31 July 2017

OSH gone mad...

I like being safe and feeling but increasingly the OSH business (and I mean business) is getting farcical. On my last flight I was told, "I'm sorry sir, your camera is too big to hold on to... you are going to have to stow it."
Meanwhile, in happier days when I was allowed to hold and use my big camera these are some of the shots I took...
Looking to Baring Head
Baring Head lighthouse
Looking up Wellington Harbour
Looking back to the South Island in the distance
Wellington International

The Pauatahanui Arm of Porirua Harbour
Paraparaumu Airport
Paraparaumu and Waikanae
Kapiti Island

My apologies if my unsafe photography offended you

30 July 2017

A look at the IT behind Sounds Air

One of the major benefits New Zealand-based Sounds Air has seen from becoming an early adopter of the Takeflite airline enterprise software suite is the dramatic improvement in capability the suite’s maintenance control module has given the carrier in managing its maintenance operations. So says Andrew Crawford, managing director and majority owner of Sounds Air, which is based at the resort town of Picton in the scenic, winemaking region of Marlborough in the northeast part of New Zealand’s South Island. Speaking at the recent Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference in Sint Maarten, Crawford said that for the first 17 years of its existence, from 1987 until 2005, Sounds Air handled all its bookings by means of an Excel spreadsheet and passengers could only book tickets outside normal business hours by leaving a message on Sounds Air’s answering machine with their credit card details. Having bought a majority share in the airline in 2003, at which point it was carrying just 14,000 passengers a year, Crawford realized a more sophisticated IT infrastructure could help Sounds Air grow its bookings--and the rest of its business. It so happened that a local IT expert, a director of Takeflite Solutions, the developer of the Takeflite suite, was a frequent passenger on Sounds Air. This familiarity provided a natural entrĂ©e for Crawford and Takeflite to discuss having the young company develop a reservation system specifically for the airline. Its new reservations system immediately began transforming Sounds Air’s business and Crawford describes Takeflite’s IT suite as “an airline in a box.” By 2008, when the carrier launched its own website to allow 24/7/365 online booking, Crawford, who saw so much benefit for Sounds Air in Takeflite’s IT products that he became an investor in the company, decided also to have Takeflite develop a maintenance control IT suite for the carrier. “Previously, we had outsourced our maintenance--we had no control of it and every bill was like a hand grenade” in its potential for being financially hurtful, says Crawford. In not having control of when and exactly how much maintenance work was being performed on its Pilatus PC-12 and Cessna Caravan aircraft and engines, Sounds Air had no idea how large any given maintenance invoice was going to be. Nor could it schedule maintenance reliably. As with its previous reservations system, Sounds Air’s only means of providing any control of its maintenance scheduling was to use an Excel spreadsheet format. This didn’t allow the airline’s managers to drag and drop flights to rearrange the utilization of each aircraft in its fleet, so the system provided “little flexibility for change” and rearranging an aircraft scheduling took a week on average, according to Crawford.  “Now we can do it in 1.5-hours,” he says. “The solution was to build a system off the same [Takeflite] operations database,” which by 2008 was running Sounds Air’s entire ticketing, baggage control and reservations functions. Its new maintenance control system gave Sounds Air the ability to record and manage “the complete maintenance history of the aircraft,” adds Crawford. Today, Sounds Air’s maintenance philosophy is to “always have one aircraft on the ground,” so that it can constantly keep nine of the 10 aircraft flying on revenue scheduled and charter flights. After adding its in-house maintenance control system, Sounds Air decided to take direct control of a large part of its aircraft maintenance by creating a subsidiary called Sounds Aero Maintenance to perform all the airframe maintenance required on the three Cessna 208B Grand Caravans and two Cessna 208 Caravans it operates. Sounds Air doesn’t handle the airframe maintenance on the five Pilatus PC-12s it also flies: this is performed by a Pilatus Maintenance Centre at an airport serving another New Zealand town. However, because Pilatus has publicly discussed providing fixed-price maintenance for its new PC-24 light business jet, Sounds Air has asked Pilatus to offer a similar fixed-price maintenance service for its PC-12s. “We’re talking to Pilatus about maintenance by the hour, because variable-price maintenance is very difficult [to manage] for a small business that is privately owned,” says Crawford. After setting up its own maintenance operation, Sounds Air decided quickly not to handle its own engine overhauls. “We did one and it saved us $50,000, but it was a nightmare in terms of the stress it caused us,” says Crawford. Now, although each of Sounds Air’s PT6A-114 and PT6A-114A engines is overhauled to Pratt & Whitney Canada’s 8,000-hour life extension program standard, “we never get to 8,000 hours. At 7,300 hours we give them back to Pratt & Whitney Canada on its engine exchange program.” In the past few years Sounds Air has added further Takeflite modules to manage additional aspects of its operations, such as cargo sales and global distribution system participation; and today Takeflite Solutions boasts more than 70 airline and MRO-industry clients worldwide.

