. You can't just click your fingers and have over a million bucks of aeroplane ready to fly. Especially not when bureaucracy is involved.

      I have little doubt GBA are under great pressure to get the aeroplane, given their very thinly spread limited fleet

    2. Agreed.
      Your closing though seems to parallel my thoughts is all.

  8. Great memories, I was the pilot for the last TRIS service in LGF.

  9. Good catch up of info since leaving gba/air cx. Always was a bumpy ride in GA…just wondering that couple of the great photos have aircraft at okiwi but suspect it’s Claris due to sealed strip…. Wonderful article!

    1. The post is correct. Okiwi has been sealed also but it has never had a regular service