13 January 2019

Rex Aviation's Tranzair and Freight Operations


In late May 1989 Ansett New Zealand announced that it was “teaming up” with Rex Aviation (NZ) Limited to offer flights between Nelson and Wellington using an 18-seater Embraer Bandeirante. Rex Aviation’s New Zealand history goes back to 1948 but in 1989 it was owned by Pacific Aviation of Australia with links to Ansett Airlines. At the time the Ansett New Zealand operation was announced Rex Aviation had a contract to maintain two New Zealand-based business jets.

The initial plans for the Wellington-Nelson service envisaged Rex Aviation operating five return Bandeirante flights between Nelson and Wellington on weekdays, with two flights on Saturdays and four on Sundays. At this time Air New Zealand were still operating Friendships to Nelson and in speaking about the choice of the Bandeirante Ansett’s acting chief executive Mr Graeme Campbell was reported as saying, "Frequency is the name of the game. It is better to have five flights on an 18-seat plane a day than one 40-seat Friendship flying in.” The planned air service envisaged Nelson passengers connecting with Ansett New Zealand flights at Wellington. 

The new franchise was branded as Tranzair. Embraer EMB-110P2 Bandeirante ZK-REX, imported from Australia for the service, carried Tranzair titles. On the tail of the aircraft the red and white stars of the New Zealand flag were displayed without the tails that featured on the Ansett New Zealand aircraft. Later “The Whisper Connection” titling featured above the passenger windows. Only two Bandeirantes and two Chieftains wore the New Zealand stars.

An early morning photo of Rex Aviation's first Embraer Bandeirante ZK-REX painted in the original Tranzair colours at Nelson on 24 October 1989.
The Tranzair timetable effective 14 December 1989

A unique feature about ZK-REX was that it was New Zealand’s only P2 variant Bandeirante.  The P2 differed from the other Bandeirantes operated in New Zealand by having a second passenger door at the rear of the cabin instead of the large cargo door of the P1 variant.

A look at the P2 variant doors... Embraer Bandeirante ZK-REX at Nelson on 4 January 1991

Services started on the 7th of July 1989. While the first flight used ZK-REX a delay in obtaining a certificate of airworthiness for the new Bandeirante aircraft delayed its formal introduction and a Piper PA31-350 was used to maintain the new air service for the first two days. The Bandeirante officially entered service on the 9th of July 1989. Initial response was good and after ten days the Nelson Evening Mail reported “that most flights had been more than half full with Friday, Saturday and Sunday being ‘excellent’”. 

A second Bandeirante, this being a P1 variant, ZK-REU, arrived in October 1990 and this enabled the introduction of a new route between Wellington and Blenheim from the 7th of October 1990. Initially five flights a day were flown out of Blenheim’s Woodbourne Airport to connect with Ansett New Zealand’s services at Wellington. 

In addition to the passenger service Rex Aviation also inaugurated a freight service from Wellington to Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch on behalf of Ansett Air Freight. The establishment of the freight operation coincided with the closure of Safe Air’s freight operation and this led to NZ Post becoming a major customer. Two Cessna 208 Caravans were added to the fleet, ZK-REY in September 1990 and ZK-REZ in November 1990. Fokker Friendship ZK-RTA arrived in November 1990 and this operated scheduled cargo services for NZ Post between Wellington and Christchurch six days a week. The Friendship was also used, as needed to Blenheim and Nelson. All these aircraft wore Rex Aviation titles.

Rex Aviation Cessna Caravan at Nelson on a freight flight on 14 November 1990
Rex Aviation Fokker Friendship at Christchurch on a freight flight on 15 May 1991

Palmerston North was added to Rex Aviation’s Tranzair network on the 4th of November 1990 with flights offered to and from Wellington. These flights were initially operated by Piper PA31-350 Chieftains. At various times the Rex Aviation Tranzair operation used two Chieftains, ZK-CGS, which was painted in Tranzair colours, and ZK-FQW. 

The two leased Piper Chieftains, above ZK-CGS at Christchurch on 12 August 1991 and below ZK-FQW at Christchurch on 17 November 1990. 

In March 1991 Bandeirante ZK-REU was replaced with ZK-TRL. The arrival of ZK-TRL, which began service on the 27th of March 1991, heralded the introduction of the Ansett New Zealand tail design with the stars having the coloured tails. Also changed was the Tranzair script with Tranzair gaining a capital T. The addition of ZK-TRL to the fleet also began the practice of using registrations based on the TRanzair franchise instead of operator, REx Aviation. In May 1991 two more Bandeirantes entered service, ZK-TRM, on the 5th of May and ZK-TRK on the 19th. The P2 variant ZK-REX which finished service in June 1991. The addition of a third Bandeirante enabled the replacement of the Piper Chieftains on the Wellington-Palmerston North route. The last Chieftain service was flown to Palmerston North by ZK-CGS on the 5th of June 1991, and ZK-TRL flew the first Bandeirante service the following day.