29 July 2017

More Blenheim Disquiet

In recent days there has been a bit of flak from Sounds Air about Jetstar's pricing tactics and how this is eroding their Nelson flights. Now Blenheim people are saying they want the same fares Jetstar and Air NZ are offering out of Nelson. The point forgotten is no one makes a profit on the super cheap fares. They are part of a wider strategy to get people flying and fill empty seats. In the end the airline has to make a profit to survive. When an air fare war is going on airlines will take a hit to keep market share. However, there is a unrealistic presumption that Air NZ, in particular, has to offer loss making fares all the time, everywhere over its domestic network. This is simply unrealistic. So what do you make out of this piece?

Marlborough residents feeling short-changed by the cost of air fares have vented their frustration at Air New Zealand. The national carrier was accused of charging exorbitant prices, with many at a fiery public meeting sharing stories of the 90-minute drive to Nelson in search of cheaper fares. But a representative for the airline said the pricing structure in Blenheim was no different to other parts of the country, and fares were cheaper than they had been. Air New Zealand phased out the use of its 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D aircraft last year, months before pulling direct flights between Blenheim and Christchurch. Air NZ head of government and industry affairs Duncan Small said phasing out the smaller aircraft meant residents should be seeing lower prices. "I can say that you are experiencing significantly lower fares now than you were when we were running into Marlborough with the 19-seater aircraft," he said. The remark drew a murmur of objection from the more than 70-strong crowd on Tuesday. "It's almost like we've offended Air New Zealand somehow and they're making us pay," one man said. Blenheim woman Helen Smale said she felt the airline was paying lip service to the regions, but had not stepped in to reinstate direct flights to Christchurch after the earthquake. "Our region was affected quite badly in the earthquake. New Zealanders all pull together when things get tough, and you're certainly not doing that for us," she said. Her husband Tony Smale claimed flights between Blenheim and Auckland were roughly two-and-a-half times more expensive than flying from Nelson, which was also serviced by Jetstar. "It looks to us like we are subsidising the competitive nature of that route, because the differences are astonishing," he said. "Auckland is really important for us and we are just getting bowled over by it. It's just ridiculous that we can take time and expense to drive to Nelson and it's still cheaper." Smale came to the meeting armed with print-offs comparing the price of a return flight to Auckland from Nelson and Marlborough airports, leaving August 9 and returning August 11. The cheapest fare leaving Marlborough was $139; coming back was $159. The cheapest fare leaving Nelson was $59; the same price as the returning flight. However, Small refuted the claim prices were two-and-a-half times more expensive, saying the amount of lower price fares was down to capacity, and there was more capacity between Nelson and Auckland. "Your fares are not differently structured or out of whack, and your loadings are not out of whack with anywhere else in the country," he said. He was also emphatic that Air New Zealand would not be reinstating direct flights to Christchurch, saying they did not want to create uncertainty for other operators by jumping in and out. Attendees also spoke of the impact of air fares. One man claimed an exporting business was considering relocating to Christchurch because of the cost of flights in and out of Marlborough. Another said high air fares meant tourists were more likely to bypass Marlborough. "I hear what the room is telling me," Small said towards the end of the meeting. "You haven't offended us, and I can promise you that we're not going anywhere out of this market. We fly more seats into Marlborough now than ever before."

28 July 2017

More Reliable Service, More Passengers

The performance and reliability of Air New Zealand services out of and into Kapiti Coast Airport has improved considerably. Air New Zealand regional manager Ian Collier said the company accepted the criticism of many people who had said they couldn't rely on the local service. But the company had been working hard to address the issue and "the performance is improving and we will continue to deliver that," he said at a business briefing in Paraparaumu on Wednesday. Proof of improvements came from an audience member, Maurice Stilwell, who said, "I use it about every two weeks and the service has improved remarkably for the last six months. "I'd trust you with my holiday - just about." And Kapiti councillor Mark Benton said, "I use the service about once every three months and it's bloody brilliant. "Thanks very much and it's fantastic I don't have have to drive to Wellington." Mr Collier said Air New Zealand was happy with demand for its Paraparaumu air services though it could be better as it had been "flat for too long" however it was "cutting its lunch. So that is a good thing." Some of the challenges had included pressure from other airports and passengers decisions on their time and how much they were willing to pay. "Our role is to make sure we're as price competitive as we can be out of this port, and that we give you a schedule that is relative to the demand profile that we see." He said the challenge for the company and the community was to drive demand for the services. To grow the air service it was important to get the story and marketing of Kapiti right, firstly nationally and then internationally. "We have a whole lot of things here that are unique to us so we should put our best foot forward to ensure we're presenting that in the best way that we can, and in a way this community believes in. "If this community believes in it, then you will sell it. I would say we are in a better position now, than we have been for a long time, to be able to deliver that with clarity." Mr Collier, who noted there had been great work already, said the company "was there to help you promote that". But it was important not to lose sight of "filling the grandstands and we need to do that on the basis that we're delivering a reliable service". He felt the district had "momentum" especially with the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway which presented the district "in a different light". "It has created a complete shift and I don't think we've seen the consequences of that yet but we certainly will. "The expressway is elevated and you actually get to see Kapiti, and what it represents, when you come through, and you get curious. "And the signage [to Kapiti Coast Airport] is great."

