15 September 2019

The Air Hamilton Advantage

Air Hamilton was established in August 1981 by Kevin, Lochore, Roderick McAdam, Russell Sharpe, and Grant and Carol Wilkinson. Grant was the manager and chief pilot/instructor while his wife Carol was in charge of the office and reception as well as being a commercial pilot and instructor.. The company offered twin or single-engined pilot training, hire, air charter, scenic flights, aerial inspection and photography and air freight using two Cessna 172s, ZK-WFS and WFT, a four-seat Gulfstream Cougar ZK-SSS, and a six-seat Beechcraft Baron ZK-UPB. Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II ZK-EQA was added to the fleet in October 1981.

Waikato Times, 8 October 1981

With the acquisition of the Seneca the company started an air taxi service between Hamilton and New Plymouth. In November 1982 the company applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority make this a scheduled service with return services operated on weekday mornings and late afternoons. As the company was already operating an air taxi service to New Plymouth and the Licensing Authority agreed that this demonstrated that the service was desirable. Objections by Eagle Airways, which flew the same route in middle of the day, were over-ruled as Air Hamilton proposed to operate its flights in the early morning and late afternoon and this was more convenient for business passengers. Approval was given for the service in late December 1982 and the scheduled service started in January 1983.

Air Hamilton's Piper Seneca ZK-EQA at Hokitika in May 1982

Waikato Times, 5 January 1983

Also in January 1983 the company operated a newspaper service for the Waikato Times to summer holiday makers on the Coromandel Peninsula. From Hamilton the service landed at Pauanui before doing newspaper drops at Tairua, Hot Water Beach and Hahei. After landing at Whitianga newspaper drops were made at Whangapoua and Papa Aroha before that last stop at Coromandel. 

Waikato Times, 5 January 1983

From the 1st of April 1983 competition came on the Hamilton-New Plymouth route with Eagle Air increasing their frequency to three flights each weekday. To counter this and to find additional passengers, from the 15th of May 1983 an extension was made to the Hamilton-New Plymouth service in the form of a connecting Hamilton-Tauranga air taxi service.

Air Hamilton's timetable effective 15 May 1983

Also in May 1983 Air Hamilton took delivery of a Piper Pa28 Arrow IV, ZK-FKJ.
Air Hamilton's Piper Arrow IV ZK-FKJ at Nelson on 15 April 1985

In September 1983 Air Hamilton applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority to reduce the minimum number of flights to New Plymouth from 10 to a minimum of 6 flights per week offering it the flexibility to not operate if there were no passengers.

Air Hamilton's Beech Baron ZK-UPB at Hokitika in January 1982. It was the only twin operated by the company that did not carry Air Hamilton titles.

In November 1983 the company was sold to Chris and Gloria Bowden. Chris had learnt to fly with the Waikato Aero Club in 1973. He later did his commercial pilot's licence with the Canterbury Aero Club in 1979, and instructor's rating the Waikato Aero Club in 1980. He had been chief flying instructor for the Matamata Flying Club for eighteen months prior to taking over Air Hamilton. 

About this time Air Hamilton moved its base to the main Hamilton airport terminal. By this stage the fleet comprised of the Seneca, ZK-EQA, the Turbo Arrow, ZK-FKJ, the Cougar ZK-SSS and Cessna 172 ZK-WFT. Air Hamilton operated from an office inside the main foyer of the Hamilton Airport terminal. The company also carried out multi-engine and single-engine air charter, and advanced training up to single-pilot, multi-engine instrument ratings with students staying in the Bowden's own home. Eagle Air often used Air Hamilton's Cougar (with Chris often flying himself) to do recovery flights/charters when they had an issue on their network. 

Despite the competition with Eagle Air, Air Hamilton continued to operate the scheduled service to New Plymouth twice a day during the week and once a day during the weekend. The service presumably ended sometime in 1984 and that charter and flight training sometime after that.

If you have any information on the final phase of the Air Hamilton story I would be delighted to hear from you - Steve, westland831@gmail.com 

Grumman American Cougar ZK-SSS at Palmerston North on 19 January 1986

Aircraft operated
ZK-DXY - Cessna 172M Skyhawk II (c/n 17265781)
ZK-EQA - Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II (c/n 34-7970134)
ZK-FJB - Cessna 172M (c/n 17265126)
ZK-FKJ - Piper PA-28RT-201 Arrow IV (c/n 28R-7918026)
ZK-SSS - Gulfstream American GA-7 Cougar (c/n GA7-0084)
ZK-UPB - Beech 95 C55 Baron (c/n TE-29)
ZK-WFS - Cessna 172M Skyhawk (c/n 17261457)
ZK-WFT - Cessna 172N Skyhawk II (c/n 17267712)


  1. Great work as always.
    However you list Grumman Tiger DLJ as part of the Air Hamilton fleet but DLJ was part of the Wellington Aero Club fleet for the entire period and more both ways covered by Air Hamilton's existence and as evidenced by it being frequent entry in my log book during this period. A typo??

  2. Thanks, you are correct... ZK-DLJ was registered to the Bowdens after Air Hamilton as below - Post fixed

    ZK-DLJ 23/11/1976 NZ Aerospace Industries Ltd, Hamilton
    21/03/1977 Wellington Districts Aero Club, Wellington
    04/10/1984 G. West, R. Garlick & R. Knight, Hamilton
    25/11/1985 C.R. & G.E. Bowden, Hamilton
    14/10/1986 A.C. & W.J. Denholm, Rotorua
    04/03/1991 Wellington Aero Club Inc, Wellington
    21/07/1999 Registration cancelled