09 June 2019

Motor Holdings (Air Services) - NZ's first single engine IFR air service

Motor Holdings (Air Services) Ltd operated two regular air services. The first was the air service between Ardmore and Waiheke Island which operated under the Rex Air Charter banner (see https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/04/rex-air-charter-waiheke-island-service.html). The other was New Zealand's first single engine IFR service out of Dunedin. This is its story.

Following Skyways Flite Services Ltd going into receivership on 22 September 1982 Motor Holdings established a flying school at Dunedin's Momona airport using Cessna 152s and Cessna 172s under the direction of Dave McMillan, who was Motor Holdings Aviation Ltd's South Island Area Manager.

The following year, in September 1983, Motor Holdings (Aviation) Ltd began an overnight air freight service between Dunedin and Christchurch using Cessna U206G Stationair ZK-EKJ (c/n U20604282) which was leased from Rangitikei Air Services. The service was flown on behalf of TNT, and connected with a Mount Cook Hawker Siddeley 748 overnight freight run to and from Auckland. This service had begun in June 1983 when TNT introduced an overnight freight service to move South Island goods to Wellington and Auckland on a guaranteed overnight door-to-door service using chartered Mount Cook's 748s.

The first Motor Holdings service was flown on the 19th of September 1983 by Dave Horsburgh. On that day he flew a route check from Dunedin to Christchurch with Neville Kennard, overnighted, and then with Neville as part of route check, flew the freight back to Dunedin the next morning, the 20th of September 1983.

The aircraft that launched the Motor Holdings service, Rangitikei Air Services' Cessna 206 ZK-EKJ at Dunedin's Momona Airport on 19 September 1983, the first day of the service.

Dave Horsburgh was the CFI of the Dunedin Motor Holdings Flying School. He had started his aviation career as a junior instructor with the Skyways and while with them gained a B-cat instructors rating, along with instrument and multi-engine ratings. The schedule for Motor Holdings' air freight service saw flights leaving Dunedin for Christchurch in the early evening for Christchurch, and returned in the early morning. This was the first single engine IFR air service in New Zealand.

The success and reliability of the night freight run quickly led to a requirement for larger capacity and Cessna 210N Centurion II, ZK-TWA (c/n 21063347) started being used on the service from the 7th of November 1983. Most days both the Cessna 206 and Cessna 210 were used as there was so much freight. Later another instructor at the Flying School, Geoff Russell, continued to provide extra using Cessna U206F Stationair ZK-DKB (c/n U20602170) on a VFR basis.

Cessna 210 Centurion ZK-TWA at Hokitika on 14 September 1984

With freight volumes Motor Holdings acquired Cessna 404 Titan Ambassador ZK-TNT (c/n 404-0603) in March 1984. The 1980 Titan had approximately 1400 airframe hours and was fitted with new engines and propellers before being ferried to New Zealand. The purchase was arranged and overseen by Dave Macmillan, and the ferry flight was piloted by Earl Covel of Transair Incorporated. With the introduction of the the Titan the service eas extended to Wellington and each week night the Titan flew a return Dunedin-Christchurch-Wellington freight service. Chief Pilot for the Titian operation was Peter Vincent who shared the work with Dave Horsburgh.

Cessna 404 Titan Ambassador ZK-TNT incorporating the TNT logo as its registration at Dunedin on 7 June 1984...
...and at Christchurch on 12 August 1984 

At this time the flying school was operating a fully NZ IFR Cessna 172P Skyhawk II, ZK-EXE (c/n 17275232), and two Cessna Cessna 152s, ZK-EWG (c/n A1520996) and ZK-EWI (c/n 15285392). An article in NZ Wings said "While freight has gained a major role, the Flying School operations have not been allowed to fall off. A good flow of students continue from PPL through to instrument and instructor's rating. Miscellaneous charter, air taxi, parachute drop and joy-riding complete the very full range of activities now conducted at Dunedin airport."

Cessna 172 ZK-EXE at Timaru on 10 March 1984
Cessna 152 Aerobat ZK-EWG at Dunedin on 30 March 1985

The air service to Christchurch and Wellington, however, was short lived. After a relatively short time of Motor Holdings operating the Titan on the courier service TNT cancelled the contract because they couldn’t find enough high revenue freight to make the service viable. TNT had been aiming at the courier type market but were consistently having to fill the Titan with ordinary, low cost freight. The final service was flown by Dave Horsburgh in Cessna Titan ZK-TNT on the 31st of August 1984. The Titan was subsequently sold to a USA buyer in late 1984. 

Motor Holdings decided to change in direction and focus more on its workshops, parts supply and sales. Motor Holdings Flying School, which by then had become Flightline, was closed in 1987. The old Flying school office was sold and physically removed to a local dairy farm.

A big thanks to Dave Horsburgh and Dave Macmillan for their help in preparing this post.

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