Source : 

More from the Blenheim Meeting

Marlborough airline Sounds Air is considering a "quantum leap" to larger aircraft on a route Air New Zealand ditched last year due to a lack of demand, its chief executive says. The carrier operates a fleet of 12 and 9-seaters but is exploring larger aircraft on the Blenheim to Christchurch route it started flying in August. Air New Zealand stopped offering direct flights between the centres last July, months after replacing its 19-seat Beechcraft 1900Ds on the route with 50-seat Bombardier Q300s. "One thing we're exploring is potentially larger aircraft, but to get larger aircraft is a quantum leap for a company like us," he said. "It's a dramatic change to our business model. But we are certainly looking at it and if we do get larger aircraft Blenheim to Christchurch will be the route they go on." The airline had ramped up operations on the route since last August, in part because of increased demand for flights following the earthquake and closure of State Highway 1. Last week Sounds Air offered 22 return flights, however Crawford said the pressure on the service meant the airline was investigating introducing larger planes to meet demand. The route was currently serviced by the 9-seat Pilatus PC-12s. Fares were a flat rate of $199 one way, or $398 return. Crawford said the airline was still conducting due diligence, but said the introduction of larger planes would mean more variable fares, some cheaper and some more expensive. There were no new models being manufactured in the capacity range between the 12-seat Cessna Caravan and the 70-seat ATR 72, so the company was looking at older models, he said. These included the 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D that Air New Zealand had been flying on the route, and the 34-seat Saab 340. The Sounds Air chief executive said a decision on the introduction of larger planes would be made within a month, and he believed there was enough demand to make it work. However, the company was still looking at various factors, including cost, how larger planes would work at the airports, and where it would source the planes from. Air New Zealand head of government and industry affairs Duncan Small said at the meeting, held in Blenheim on Tuesday, the airline was not going to reinstate the Blenheim to Christchurch route. "We are confident in the reasons we had for stopping that service before the earthquake, which is that we don't see the long-term potential to grow the service into something that's viable on a 50-seat aircraft," he said

Source : https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/news/95111909/sounds-air-investigates-larger-planes-between-blenheim-and-christchurch

27 July 2017

Big Fish, Little Minnow, Overcrowded Pond

Australian carrier Jetstar should be investigated for selling fares below cost, sparking a race to the bottom that threatens smaller operators, a regional airline boss says. Sounds Air chief executive Andrew Crawford said since Jetstar started flying from Nelson Airport, in December 2015, the Marlborough airline had seen a significant drop in business in Nelson. Crawford said Nelson Airport had been the second biggest market for Sounds Air. It was now the sixth, and the company was making $60,000 a month less than it was two years ago. "Jetstar has come into this country and offered fares at ridiculous levels, I mean way below cost. They're offering fares that I believe the Commerce Commission should be putting a stop to," Crawford said. "It's absolutely decimated our market in Nelson to the point where we'll have to seriously consider if we can keep doing it ... it's a race to the bottom, and we're caught up in it." Crawford made the comments at a public meeting organised by Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith, which took place in Blenheim on Tuesday evening. It was illegal for a company to take advantage of market power under the Commerce Act, but for predatory, or below cost, pricing to be illegal companies had to meet a number of criteria. A Jetstar spokesman said the Commerce Commission had never investigated the company for selling fares below cost. He did not say if the airline engaged in the practice. "Aviation is a very competitive industry with airfares set based on market conditions. Jetstar is able to offer low fares because we keep our costs as low as possible," he said.

CV521 off to the Chathams

During winter this year Air Chathams are operating an additional flight on Wednesdays between the Chatham Islands and Wellington... Convair 580 was operating flight CV521 from Wellington on 26 July 2017

26 July 2017

Bigger aircraft for Sounds Air???

Speaking with AIN at the recent Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference in Sint Maarten and in subsequent e-mails, Sounds Air managing director and majority shareholder Andrew Crawford said the carrier now operates up to 22 PC-12 round trips a week on the Blenheim-Christchurch route as a result of the road closure. Crawford added that the closure generates more traffic demand for Sounds Air beyond even today’s increased schedule and noted that the main road between the two cities will remain closed for more than a year to come. According to Crawford, Sounds Air is looking for larger aircraft to meet the extra Blenheim-Christchurch demand and also to benefit from what he said is a forthcoming move by Air New Zealand regional subsidiary Air Nelson to end services with 50-seat turboprops at some New Zealand destinations. “We are looking at Beech 1900Ds and potentially Saab 340Bs as the two options that are potentially viable,” he explained.

For the full article see : https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/air-transport/2017-07-25/quake-damage-drives-sounds-airs-search-larger-aircraft 

Originair announces flights to New Plymouth

Originair is extending its airline services by adding direct flights between Nelson and New Plymouth which will take approximately 50 minutes. Initially there will be eight flights a week between the two cities, taking off from September 29.  The airline will be flexible around scheduling, reflecting extra demand during school holidays and long weekends. Originair managing director Robert Inglis says they are introducing the direct flights after listening to business and leisure travelers. "Currently anyone travelling between the two cities may spend lengthy periods transiting via Auckland and Wellington instead of less than an hour with direct services. We believe the Nelson and New Plymouth communities will support this service. It will appeal to travelers who want to spend a weekend in either city and to business travelers commuting for a week's work or a short stay," Mr Inglis says. The airline currently flys between Nelson and Palmerston North, a service which started in 2015 and is popular with business and leisure customers. The company's British Aerospace 18-seat Jetstream aircraft will fly the route and the company is adding another Jetatream to its operations to cover contracted charter flights, tours and maintenance coverage.

