06 October 2019

Simply give it a go - Foxpine Air Charter

Noel Oxnam was the owner of a timber mill at Foxton. In 1977 he learned to fly and developed the Foxpine airfield near the family sawmill at Foxton.

In June 1978 he applied for an air service licence in the name of Oxnam Timber & Hardware Co Ltd which sought to operate to air charter and air taxi services from Foxton under the name of Foxpine Air Charter using a Cessna 172K Skyhawk, ZK-CXN (c/n 17259059), which was already owned by Oxnams Timber & Hardware Co Ltd two Piper Twin Comanches, Piper PA-30-160 Twin Comanche B, ZK-DOK (c/n 30-1735) and Piper PA-39-160 Twin Comanche C/R, ZK-ECS (c/n 39-68), which were owned by Noel Oxnam. The licence was granted on the 4th of August 1978.

Foxpine Air Charter's Piper Twin Comanche ZK-ECS in its original colour scheme at Palmerston North on 23 December 1981

On the 18th of April 1979 Noel and Nan Oxnam established Foxpine Air Charter Ltd as a separate company. Cessna 150F ZK-CKS (c/n 15061567) was also owned by Oxnams Timber & Hardware Ltd  and registered to Foxpine Air Charter but it never operated under the company’s licence. The Cessna 150 was only in the fleet for a very short time.

In April 1980 Cessna 172N Skyhawk II ZK-EOG (c/n 17271808) was added to the fleet while Cessna 172, ZK-CXN, was sold in 1983. Piper Twin Comanche ZK-DOK was sold in March 1982.

Foxpine Air Charter's second Cessna 172, ZK-EOG, at Palmerston North on 19 January 1986

On the 4th of October 1984 an aerial work licence was granted allowing the company to undertake photo, survey, and inspection work. Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II ZK-EQA (c/n 34-7970134) was purchased in October 1985. The two Piper twin-engined aircraft were equipped for air ambulance work were used by Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson and Wanganui hospitals. Graeme Atchinson, who was Foxpine Air Charter's chief pilot recounts, T
he Seneca was very popular with the various hospital boards as the aircraft had a large rear door which was low to the ground ensuring easy transfer of the patient onto a purpose built stretcher in the aircraft. We were very much expert professionals able to mobilise very quickly and the economical hire cost of the Seneca compared to say the Cessna 421, the competition used, made sense. The required equipment for hospital transfers or air ambulance flights could easily be accommodated in the Seneca, that is, a Stryker bed for spinal injuries, drip feeds, portable oxygen and a plug in incubator for infants. The Air Services Licensing Authority were informed on the 21st of November 1985 that flight training was to be added to scope of aerial work service.

Foxpine AIr Charter's Piper Seneca, ZK-EQA, at Palmerston North on 19 January 1986

On the 26th of May 1986 Foxpine Air Charter started operating a scheduled service between Palmerston North and Wellington following Eagle Air's withdrawal from the route. The new service was operated twice daily on weekdays with departures from Palmerston North at 7.10am and 4.10pm and from Wellington at 8.10am and 5.15pm. Graeme Atchinson reports on the start of the service: On the 26th May of 1986, in Piper PA34-200T Seneca I flew ZK-EQA I flew from Foxpine airfield in Foxton to Palmerston North for the inaugural flight (morning schedule) in fine weather as I logged only 10 minutes actual instrument flight (I/F) Foxpine-Palmerston North-Wellington-Foxpine. Flying directly on the return flight back home to Foxpine suggests no passengers. 

Before the Foxpine scheduled service commenced, I spent time door knocking as many travel agents as I could find in both cities, as well as visiting key people for the NZ Dairy Board, Massey University and even the travel department for MP’s at the “Beehive” Parliament House. As a result I did fly our Prime Minister Rob Muldoon and other politicians and of course Government personnel from my efforts to drum up business. It certainly made sense flying the 40 minute trip compared to a very long drive with hold ups in traffic. For me it was a very rewarding experience and gave me seriously good IFR skills in all weather, sometimes challenging with whatever “Wellington’s best” could throw at me.

Evening Standard, 21 May 1986
Foxpine Air Charter timetable, effective 12 May 1986

Both the Piper Seneca and Piper Twin Comanche were operated the service, but, a rare occasions, the Cessna 172 ZK-EOG was also used. Graeme notes, 
this hardly ever happened, however, if one of the twins was in for scheduled maintenance and the other twin had an urgent air ambulance flight for example, rather than inconvenience the customers, the Cessna 172 ZK-EOG was utilised. This occurred during March 1987. It should be appreciated that on the Palmerston North-Wellington run, load factors were very light, often just 1 - 3 passengers which is why Eagle Air’s Piper Chieftain couldn’t make a profit, with most people opting to drive their car.

