14 June 2015

The National Carrier at Westport - Part 3 - Air Nelson

Westport first came on Air Nelson's radar in July 1988 when independently owned Air Nelson and Hamilton-based Eagle Air sought to link their services. The proposed Air Nelson service from Nelson to Westport and Greymouth was scheduled to commence on the 1st of November 1988. Connections were to made at Nelson to Air Nelson's services to Wellington and Palmerston North where there would be connections to Eagle Air flights throughout the central North Island. The planned service, which was to use a seven-seater Piper Navajo envisaged having a morning service northbound and returning along the same route in the afternoon. This service, however, never eventuated as on the 31st of August 1988 Air New Zealand announced that it had bought Eagle Air and a 50% stake in Air Nelson and that as part of this Air Nelson were to operate services to Westport using a Fairchild Metroliner on behalf of Air New Zealand.

The service that never got airborne... the Westport schedule for the Nelson-Westport-Greymouth service.
Air Nelson timetable, effective, 1 August 1988

Air New Zealand and Air Nelson obviously had high hopes for the new Metroliner service to Westport with two flights to Wellington scheduled each weekday along with a flight to Nelson. In the weekends a flight was scheduled each day.

The original service to Westport after Air New Zealand's withdrawal
Air Nelson timetable effective 31 October 1988

Air Nelson commenced its services to Westport on the 31st of October 1988. Delays in introducing the Metroliners meant Air Nelson had to charter a variety of aircraft to introduce its services. After only three weeks of operating into Westport Air Nelson's managing director Robert Inglis said patronage had been less encouraging on the Wellington-Westport run with chartered Friendships leaving most days with "sevens and eights." Plans to introduce a Metroliner II on to that route are now being revised because the company which owns the aircraft have not been able to get it up to a maintenance standard that Air Nelson is comfortable with, he said. "Therefore, we are currently revisiting the question of what type of aircraft we will operate to Westport." 

Associated Air's Cessna 402 operating an Air Nelson service to Westport on 23 January 1990

On the 1st of April 1989 Air Nelson brought a second Metroliner, ZK-NSV, into service. At this time Air Nelson introduced two weekday Metroliner services from Westport to Wellington, one operating via Nelson and the other direct. On Saturdays a Piper Navajo or Chieftain operated a single service into Westport from Nelson while on Sunday a Metroliner service was operated direct from Wellington.

Air Nelson timetable effective 1 April 1989

The new look of Air New Zealand's service to Westport - 18-seat Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-NSW at Westport on  15 August 1990.

The Westport service continued to perform poorly and flight reductions on the morning began from July 1989. The company cited widely fluctuating passenger numbers and the Westport Airport Authority's refusal to lower landing charges as the reason. Air Nelson's marketing manager, Mr Noel Gillespie, said "We would very much like to have two flights a day but we have had substantial losses on the morning Metroliner flights to Westport." By the 1st of November 1989 Westport was receiving a single Air Nelson flight each day.

Air Nelson timetable effective 1 November 1989

The smallest aircraft Air Nelson used into Westport - ZK-NSN, one of two Piper Pa31 Navajos Air Nelson operated. Photo taken at Westport in 1990. Photo supplied
Another photo of Fairchild Metroliner ZK-NSW taken at Westport in 1991. Photo supplied

Despite the struggle with the Wellington service Westport interests were keen for the reinstatement of a service to Christchurch. Air Nelson finally agreed to trial service and from the 6th of August 1990 it added a Mondays through Saturday service from Westport to Christchurch via Hokitika that was reminiscent of the NAC and Air New Zealand Friendship service. As with the Friendships services the flights were poorly timed with both flights operating through Westport in the afternoon. On Sundays a single return flight was operated from Wellington to Westport and return.

West Coast Times, 3 September 1990

The Christchurch flights were short lived and from 9 February 1991 the schedule was reduced to a daily flight on the Wellington-Westport-Wellington route. Noel Gillespie said they had implemented the trial after lobbying from Westport people. However, there were usually only 2 or 3 passengers from Westport on the flight, sometimes none at all. "We have to do what is economic for Air Nelson and the service just hasn't proved viable." All Saturday services to Westport ceased by July 1991.

From the 21st of May 1991 the familiar Air Nelson livery was replaced and the aircraft were progressively repainted in the blue/teal/white colour scheme of the parent company and rebranded with Air New Zealand Link titles. In December 1995 Air New Zealand bought full ownership of Air Nelson.

Air Nelson timetable effective July 1991

On the 8th of September 2002 Air Nelson's services to Westport ended. The final services from Wellington to Westport (Airlink 791) and return (Airlink 792) were flown in Fairchild Metroliner ZK-NSJ under the command of Captain Neil Kenny and First Officer Chris Clarke. Eagle Air took over the Air New Zealand Link services to Westport the following days using Beech 1900Ds.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic write up and photos as always. How long was the welcome to Buller fence painting there do you know ?