Originair is offering a special New Plymouth Introductory fare. Passengers simply enter the coupon code FLYNPL when searching for their flights online between Nelson and New Plymouth to book special fares starting from $179 one-way per-person. This introductory offer, which is limited, is for travel in October 2017. 

19 July 2017

Dominion Newspaper flights

For almost 50 years the Dominion has been flown from Wellington to Nelson on an early morning more or less dedicated air service.

I'm trying to put together a little bit of a history to the service... These are the operators I have found that have flown it... I'm wondering if Rex Aviation or Rawson Aviation ever carried the Dominion???
You may pick up other errors...

1971                                    Capital Air Services

1978                                    James Air

Apr 1981                             Wellington Aero Club

Sep 1981                            Air Albatross

Dec 1985                            Skyferry

Oct 1988                             Fieldair Freight

Mid 1993                             Flightcorp

1999                                    Vincent Aviation

9 Jan 2006                          Sounds Air

As I put something together I would love to hear from pilots that have flown the early morning Dominion flight and maybe answer one or some of these questions

Operator you flew for?

Rough dates who flew the service?

What was your experience or stories of flying the papers?

Did you ever have passengers to or from Nelson?

Have you any pictures of the newspaper operation?

I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks, Steve

18 July 2017

Sunair Timetable #57

Sunair have released their new timetable effective 7 August 2017. There are no changes to the frequency of services, no new destinations and no new increase to fares. There are a few changes, however, with timetable changes to morning flights to and from Great Barrier Island. The biggest change is with the flights between Hamilton and the Gisborne with the aircraft now starting the day at Hamilton rather than Gisborne in an attempt, I suspect to beat the Hamilton fog! 

Meanwhile Sunair, from my observation seem to being doing well, with a number of Whangarei-Hamilton services been operated and Gisborne-Hamilton flights often running full. Gotta love Sunair!

See : http://sunair.co.nz/images/1-New_schedule_wef_7_Aug-Iss1.pdf

09 July 2017

Air Nelson - Part 1 - The Nelson-Wellington Commuter Airline

The Nelson-Wellington Commuter Airline

Air Nelson traces its origins back to Nairn Aviation. In 1976 Robert Inglis and Nicki Smith helped Harry Jenkins establish Associated Aviation in Paraparaumu. Two years later they established their own Motueka-based flying school, Associated Aviation (Motueka). In 1980 they, along with Harry Jenkins, bought Nairn Aviation and changed the flying school and air charter operator's name to Associated Aviation (Nelson). This Nelson-based company was later sold to Martin Butler who gave it the name Air Nelson before he sold the company back to Associated Aviation (Motueka). In 1985 Robert and Nicki decided to concentrate on developing Motueka Air Services and so Associated Aviation (Motueka)’s airline operation was split from the flying school and the airline was formed into a new company, Motueka Air Ltd. Air Nelson became a division of Motueka Air and offered charter, scenic tours, flight training and aerial photography from Nelson. A number of Cessna single engined aircraft were used including Cessna 152 ZK-ELV, Cessna 172s ZK-EOK and ZK-EOX and Cessna 206 ZK-DFW.

Cessna 152 ZK-ELV at Motueka at 4 February 1989

Cessna U206F Stationair ZK-DFW at Palmerston North on 24 February 1985

Following on the from success of the parent company's Motueka air service Air Nelson began scheduled flights between Nelson on Wellington on the 16th of December 1985. At this time Air New Zealand and Air Albatross were offering numerous flights on the route with Friendships and Metroliners. Explaining his company’s rationale Air Nelson’s managing director, Mr Robert Inglis, said, "There is no intention to rapidly expand the service. We are interested in being complementary to the other airlines at peak times. We are also interested in supplying multi-engined aircraft for charter work for companies, sports and special interest groups." The first flight was operated under the command of chief pilot Bob Schmuke using Piper PA31 Navajo ZK-NSN. Initially two return flights were flown on weekdays and one return flight on both Saturday and Sunday with ticket prices of $55 being lower than both the company’s competitors.

Air Nelson's first aircraft, Piper PA31 Navajo ZK-NSN at Nelson on 20 January 1986

Air Nelson’s entry into the market was fortuitous. Four days after the launch of scheduled service Air Albatross was placed in receivership and ceased operations resulting in a large number of passengers trying to book on the newly established Air Nelson. Robert Inglis told the Nelson Evening Mail, "Most of our Christmas flights have been booked for the last month. We're putting on as many special flights as we can within the limits of staff duty hours and wise operating practices." Asked if his firm decided to begin the Nelson-Wellington run because it believed Air Albatross was going to fold, Mr Inglis said: "That's not the reason. We had observed throughout the last year that there was a gap in the timetable. We were also influenced in the decision to start by the fact that Air Albatross schedules seemed to be very unreliable. We've never seen ourselves as another Air New Zealand or Air Albatross. We're just trying to provide an alternative service at peak times.”

Air Nelson timetable number 1, effective 16 December 1985

By the end of January the service had grown to two return flights each morning and evening using the company’s Navajo and a leased Cessna 402 with the company looking for a larger aircraft. In 1986 two Piper Aztecs, ZK-DIO and ZK-PIX were added to the fleet to provide additional capacity on the Nelson flights as well as providing back-up for the Motueka Air Services flights from Motueka to Wellington.