Piper Twin Comanche, ZK-ECS, repainted at Palmerston North on 19 January 1986
Only the one passenger, so Cessna 172 ZK-EOG was used on the service to Wellington on 7 January 1987. Photo taken at Palmerston North

In early January 1987 the airline advised the Air Licensing Authority that the twice daily air schedule between Palmerston North and Wellington would be reduced to only operate on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays. Interestingly, the timetable had shown this from the 26th of July 1986.

Foxpine Air Charter timetable, effective 26 July 1986

Ultimately the service was not viable and the last scheduled service was flown on the 22nd May 1987 by 
Graeme Atchinson in PA39 Twin Comanche ZK-ECS. This aircraft is still flying now in Australia as VH-ICS. 

In August 1987 Foxpine Air Charter started Air River City and it was an Air River City service that lead to the company being grounded and its closure with the company The company being deregistered on the 15th of June 1993

So who was Noel Oxnam and why did he establish Foxpine Air Charter's service between Palmerston North and Wellington? Graeme gives a great insight into Noel Oxnam: You will note the service lasted about a year, perhaps he thought he would simply give it a go and why not... he definitely was a successful entrepreneur and had a mighty business empire. Flying, a passion of his. was simply another arm in his business. Perhaps it was a clever tax dodge - we will never know BUT what should be known is the following; Foxton around 1986 had a population of 1,000 people in the town and another 1,500 people at Foxton Beach. Of those in town he employed about half, the other half were employed by the Feltex Carpet Mill - well not quite half the town, there were shops and 7 hotels but you get the drift. He employed many grateful people and was a generous man with a kind heart. I liked him. The Foxpine empire it comprised of his own land growing radiata pine, huge leased areas also covered in radiata pine, his timber mill, Foxpine Hardware department and timber yard, his logging truck workshop for trucks, grader, tractor and other machinery. Foxpine Charcoal factory sold bags for BBQ, Foxpine sawdust and wood chips was sold to nearby poultry farms - nothing was wasted. Foxpine kiwifruit was managed by his son-in-law with kiwifruit grown down one side of the airfield. Located adjacent was the Foxpine piggery which supplied pork to the district marketed under the name Solari products. Foxpine Readymix Concrete and of course Foxpine Air Charter with its own 1,000 metre grass all weather airstrip with a stand of 80 ft high pine trees all down one side, with its own runway lighting system for night operations. Landing towards the west was intimidating at first as there was a stand high pine trees on the other side as well for a distance of about 200 metres so you learned to forget about them and just focus on the aim point and imaginary centreline! Set amongst the clumps of pine trees a little further along (it really was a beautiful setting) were many wooden hangars made from his timber - weather board fashion, with large wooden sliding doors and concrete floors. Incorporated into one very large hangar. used by Don Law for aircraft painting. was a bunkroom, kitchen, shower and toilet block. Another hangar enclosed an operations room and classroom for the Foxpine Flying School. In the weekends sport aircraft based on the airfield flew. The very beginnings of the World Class Omaka Airshow “Classic Fighters” can be traced to Foxpine Airfield with resident Stuart Tantrum dogfighting in his SE5A with Von Lanham in NZ’s first Fokker Triplane above the trenches of rural Foxton. I enviously watched those two do battle overhead and was grateful Stuart would allow me to fly his Tiger Moth ZK-ALX occasionally. While we had our weekend fun, Foxpine owner Noel Oxnam wearing his trademark uniform business shorts and shirt with long socks and sandals sporting an Amish style beard could be seen on his grader levelling the gravel roads or marking trees for pruning and thinning out. His house atop the only hill had grand views and I was privileged to mind their home when they went on family holidays in their large Bedford bus motor home towing a boat. Occasionally he and wife Nan and another couple who managed the charcoal factory would fly to Norfolk Island in the Twin Comanche.

People included :    
Graeme Atchinson (Chief Pilot)
Des Batten (Pilot)
P Christie (Pilot)
Clive Ocwell (Pilot)
Noel Oxnam (Owner/Pilot)

A huge thanks to Graeme Atchinson for his contribution to this post.


  1. A member of the Foxpine family is sadly deceased as result of a workplace forestry accident last week.

    1. And is still dearly missed