10 March 2019

Dorniers Over Hawkes Bay - Astral Air Services' Tranzair Operation

Astral Air Services Ltd was formed on 29 April 1987 as a wholly owned subsidiary of S. M. Andrews and Associates Ltd who, among other company activities, were the Dornier agent for New Zealand. Astral Air Services were keen to introduce German-built Dornier aircraft to New Zealand and with Ansett New Zealand seeking to develop regional feeder services Astral approached Ansett to explore the possibility of operating regional routes under Ansett New Zealand’s Tranzair brand. The approach met with a favourable response and to assist the development of the new airline Ansett New Zealand’s David Squires was appointed as the company’s chief executive. As well as Astral Air Services operating an airline service they were also contracted to take over the oversight and management of the entire Tranzair franchise including the Cook Strait services operated by Rex Aviation and the Whangarei service operated by Northern Commuter Airlines. At this time Bell Air and Waterwings also flew under the Ansett umbrella but retained their own names.

Astral had no financial links with Ansett and so it was an ambitious project for the company to bring three new Dorniers into the country with a value of some $17 million. The company’s first two aircraft were 19-seat Dornier Do.228 Series 212s, ZK-TRA and ZK-TRB. These aircraft were ferried to New Zealand from Munich via Athens, Luxor, Muscat, Dubai, Bombay, ­Madras, Phuket, Singapore, Bali, Darwin, Mount Isa and Brisbane and they arrived in Auckland on Anzac Day, the 25th of April 1991. 

A publicity postcard of Dorner 228-212, D-CDOB, which became ZK-TRA

The Dorniers were powered by two Garrett TPE 331 engines and Astral Air Services’ chief pilot Frank Roach described the aircraft as "very manoeuvrable, light on the controls and very responsive." The Dornier was a fast, high wing aircraft which gave passengers good views. But they were unpressurised and for a centre like Napier which was used to pressurised aircraft this did not garner passenger appeal. The aircraft also STOL capability for airports with short runways but this feature was not needed for the services to and from Napier. Maintenance was provided by Rex Aviation in Wellington.

Tranzair's first two Dornier 228 Series 212 aircraft, ZK-TRA (above) and ZK-TRB (below).
Photos taken at Ardmore on 6 July 1991

Scheduled services began on the 5th of May 1991 with Ray Hector and Alan Thrower flying ZK-TRA from Auckland to Napier as ASTRAL 511 and returning to Auckland as ASTRAL 512. Meanwhile, ZK-TRB under the command of Rick Moloney and Gerry Brown operated from Wellington to Napier as ASTRAL 512 and from Napier­ to Wellington as ASTRAL 515. Initially four return weekday flights were operated each weekday between Napier and both Wellington and Auckland with three weekend flight.

Astral Air Services' Tranzair timetable with the initial schedule effective from the the 5th of May 1991 and the expanded schedule from the 3rd of June 1991
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A third aircraft, a smaller 15-seat Dornier Do.228 Series 101, ZK-TRD, arrived at the end of May 1991. It had been the intention of Astral to provide services connecting Napier and Wellington with the Chatham Islands. On 30 May 1991, ZK-TRD operated a Wellington-Napier-Chatham Islands on a route proving flight. The following day the aircraft flew the reverse route. Nothing came of the Chathams plan.

With ZK-TRD in service the frequency of flights was increased from the 3rd of June 1991. The new schedule saw six weekday return flights between Napier and Auckland with four return flights on Saturdays and Sundays. The new schedule between Napier and Wellington had six weekday return flights timetabled. On Saturdays four flights were flown from Napier to Wellington with three return flights. On Sundays four flights from Napier to Wellington and five return flights were offered.

However, the service did not grow as expected. On the 20th of June 1991 a report to the directors of Astral Air Services indicated the company was in such serious debt that Astral ceased services on the 26th of June 1991. The final flights operated on that day were for ZK-TRA, ASTRAL 532 from Wellington to Napier, for ZK-TRB, ASTRAL 528 from Wellington to Napier and ASTRAL 527 from Napier to Wellington and for ZK-TRD ASTRAL 529 from Auckland to Napier and ASTRAL 528 from Napier to Auckland. The aircraft all then ferried to Ardmore before their return to Germany.

Tranzair's smaller  Series 101 Dornier 228, ZK-TRD at Ardmore on 6 July 1991

At the time of Astral's failure Peter Bullick was Ansett New Zealand's National Manager Passenger Services with responsibility for all Airport ground handling activity (engineering excepted) on the Ansett and Tranzair network. Peter writes, I recall getting a midnight call from Ansett's then Chief Executive, Garry Smith, asking me to drive through the night from Auckland to Napier, find myself a motel and sit by the phone for further instructions. The phone went around 7.00am with Garry telling me to get to the airport and, well, protect our interrests. It was a bit chaotic. People who were owed money had gotten wind of the foreclosure and were trying, variously, to either recover or secrete equipment etc. Things kicked up a notch when the first Air New Zealand aircraft (ironically a 737) arrived with creditors from as far away as Christchurch. Creditors made claims to the order of $2.145 million. Prominent among the creditors were Flight Care of Napier, the Park Royal in Wellington, Rex Aviation (to the tune of ($675,450.20), Diners Club International, Dornier Luftfathrt and Wellington Airport. 