Air Nelson's two Piper Aztecs that were used to provide additional capacity on the Nelson-Wellington service... Above, ZK-DIO taken at Nelson on 5 February 1989 and below ZK-PIX taken on 4 February 1989

The “larger aircraft”, which did not eventuate for another 12 months, were two 10-seater Piper PA31 Chieftains, ZK-NSO and ZK-NSP which arrived in April and May 1987 to cater for the traffic which had been steadily growing on the Nelson-Wellington route. The new aircraft enabled five return weekday flights to be operated. A lesser weekend schedule was also operated.

Piper PA31 Chieftain ZK-NSO at Nelson on 21 January 1991

With its location at the top of the South Island bounded by Cook Strait and mountains to the south Nelson has always been air minded. At the same time as Air Nelson introduced its two Chieftains Pacifica Air introduced services from Nelson to both Wellington and Christchurch using a Beech Super King Air. Robert Inglis stated his belief that there was only room for one alternative airline to Air New Zealand flying the Nelson-Wellington route and only time will tell if the new Nelson-based airline Pacifica Air will be successful. "We are not competing in the same market, Air New Zealand and Pacifica Air offer a fast, pressurised and turbine-powered aircraft service, and our place in the market offers cheaper fares," he said. He puts this down to more economically-run aircraft. The company intends continuing its five flights a day service between Nelson and Wellington.

The arrival of the Chieftains saw the introduction of Air Nelson’s smart maroon and silver colour scheme giving the company a good corporate image. At this time Air Nelson also tapped into growing demand for charter from business people, special interest groups and sports teams. They also operated air ambulance flights for the Nelson Area Health Board for patient transfers and other emergency requirements.

Air Nelson charter...

The Nelson-Wellington Commuter Airline
Air Nelson timetable, effective 1 September 1987

An Air Nelson advertising supplement from the Nelson Evening Mail of 10 February 1988 showing the fleet, the interior of a Chieftain and the staff.

In July 1988 Air Nelson and Hamilton-based Eagle Air announced they had joined forces to begin a regional network linking Nelson with Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and Wellington. At the same time it was announced that in November 1988 Air Nelson would extend its services to the West Coast operating a Wellington to Nelson, Westport and Greymouth service in the morning and returning along the same route in the afternoon with a seven seat Piper Navajo.

In their joint statement, Air Nelson’s managing director Mr Robert Inglis and Eagle Air’s general manager Mr Don Good said the move meant "unprecedented commercial co-operation between two New Zealand airlines." The agreement saw Air Nelson move onto Eagle Air's Qantas-developed computer reservation system with Air Nelson taking over the Palmerston North-Nelson service from Eagle Air. "Eagle and Air Nelson's aircraft are tailored to give these routes a high frequency service, allowing the consumer to fly at a departure time convenient to the operational and economic needs of the airline." The strengthening of ties heralded a new era of co-operation between airlines facing the prospect of potentially high cost increases from the Airways Corporation and airport authorities "which the New Zealand consumer in today's environment, especially in the regional centres, will not and cannot pay".

The statement said Air Nelson would restructure its operations to improve efficiency and enhance its service. “Motueka Air and Air Nelson would merge, and be upgraded to a full Piper fleet of Chieftains and Navajos. Its services to Wellington will thus be considerably enhanced." Air Nelson would also open its own maintenance division in Nelson. "Air Nelson takes over the mantle of New Zealand's largest Piper Chieftain operator from Eagle, who at one stage operated four of these aircraft and had built up a great deal of experience over 11 years of owning, operating, and servicing these workhorses of the commuter air business," it said.

For a post on Motueka Air Services see

There were two other pieces of news announced in July 1988. First was the news that Air Nelson would also open its own maintenance division in Nelson. The other announcement was the news that Air Nelson had negotiated a contract with Ansett New Zealand to handle its freight on the Nelson-Wellington run. 

Air Nelson took over Eagle Air's flights between Nelson and Palmerston North on the 1st of August 1988 with three flights each way on Mondays and Fridays, two flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and a single flight on Saturdays and Sundays. Connections were made at Palmerston North to Eagle Air flights to Auckland and Hamilton.

Air Nelson's Piper Chieftain ZK-NSP at Hokitika on 26 November 1989

Also on the 1st of August 1998 Motueka Air merged with Air Nelson and these flights appeared in the Air Nelson timetable. At this point three Aztec flights were operated between Motueka and Wellington each weekday with one flight being operated on both Saturdays and Sundays as well as a Motueka-Nelson service. Also appearing on the Air Nelson timetable was the Monday to Saturday newspaper service to Takaka. This was flown by Cessna 172 ZK-EOX and operated either from Nelson or Motueka depending on what traffic was offering.

