11 August 2019

Peninsula Air Travel

After the Midland Air Services link to the Coromandel ended in early 1963 two parties moved to fill the void to provide a service for the region. With his job with Midland over, John Munro set about seeking financial backing for a replacement service. This was forthcoming from Gordon McCallum of Manurewa and Bob Ross of Papakura who both owned property in Mercury Bay. Munro, as trustee of the yet to be formed company provisionally known as Whitianga Air Travel Ltd, filed an application for an Air Services Licence. Members of the Mercury Bay Aero Club, and the local community also believed the basing of an air service at Whitianga was essential.

By mid 1963 the Aero Club set about seeking its own Air Transport Licence. Within the small community tension developed between the two groups with their rival proposals. Some potential investors in the Munro led proposal withdrew once they learned of the Aero Club's plans. The applications were set down to be heard by the Licensing Authority in a two day public hearing held at the Fire Brigade Hall in Whitianga on 5 and 6 November 1963.

John Munro's, still to be formed company sought a non-scheduled air service linking Whitianga, Whangamata, and Thames with Ardmore and Whenuapai. Also sought were air charter and air taxi rights (including scenic flights and joyrides) from Whitianga, Whangamata and Thames to any licensed aerodrome in New Zealand. These services were to be operated with a six seat Cessna 205. The right to use additional aircraft at peak times was also sought.

The Aero Club sought to operate an air charter and air taxi service (including scenic flights and joyrides) from Whitianga to any licensed aerodrome in New Zealand with one four seat Cessna 172D. Both groups sought support for their proposals. The Munro group's support included the Whangamata Settler's and Ratepayer's Association as its success would give Whangamata an air link. The Mercury Bay Aero Club had won the support of its sister organisation the Auckland Aero Club. Neither club wanted a potential commercial rival in the vicinity.

Both groups presented their proposals on the first day of the hearing, and negotiations between the two parties before the second day, arrived at a compromise. The new, and as yet unnamed airline, gained the rights for non-scheduled and air charter services, with the proviso that it base at least one aircraft at Whitianga, and that the Mercury Bay Aero Club be the first party approached should an additional or replacement aircraft be required. The Aero Club won rights for scenic flights and joyriding from Whitianga, and if it had the consent of the new airline, air charter services from there also.

Peninsula Air Travel Ltd was chosen as the name for the new company, and arrangements were made with Aircraft Hire (NZ) Ltd of Masterton for the lease of Cessna 205 ZK-CFF. Air services certificate No.93 was issued on 20 December 1963. Services began prior to Christmas and a high frequency schedule was operated over the busy holiday period. The aircraft was fitted with racks so that paper drops, similar those previously operated by Midland, could be made at Coromandel, Colville, Hahei, Tairua, and Whangamata. The aircraft could also be equipped as an air ambulance.

Peninsula Air Travel's Cessna 205 ZK-CFF at Christchurch

Relationships between the two operators were soon ruffled again. In March 1964, the Aero Club complained to the Licensing Authority that Peninsula was using Cessna 172 aircraft hired from Executive Air Travel Ltd (a subsidiary of the Auckland Flying School Ltd), to fly passengers into Whitianga on its behalf. Peninsula in turn accused the Aero Club of operating in quasi-commercial opposition by allowing members to hire the club's Cessna for friends to fly to other centres, even if the hirer did not actually fly in the aircraft.

Matters came to a head at the end of June, when Munro withdrew the hired Cessna 205 from Whitianga because of mounting financial losses. The long-off peak season, and aircraft lease payments which continued whether the aircraft was used little or often, had proved too much for the company to sustain. In its place Peninsula arranged with Executive Air Travel Ltd to offer a replacement service with Cessna 172 aircraft. All of Excutive Air Travel's Cessna 172s were available for the service but only Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ wore Peninsula Air Travel Services titles.

The Executive Air Travel operation of the service involved the aircraft being based at Ardmore, not Whitianga as the licence required. Peninsula's licence also required the company to use the Aero Club's Cessna 172 as the first alternative, if it was to operate an aircraft of this type. To avoid additional losses to the company, the aircraft would from then on operate only if it had a minimum of two booked passengers. So Whitianga was without a locally based licensed aircraft for emergency use, and had seen its air service disappear once again because the licensed commercial operator could not sustain profitable operations. The hiatus continued for several months with the service only being flown when at least a break-even load was available. By August 1964 both the Mercury Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Whitianga Town Board had passed resolutions seeking a review of Peninsula's Licence.

Carrying Peninsula Air Travel Services' titles, Executive Air Travel's Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ taken at Ardmore

To resolve matters a three-day sitting of the Air Services Licensing Authority was held in Whitianga from 3 to 6 of November 1964. The Authority, after hearing the evidence, stated, "This Authority is not generally favourably disposed to an Aero Club being in possession of a commercial licence." However it granted the Aero Club non-scheduled rights for services between Whitianga, Thames, Ardmore and Whenuapai, and air charter rights from Whitianga, with one Cessna 172 aircraft and one additional aircraft of similar capacity. The application from Peninsula Air Travel to use a Cessna 172, based at either Ardmore or Whitianga as an amendment to its licence, was declined.

F B Gavin, ‘The Coromandel Connection’ in Taking Off by Richard Waugh, p.103-106

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