Busy Cook Strait flying... The Tranzair timetables for Blenheim and Nelson effective 2 December 1991

Embraer Bandeirante ZK-TRM displaying the new Ansett stars and the new ZK-TRx series registrations.
Photo taken at Wellington on 14 January 1992

1993 saw further changes in the Bandeirante fleet and once again the aircraft reverting to the ZK-REx registration series. Confusing the issue Rex Aviation reused registrations and aircraft came back into the fleet. ZK-REW, a P1 variant Bandeirante started service on 27 June 1993 while the P2 variant Bandeirante ZK-REX, previously operated by Rex Aviation, arrived back in the fleet in June 1993. ZK-TRL was withdrawn from service on the 19th of June 1993 and ZK-TRK a week later on the 26th of June 1993. ZK-TRM was withdrawn on the 2nd of January 1994 with ZK-REV taking up service on the 28th of November 1993 as its replacement.

By early 1992 the Fokker Friendship freighter had its Rex Aviation titles replaced with Ansett Air Freight titles. The Cessna Caravans were sold in late 1993. By early 1995 the Ansett Air Freight scheduled freight services were no longer being operated, although the Friendship was getting ad-hoc work quite frequently. The Friendship was finally returned to Australia in March 1996.

Rebranded in Ansett Air Freight titles, Rex Aviation's Fokker Friendship ZK-RTA at Nelson for an air show on 27 March 1992.
Also at an air show, Cessna Caravan ZK-REZ at Wanaka on 18 April 1992

On the 7th of November 1995 Bell Air withdrew from operating Whakatane's Tranzair service. Rex Aviation deployed a Bandeirante to Auckland and this aircraft, along with Northern Commuter Airlines’ Piper Chieftain, was used to operate Tranzair’s service from Auckland to both Whakatane and Whangarei. On weekdays two Bandeirante flights were operated between Auckland and both centres with the Chieftain flights operating other flights, again to both centres. A lesser schedule operated in the weekend.

From the Ansett New Zealand timetable of September 1996 showing the mixture of flights operated by Rex Aviation's Bandeirante and Northern Commuter Airlines' Chieftain 

Sometime around this time the script of the Tranzair titles were changed and the stars on the tail were changed to the Australian stars of Ansett Australia.

The last Embraer Bandeirante in the Rex Aviation fleet, ZK-REV at Nelson on 5 February 1996

The change to the tails of the aircraft was followed in late-February 1996 by the Tranzair name being changed to Ansett New Zealand Regional and the Bandeirantes were rebranded accordingly. The inaugural Ansett New Zealand Regional service was introduced on 29th February when Chief-Pilot Merv Falconer flew from Wellington to Nelson, then on to Blenheim, Palmerston North, Whakatane and Whangarei. The special flight was arranged to announce the new name in each centre at a launch function for customers, travel agents, media and dignitaries. February 1996 also saw ZK-REZ (previously ZK-TRL) added to the fleet taking the total fleet to five Bandeirantes.

Showing off its Ansett New Zealand Regional titles, Embraer Bandeirante ZK-REW at Blenheim's Woodbourne Airport on a stormy day on 19 November 1996

The Ansett New Zealand Regional routes operated by Rex Aviation with services from Auckland to Whakatane and Whangarei and from Wellington to Blenheim, Nelson and Palmerston North.

On the 3rd of November 1996 the Whakatane-Auckland service was withdrawn with Ansett New Zealand citing economic factors for pulling out of Whakatane. The withdrawal from Whakatane allowed Ansett Regional to offer Whangarei an all Bandeirante service which was operated by Rex Aviation.

On the 1st of August 1998 Ansett New Zealand ended its Whangarei service after deeming it highly unprofitable. The Mayor of Whangarei, Stan Semenoff, said he was saddened by the news because Ansett had provided good service and competition. Ansett at this stage were operating five flights a day from Whangarei using the Rex Aviation Bandeirante. This compared with 10 services offered by Air New Zealand. The final Whangarei flights were flown in Embraer Bandeirante ZK-REX under the command of Captains Scott Hutchison and Colin Wood.

One of the major issues with the Bandeirante was that they were unpressurised which had less passenger appeal. This issue was resolved in February 1999 when ZK-REW, the first of three pressurised British Aerospace Jetstream 32s arrived to replace the Bandeirantes, entered service. The Jetstreams, ZK-REY, ZK-RES and ZK-REW, were painted in Ansett New Zealand Regional colours and were operated by Rex Aviation on the Cook Strait and Palmerston North services. Jetstream ZK-REY entered service the following month in March 1999.