The Takaka plane... Cessna 172 ZK-EOX at Nelson on 21 June 1991

Air Nelson timetable effective 1 August 1988... It shows the planned services from Wellington and Nelson to Westport and Greymouth as well as a Palmerston North-Wellington service all of which were to commence on 1 November 1988 

With the rise and fall of Air Albatross Air New Zealand recognised the need to change its provincial services. With the rise of another regional competitor in an aligned Air Nelson/Eagle Air operation Air New Zealand acted and on the 16th of September it was announced that Air New Zealand had bought Eagle Air and a half share in Air Nelson. It was also announced that it was relinquishing flights to Hokitika, Westport and some of its Nelson-Christchurch and Nelson-Wellington flights in favour of Air Nelson. In announcing the changes Air New Zealand’s chief executive Mr Jim Scott said, "It no longer makes business sense to operate Fokker Friendships when smaller aircraft operating higher frequencies better suit the market. Our provincial services have always been an important part of our operations, but we must adapt to survive in changing times. What has been the best practice in the past does not necessarily provide the best solution for the future."

So began Air Nelson’s part in revolutionising provincial air services in New Zealand. 

Farewelling the Friendship - A Time of Meteoric Growth

In the just over two years from the 31st of October 1988. to the end of 1990 Air New Zealand retired its Fokker Friendship fleet and this led Air Nelson experiencing meteoric growth.

With the September 1988 announcement made that Air Nelson would take over Air New Zealand's Friendship services to Hokitika and Westport, Air Nelson announced they would acquire a 19-seat Fairchild Metroliner III and the lease of Pacifica Air's Swearingen Metroliner II. 

An extending network, Air Nelson's timetable effective 31 October 1988 with flights to Timaru, Hokitika and Westport

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand’s move to relinquish some of its provincial services in favour of Air Nelson and Eagle Air was initially met with was met with shock and initially some angst. The affected communities soon saw, however, that there was the potential to get a better service. In Hokitika and Westport's case Air New Zealand operated two Friendship services through both the West Coast towns with the two flights departing within 75 minutes of each other meaning it was impossible for travellers to do a day's business on the Coast or in Wellington or Christchurch. 

It was announced Air Nelson's new Hokitika service would operate thrice daily Christchurch to Hokitika flights on weekdays with one Saturday and two Sunday flights. Westport was to receive an early morning positioning flight from Nelson and then three flights to Wellington, one via Nelson, and two flights into Westport on weekdays. On the weekends there were to be one flight each day to Wellington with a Sunday flight to and from Nelson with onward connections. Air Nelson also announced that Air Nelson would operate flights from Nelson to both Christchurch and Wellington.

Speaking to Hokitika and Greymouth local body leaders Air New Zealand’s southern regional manager, Mr Paul Bowe said, “With three flights a day in future there will be an extra 15 seats in and out of Hokitika each day. It really is a positive move and not one of sadness. You are, in fact, getting more service and more seat availability. We see this not as a pulling out of the service, but a changing of the service to give more frequency with better connections.”

In late September 1988 a further announcement was made that Timaru would lose its Air New Zealand Friendship weekday midday Wellington flight in favour of an Air Nelson Metroliner return flight operated from Christchurch.

While all these announcements were occurring Air Nelson itself moved rapidly to ensure the new aircraft would be ready as well as the additional pilots, engineering and administrative staff needed to take over the new services on the 31st of October 1988. 

The future shape of Air Nelson... 

In the event the lead in time proved to be too short. The Pacifica Air Metroliner was found to be unsuitable and delays were experienced in readying the Metroliner III for service in New Zealand. 

Instead of a Metroliner flying Air Nelson's first Hokitika and Timaru services on the 31st of October 1988 it was Associated Air’s Cessna 402 ZK-DSB. An Air Nelson Piper Chieftain flew the first Westport services. During November 1988 Hokitika saw a variety of aircraft types operating its Air Nelson services; Cessna 310, 402 and 421 Golden Eagle, Fokker Friendship, GAF Nomad Piper Navajo and Chieftain aircraft were all used to maintain the service. In Timaru a Canterbury Aero Club Piper Archer was also used on one occasion! Among the many aircraft that serviced the West Coast and Timaru during this time was Piper Navajo ZK-JGA that had been previously purchased by Air Nelson but was on lease to Coast Air. 

Air Nelson’s first $3 million Fairchild Metroliner III, ZK-NSW, was first seen at Hokitika on the 20th of November when it did a route proving flights to Christchurch, Hokitika and Timaru. The first Metroliner services were operated the following day. Air Nelson managing director, Mr Robert Inglis, who accompanied the first flight across the Alps, said the delay in commissioning the plane was caused by the extra certification required by the Ministry of Transport. "The time scale was put in place because of other pressures on Air New Zealand. They asked us to try and meet that time and we have done the very best that we could and remain grateful that the West Coast people have been patient and understanding of our situation." The arrival of the Metroliner was greeted with much excitement in Hokitika and  over the summer most flights were carrying 16-17 passengers. 

Air Nelson's first Fairchild Metroliner ZK-NSW at Timaru on 22 November 1990

Meanwhile, the Westport service was not gaining the level of support received in Hokitika. While awaiting the arrival of a second Metroliner Piper Chieftains was flying a late morning flight to Westport with an Air New Zealand Friendship operating in the late afternoon/ evening.

On the 1st of April 1989 Air Nelson brought their 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 also introduced a Sunday afternoon Christchurch-Timaru return service. 