On speaking about reasons for the airline’s collapse Astral Air Services’ chief executive David Squires blamed a failure by investors to front up with promised money and also that Astral had been crowded out of existence by Air New Zealand, Air Nelson and Mount Cook Airlines putting on extra services through Napier. In addition to these reasons Brian Lockstone, Ansett external relations manager, told NZ Wings that the establishment costs were very high, "in excess of budget. An airline needs tremendous resources and resilience at first. It didn't generate the volumes of traffic that were expected.” Part of the reason for this was undoubtedly the choice of aircraft. The Dornier was chosen because Astral was the agent, rather than choosing the right aircraft for the route. Hawkes Bay passengers were used to pressurised aircraft with cabin crew on flights to Auckland and Wellington. Astral’s unpressurised Dorniers cruised at 10,000 feet for up to an hour did not give passenger appeal, especially in inclement weather.

In the aftermath of the collapse of the 53-day airline Ansett once again took over the operational control of Tranzair.


  1. Have to say that the shooting stars on that rather small tail looks rather cluttered....
    I see that you did a post on j31/32s in nz. If you ever run out of posts on nz airlines...
    Maybe you could start writing posts on "different" or "exotic" or colourful aircraft types that have graced our sky's and what was their success/downfall.. and with your extensive livery of photos, the list of airlines that operated them..
    This is a great example here...
    The Dornier.
    Who operated them, pros and cons and.... this is a great example...
    Now that they have modified/restarted the factory, could they grace our skies again? Could they work for an airline like sounds air regards to replacing the caravan

  2. Air West Coast also operated a Dornier 228 Fraser... Here is the link, http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/05/air-west-coast-flying-on-wing-prayer.html

  3. Out of interest Steve, do you know the fates of the two Dorniers?

  4. ZK-TRA Dornier 228-212 c/n 8186
    D-CDOB 00/00/1991 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpffenhofen, West Germany
    10/02/1991 First flight
    00/04/1991 Registration cancelled
    ZK-TRA 15/04/1991 Astral Air Services Ltd, Wellington...owner
    15/04/1991 Tranzair, Wellington...operator
    15/07/1991 Registration cancelled
    D-CDOB 01/08/1991 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpffenhofen, West Germany
    26/11/1991 Adler Air Leasing GmbH, West Germany
    11/12/1991 Registration cancelled
    9N-ACG 00/12/1991 Everest Air, Kathmandu, Nepal
    00/05/1999 Registration cancelled as withdrawn from use

  5. ZK-TRB/1 Dornier 228-212 c/n 8187
    D-CDOA 00/00/1991 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpfaffenhofen, West Germany
    23/03/1991 First flight
    00/04/1991 Registration cancelled
    ZK-TRB 15/04/1991 Astral Air Services Ltd, Wellington
    15/04/1991 Tranzair, Wellington...operator
    15/07/1991 Registration cancelled
    D-CDOA 01/08/1991 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpffenhofen, West Germany
    12/11/1991 Registration cancelled
    P2-MBH 10/11/1991 Milne Bay Air P/L, Port Moresby, PNG
    00/05/1994 Registration cancelled
    D-CAET 31/05/1994 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpfaffenhofen, West Germany
    00/06/1994 Registration cancelled
    YV-647C 00/06/1994 Aereotuy, Caracas, Venezuela
    10/06/1994 Departed Oberpfaffenhofen, Bavaria, Germany on delivery flight
    to Venezuela

  6. ZK-TRD/1 Dornier 228-101 c/n 7168
    D-CBDY 00/00/1989 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpffenhofen, West Germany
    00/00/1989 Stored - Not sold
    00/03/1991 Registration cancelled
    D-CDOC 10/03/1991 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpffenhofen, West Germany
    10/04/1991 First flight
    15/05/1991 Registration cancelled
    ZK-TRD 15/05/1991 Astral Air Services Ltd, Wellington...owner
    15/05/1991 Tranzair, Wellington...operator
    15/07/1991 Registration cancelled
    D-CDOB 01/08/1991 Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH, Oberpffenhofen, West Germany
    10/05/1992 Registration cancelled
    9N-ACE 22/05/1992 Everest Air, Kathmandu, Nepal
    00/00/1998 Nepal Air Charter Services, Kathmandu, Nepal

  7. Bravo! That's much more thorough than I expected. Interesting lives they led.

  8. As someone who was involved in passenger and baggage handling at Wellington for Ansett at the time I can confirm a big part of the problem was the choice of aircraft. Being non pressurised was part of it but a major issue was insufficient checked baggage. You simply can’t have passengers turning up to travel being told they can’t use their baggage allowance.