The timetable for the Ansett New Zealand Regional Jetstreams in the February 2000 Ansett New Zealand timetable. It is interesting that this timetable is still indicating flights between Wellington and Palmerston North being operated by Bandeirantes.

The arrival of the Jetstreams marked the end of the Bandeirantes and the last of Rex Aviation operated scheduled Bandeirante service was flown on 4th June of 1999 under the command of Craig Nichols and John Brooker in ZK-REV. John Lanham, CEO of Rex Aviation, told Pacific Wings, “the Bandeirantes have been great workhorses in terms of capability and economy.  The Bandeirante aircraft were safe, efficient and economical and have an excellent safety record in New Zealand operations. In many respects no obvious replacement was available, however, with no pressurisation, revised increased passenger weights and increased congestion in the Wellington region, this limited the Bandeirante operations.” The 4th of June 1990 also saw the introduction to service of the third Jetstream, ZK-RES.

BAe Jetstream 31 ZK-RES arrives at Nelson on 25 June 1990
The seating layout for the Dash 8s operated by Ansett New Zealand and the Bandeirantes and Jetstreams operated by Rex Aviation

On the 23rd of March 2000, News Corp. Ltd. sold Ansett New Zealand and Rex Aviation to New Zealand consortium Tasman Pacific Group. The Ansett New Zealand Regional fleet of Jetstreams that were operated by Rex Aviation were subsequently repainted in Tasman Pacific Connection’s colour scheme from the 4th of September 2000.

The three Tranzair tails...

Aircraft Operated

British Aerospace Jetstream 3201 EP
ZK-RES (c/n 969)
ZK-REW/2 (c/n 968)
ZK-REY/2 (c/n 946)

An Ansett New Zealand Regional BAe Jetstream 32 ZK-REW at Nelson on 25 June 1999

Cessna 208 Caravan 
ZK-REY (c/n 20800151)
ZK-REZ (c/n 20800157)

Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante
ZK-REU (c/n 110248)
ZK-REU/2 (c/n 110298)
ZK-REV (c/n 110274)
ZK-REW (c/n 110238)
ZK-REX/3 (c/n 110407)
ZK-REZ/2 (c/n 110417) previously ZK-TRL
ZK-TRK (c/n 110422)
ZK-TRL (c/n 110417) later became ZK-REZ
ZK-TRM (c/n 110436)

The same registration but different aircraft and different variants, Above ZK-REX/2, the only P2 variant Bandeirante used in New Zealand.  The P2 differed from the other Bandeirantes operated in New Zealand by having a second passenger door at the rear of the cabin instead. Embraer Bandeirante ZK-REX at Nelson on 4 January 1991. Below, ZK-REX/3, a P1 variant with a large cargo door as seen at Nelson on 6 December 1996.'

Embraer EMB-110P2 Bandeirante
ZK-REX/2 (c/n 110184)

Fokker F.27-6108QC Friendship
ZK-RTA (c/n 10315)

Rex Aviation Fokker Friendship ZK-RTA at Christchurch on 9 December 1990
Piper PA31-350 Navajo Chieftain
ZK-CGS/3 (c/n 31-7852068)
ZK-FQW (c/n 31-7952206)

As with most of my profiles I often use the information other people have put together and from that I try to stitch together a full picture. With this post I would particularly like to acknowledge the work of Phillip Treweek for his work on the histories of the Bandeirantes that served in New Zealand, see... http://www.kiwiaircraftimages.com/bande.html


  1. Good content, I can't imagine another website more complete about airplanes in NZ than this.

  2. I have some photos of air nationals j31 emb 110 that was used for flights to Rotorua that Ansett used as well as a metro. Did you want to add them to this post? During the late 90s apart from a Saturday Dhc 8 200 flight and the mid afternoon weekly Bae 146 flights. All other operations into Rotorua by Ansett was through air national so I'm not sure if they were operated through Ansett nz or if they were operated through regional.

  3. Also I have zk-cic in a sky blue colour scheme operate a flight into Rotorua on behalf of Ansett.

  4. The Rotorua Ansett NZ Regional Jetstream and Metro services were operated by Air National not Rex Aviation. New posts on the Ansett NZ Regional and Tranzair franchises explain how both worked.

  5. I flew on an Ansett NZ Regional J32 from Rotorua to Wellington in 1999 coming home from my gran's 80th birthday. She lived to be 101.

  6. Ground crew for Ansett New Zealand based in Nelson, from 1993-1998 November, now at Virgin Australia Brisbane.