12 May 2019

Air Wanganui and the Piper Mojave


Air Wanganui was the successor to Commuter Air Charter which, since 1973, had provided IFR charter services from Wanganui to airports around New Zealand. Three aircraft were used, Cessna 310L ZK-DLP, Cessna 310R ZK-ETM and Beech 58 Baron, ZK-EJJ. 

Commuter Air Charter's Cessna 310 ZK-DLP at Wanganui in February 1974 

Commuter Air Charter's replacement Cessna 310, ZK-ETM at Wanganui in 8 April 1980 

Moving up from the Cessna 310s, Commuter Air Charter's Beech Baron ZK-EJJ at Wanganui on 18 January 1986

On 11 May 1987 Air Wanganui Commuter Limited, which traded as Air Wanganui, was formed by Wanganui Aero Work Ltd, Wanganui Trawlers Ltd, and Warnocks Ltd to operate an air ambulance and charter service. Recognising how often business people needed to reach Auckland, Wellington and the South Island quickly, the owners purchased a $770,000 pressurised Piper Pa31P-350 Mojave ZK-WTH capable of flying five passengers 10,000ft above all weathers.

Air Wanganui's Piper Mojave ZK-WTH at Wanganui on 6 October 1987

On the 3rd of July 1987 Eagle Air withdrew its Wanganui-Hamilton-Auckland that allowed same day business travel between Wanganui and Auckland. Air River City commenced a business schedule to Auckland on Mondays. Wednesdays and Fridays and to Hamilton on Tuesdays and Thursday. Seeing a gap Air Wanganui started a twice weekly flight from Wanganui to Auckland using the Piper Mojave on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These flights operated to suit business traffic with an early morning departure from Wanganui and a late afternoon return with the aircraft remaining in Auckland all day. 

On the 26th of August 1987 Air Wanganui introduced a weekly scheduled flight to Wellington and return on a trial basis. The Wellington flights departed Wanganui at 7.30am, arriving in the capital 30 minutes later. The flights were timed to connect with flights from Wellington to Christchurch. The return flight departed Wellington at 5.30pm, arriving back in Wanganui at 6pm. The Wellington service was short lived.

Following the tragic end of Air River City in May 1988, Air Wanganui operated a Wednesday an Auckland-Wanganui-Auckland service that operated both in the morning and the afternoon allowing Auckland business people a full day in Wanganui. This service was also short-lived and the company reverted to just operating the Tuesday and Thursday flights.

Air Wanganui's Auckland schedule when, in addition to the Tuesday and Thursday flights, there were two flights on a Wednesday. 
Air Wanganui timetable effective 1 July 1989

In early 1990 Air New Zealand announced that its Friendship services from Wanganui to Auckland, which operated either through Whakatane and in Taupo, would be replaced with direct flights to Auckland operated by Air Nelson Metroliners. With the new Metroliner schedule operating at the same as its own flights Air Wanganui decided to cease its twice weekly service to Auckland which ended on the 5th of April 1990.

At the same time the company announced it was going to concentrate on the Wanganui-Wellington route and connect its services with Ansett New Zealand. Operating as part of the Tranzair franchise, a three-day-a-week return service from Wanganui to Wellington began on the 9th of April 1990. The new Wellington service operated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving at 8am and returning at 5.20pm. The flights were timed to allow commuters to connect with Ansett flights leaving for Christchurch and northern centres. The Piper Mojave, was still available for charter work seven days a week.

Initial response to Air Wanganui Commuter's new timetable was better than had been expected. Peter Warnock, a company director, told the Wanganui Chronicle, "We have been impressed by the number of people who have wanted to go on flights beyond Wellington." However, the new service did not last long and was not listed in the Ansett New Zealand timetable of 24 June 1990.

In a new colour scheme, Air Wanganui's Piper Majove ZK-WTH at Ardmore 

In April 1997 Beech 58 Baron ZK-WLV was added to the fleet to assist with charter work. It remained with Air Wanganui until June 2005 when it was sold. 

Air Wanganui's Beech Baron ZK-WLV at Hokitika on 16 December 1998

Air Wanganui continued to operate charter flights with the Piper Mojave and in particular to develop the air ambulance market. In August 2005 the Mojave was supplemented with the purchase of Beechcraft King Air C90A, ZK-MKG. Peter Oberschneider, Air Wanganui's chief executive described the King Air as ‘state of the art’ with leather upholstery and a host of on-board amenities that put it among the top flight of small aircraft. It is these sort of attributes that means the aircraft is ‘one of the nicest charter machines’ currently available in the country. In addition to the purchase of the new aircraft the company also built a new hangar to house it.