The second Fairchild Metroliner III, ZK-NSV at Hokitika on 31 May 1989

The 1st of April also the introduction of a Piper Chieftain service between Blenheim and Wellington. Four weekday flights were operated to Wellington with three return flights along with one Sunday service. A weekday Chieftain service was also inaugurated between Wellington and Palmerston North. Sometime about this time Air Nelson acquired a lease of Piper Chieftain ZK-FQW that had flown for Pacifica Air.

Further expansion began on the 3rd of July 1989 when 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 return flights from Oamaru departing at 9.45am and 4.15pm. 

An expanding network - The Press, 8 July 1989

By mid-July 1989 the Westport service was still not performing well and Air Nelson trimmed the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning flights from the schedule. By the end of the year all the morning services to Westport were cut and it was served by one daily flight to Wellington.

The 1st of November 1989 saw further changes. Timaru was included as a stop on the morning southbound flight to Oamaru and in the afternoon the northbound flight from Oamaru. This enabled business travellers to spend a whole day in Timaru. On the West Coast the company started overnighting a Metroliner at Hokitika to allow an early morning service from Hokitika with an evening return. By December 1989 the number of passengers flying from Christchurch to Hokitika had almost doubled since Air Nelson took over the route from Air New Zealand on the previous year.

A third Metroliner, ZK-NSX, was added to the fleet in February 1990 coinciding with the announcement that Air Nelson would take over Air New Zealand’s services to Whanganui on the 9th of April 1990. The new Air Nelson services meant that passengers to and from Auckland would fly direct. Initially two Auckland weekday flights were scheduled each day with three flights to Wellington.

At the same time it was also announced that Air Nelson would replace Air New Zealand services on the Nelson-Auckland route from the 9th of April 1991. Air New Zealand's service was one direct flight to Auckland in the morning and a return flight via Palmerston North in the evening. The Air Nelson service was to see early morning and early evening return services to suit business travellers. With all this expansion more Metroliners were needed and ZK-NSU and ZK-NSY were added to the fleet in April 1990 with ZK-NSZ following in May 1990. These three aircraft had been operated for Trans World Express in the United States by Pocono Airlines. Both NSZ and NSU operated for a time in Trans World Express colours.

Displaying Trans World Express colours, Fairchild Metroliner ZK-NSU, with Air Nelson titles, at Hokitika on 14 May 1990.

Further expansion was announced in March 1990, even before the new Nelson-Auckland and Wanganui services had begun. Air New Zealand announced that it would withdraw from Oamaru and Timaru with Air Nelson taking over from the 23rd of April 1990. Oamaru was the big loser going from a pressurised 48-seat Friendship to an unpressurised 9 seat Piper Chieftain. The Oamaru schedule saw three weekday flights connecting to either Air New Zealand services at Christchurch or Air Nelson services to Wellington at Timaru.  Timaru was to receive two direct weekday flights from Timaru to Wellington with one flight on Saturdays and Sunday. The existing Christchurch service was retained and an additional Chieftain service was provided from Christchurch to Timaru for business people in the morning. 

On the Oamaru service, Air Nelson's Piper PA31 Navajo ZK-JGA at Oamaru on 17 October 1990

Expansion of services continued with Blenheim receiving Metroliner services between Wellington and Blenheim and a new weekday Blenheim-Christchurch service from the 23rd of July 1990.

The West Coast received additional flights from the 6th of August 1990 with a fourth weekday service between Christchurch and Hokitika and the introduction of a six day a week Hokitika-Westport service connecting Westport to Christchurch via Hokitika and Hokitika to Wellington via Westport. Wanganui also received a third flight to Auckland and while the Wellington service was reduced to two flights. 

The Air Nelson around the rocks service saw two Metroliners at the same time... The flight would arrive from Westport and tranship to the other Metro for Christchurch. The Metroliner from Westport would carry on to Christchurch 95 minutes after arriving. It was a schedule doomed to fail. Metroliners ZK-NSU and NSY at Hokitika on 8 August 1990
West Coast Times, 3 September 1990

However, the big news in August 1990 was Air New Zealand's decision to withdraw its entire Fokker Friendship fleet. Air Nelson had already evaluated suitable replacement aircraft including the Saab 340 (34 seats), the Embraer Brasilia and the British Aerospace Jetstream 41 but it was the 34-seat Saab 340 which was the airline’s choice. Air Nelson announced it was leasing, and perhaps later purchasing, four 34-seat Saab 340 aircraft and expanding its Metroliner fleet from six to nine. Commenting on the expansion Robert Inglis said travel habits had changed over the years and "communities are requesting frequency service, clearly difficult to achieve with Friendships. There had been good acceptance of Air Nelson's high-frequency Metroliner schedule, and the company had been contemplating adding extra aircraft to its fleet for some time. So being a growing company and fast on our feet, we will be very quickly in the marketplace to fill any void left by Air New Zealand. We're looking at the routes that they're pulling off and saying to ourselves, 'would some of these suit our operation?' Yes, we'll certainly take up the challenge and believe that with a great number of Air New Zealand's routes we'll be able to gear our operations to give some of the services required." 

While Air Nelson was busy expanding Air Nelson was continuing to serve Motueka with Piper Aztecs and Piper Navajos.
Nelson Evening Mail, September 1990
All painted up in Air Nelson colours, Piper PA23 Aztec ZK-DIO at Foxpine on 11 May 1990...
...and Piper PA23 Aztec ZK-PIX at Motueka on 15 August 1990

Saabs were earmarked for the Nelson-Wellington, New Plymouth-Auckland, New Plymouth-Wellington and Rotorua-Wellington routes while Metroliners would be used on the Tauranga-Wellington and Gisborne-Wellington routes and Blenheim-Wellington receiving both Saab and Metroliner flights.

Initial outrage and disappointment was expressed by local leaders in all these regions. An example was Nelson’s mayor, Mr Peter Malone, who wasn’t happy with the decision to retire the Friendships saying Nelson city has been disadvantaged yet again as a provincial centre by the "new commercial environment created by Rogernomics which puts dollars before people and services" These fears were short-lived as the airline set about establishing the new routes and in the years following expanding the provincial air services.

Within days Air Nelson confirmed that it had leased Saab 340As from Crossair in Switzerland and use them for a few months before deciding whether it would go ahead with its preferred option to buy new Saab 340B aircraft. It was reported that if Air Nelson went ahead and bought four Saabs, the whole expansion programme, including Metroliners, would amount to $80 million.

Air Nelson replaced Air New Zealand’s Friendship service to Tauranga on the 17th of September 1990. Replacing the two Friendship flights to Wellington, one direct and one via Rotorua, were three weekday Metroliner flights operated in the morning, mid-day and evening along with two flights a day on weekends. An aircraft and six pilots were based at Tauranga. The Bay of Plenty Times reported that “the first flight to Wellington touched down at 8.30am, about 20 minutes faster than the former Friendship service which ended yesterday. Air Nelson commercial manager Noel Gillespie said it was a “really good start, with almost full bookings on all flights today.””

On the same day Air Nelson replaced the Air New Zealand’s Wellington-Gisborne service. By this stage Gisborne had one direct Friendship flight to Wellington with two Eagle Air Bandeirante flights connecting to Air New Zealand at Napier. Air Nelson's new service saw three weekday Metroliner flights operated in the morning, mid-day and evening and two flights a day on weekends.

At this time more Metroliners were arriving in the country. ZK-NSQ and ZK-NSS came from British operator Air Metro and they were registered with Air Nelson in September 1990 along with another Metroliner, ZK-NST. Two brand new Metroliners, ZK-NSI and ZK-NSJ were registered to Air Nelson in November and December 1990 respectively.

Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-NSS in Air Metro colours at Nelson on 9 September 1990

Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-NSQ in Air Metro colours taxis in at Hokitika on 13 November 1990

The first of Air Nelson’s Saab SF340As, ZK-FXB, arrived into Nelson from Crossair on the 27th of September 1990. In the weeks following two more Saabs arrived from Switzerland, ZK-FXA and ZK-FXD, and one arrived from Australia, ZK-FXC

On delivery from Crossair, the first Saab 340A, HB-AHQ, at Nelson on 28 September 1990. It became ZK-FXB.
The Australian Saab 340, VH-OLH at Nelson on 24 October 1990. It became ZK-FXC.
Further expansion was announced in October with Air Nelson announcing it would operate a Wellington-Taupo service from the 5th of November 1990. This service also included a Taupo-Tauranga extension Taupo giving connections to and from Auckland as well as allowing extra capacity between Tauranga and Wellington via Taupo.

Air Nelson replaced Air New Zealand’s Rotorua-Wellington service on the 5th of November 1990. Saabs were initially designated for this route but a dispute over landing charges, the fact that Mount Cook and Ansett also operated on the route and the success of the Tauranga service saw the Saab redeployed to Tauranga while Rotorua received a Metroliner service. Air New Zealand’s two weekday Friendships flights a day were replaced with three Metroliner flights. As it happened the initial services were flown by chartered Friendships as Air Nelson struggled to get Metroliners on line.

Air Nelson officially took over Air New Zealand’s Nelson and Blenheim services on the 5th of November 1990, though delays in the delivery of the Saabs lead to Air Nelson chartering two Friendships from Air New Zealand to fly their routes for another week and the first Air Nelson Saab flights were flown from Nelson to Wellington and Wellington to Blenheim on the 12th of November 1990.

NZ Herald, 15 November 1990

Tauranga received a Saab service from the 19th of November 1990 and one of these flights also operated through Taupo.

The final stage of the Air Nelson’s Friendship retirement expansion was the addition of New Plymouth to its network. New Plymouth-Wellington flights began on the 26th of November with the New Plymouth-Auckland services commencing on the 11th of December 1990. Two Saabs were based at New Plymouth with Air Nelson's new service offering four weekday flights to Wellington, replacing Air New Zealand’s three Friendship flights, and five weekday flight to Auckland, replacing Air New Zealand’s four Friendship flights.

All painted up in Air Nelson colours... Saab 340 ZK-FXB at Nelson on 14 November 1990
A much extended network... Air Nelson timetable effective 5 November 1990

So ended two years of meteoric growth in the history of Air Nelson. It was a growth that revolutionised provincial air services and that was to set the foundation for further growth in the years following.

 Santa gives Air Nelson a hand after a busy Christmas night - ZK-NSI... the early morning flight out of Hokitika on Christmas Day after 1990 after two meteoric years of growth for Air Nelson. Robert and Nicki must have thought all their Christmases had come at once.