A couple of shots of Beech King Air ZK-MKG, at Wellington on 13 September 2006 and below at Gisborne on 9 June 2016

A second Beech King Air C90A, ZK-SNM, was added to the fleet in October 2010. It was sold in May 2014.

Air Wanganui's Beech King Air ZK-SNM about to get airborne from Wanganui on 7 December 2010

In February 2016 the Piper Mojave was sold and in April 2016 Beech Super King Air 200 ZK-MDC was purchased as its replacement. 

Air Wanganui's Piper Mojave ZK-WTH at Wanganui on 24 October 2014

In April 2018 Dean Martin, the company’s chief executive, told the Wanganui Chronicle that "We fly about 600 patients a year in and out of Whanganui, transferring them anywhere from Dunedin to Auckland hospitals but predominantly to Wellington. We have a close association with Life Flight in Wellington. We are their back-up aircraft and we also work closely with Taranaki District Health Board. Because hospitals these days are quite specialised with the services they provide, we go all over New Zealand. I think since I've been here we've been to every DHB location. Prior to the purchase of the new King Air our business was about 95 per cent air ambulance and 4 per cent charter. New business has grown substantially in the last 18 months. Now the split of the business is more like 75 per cent air ambulance and 20 per cent charter, with some other little bits making up the rest."

Air Wanganui's Beech Super King Air ZK-MDC at Hamilton on 18 January 2017

A second Beechcraft B200 King Air, ZK-PMJ, followed ZK-MDC in 2019. It entered service with an air ambulance flight to Christchurch on 18 November 2019 with Sam Lamb being the pilot of the first flight. In an article in the Wanganui Chronicle, Air Wanganui chief executive Dean Martin said. "We've got so much work on, we needed a third aircraft. Three years ago, we were doing 450 flight hours a year with the current two aircraft; this year we will do around the 1400 hour mark. "Three years ago, we were transferring 500 patients for treatment yearly. This year we have already exceeded 1100 patients across multiple regions and multiple DHBs and that doesn't include the numerous donor jobs we have done. "This is without doubt the biggest one-off investment on the airfield for a very long time and something we are very proud of. The community of Whanganui are very fortunate that the board of Air Wanganui are very supportive of the community and very forward thinking." Air Wanganui has provided Whanganui's air ambulance service for the past 25 years. It works with the Whanganui District Health Board and transports more than 600 patients a year from Whanganui and more than low in total from around New Zealand. It has nine full-time staff, is employing another staff member and is likely to need a few more pilots in the near future, Martin said. The company does not fundraise for its air ambulance services. Wanganui Air Ambulance Trust raises funds for medical equipment for the Air Wanganui service and the company's growing charter service allows it to keep air ambulance rates down. The charter service, mostly used by wealthy international visitors, made it possible to purchase the new aircraft, which will be used mainly as an air ambulance but can also be converted for charter services. 

Air Wanganui's Beech King Air 200 ZK-PMJ arriving at Hamilton from Kerikeri on 27 December 2019

From September 2018 Air Wanganui again flew scheduled services on behalf of Originair operating their services from Nelson to New Plymouth, Napier, Palmerston North and Wellington. When Originair was grounded due to air2there losing their air operators certificate Air Wanganui was used extensively. These services were usually operated by Beech Super King Air ZK-MDC but Beech King Air ZK-MKG was also used. Air Wanganui aircraft were also used for backup when a Jetstream was on maintenance. 

Enjoying the sun at Whanganui on 26 October 2020 was Beech King Air 200 ZK-PMJ

On the same day Beech Super King ZK-MDC was pulled out of the hangar and prepared for a medical mission... it flew WAG-WLG-HLZ-PMR-WAG that afternoon

In 2021 the company name was changed twice. On the 20th of April 2021 it was changed from Air Wanganui Commuter Limited to Air Whanganui Commuter Limited reflecting the February 2009 the New Zealand Geographic Board recommendation the spelling of Wanganui be changed to Whanganui. On the 15th of November 2021 the word "commuter" was dropped and the company name was changed to Air Whanganui Limited.

Despite the official change of name Beech Super King Air ZK-MDC still wore Air Wanganui Commuter titles as seen at Whanganui on 8 February 2022

The aircraft registrations were changed to Air Whanganui Limited on the 30th of June 2022 and in the same month Beech B200 King Air ZK-MDC was repainted with the new branding.

Repainted and wearing Air Whanganui titles, Beech B200 King Air, ZK-MDC at Auckland in June 2022

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