12 April 2020

Cargoair NZ - Hamilton's Horse Airline

The Waikato can boast some of the most prestigious stables for the national and international racing and blood-stock industry and it was the industry’s need for flights for horses to cross the Tasman that gave birth to Cargoair NZ. In 1996 some 1500 horses crossed the Tasman from Auckland and the new freight company hoped to benefit from this market. Cargoair was set up In the past horses have been flown across the Tasman only from Auckland, but the Cargoair manager, Colin Hunter, said it seemed viable to start transporting from an area with such strong equestrian interests. Mr Hunter said the Russian Antonov 12 plane was also equipped to carry a variety of cargo — including 1000 sheep. "We would also be in a position to transport adult ostriches if that market gets off the ground in New Zealand." The airline does not have a firm schedule yet, and will operate largely on demand, flying from Hamilton or any other inter-nationally adapted regional airport. Michael Kneebone, of Cambridge Thoroughbred Sales, said he was confident Cargoair would be supported by the industry.

After a 10-month feasibility study on the horse transporting market CargoAir NZ Ltd was established on the 14th of February 1997 by Colin Hunter and David Nielsen. The company chartered Antonov AN-12s and their Bulgarian air crew from Air Sofia. Each flight could accommodate up to 17 horses or up to 100 sheep. Colin Hunter said, "We would also be in a position to transport adult ostriches if that market gets off the ground in New Zealand." The flight time to Sydney in the Antonov was five hours. The plane wasn't pressurised, so it flew the Tasman at about 3700m (12,000 ft).

A first trial flight was operated on the 24th of February 1997 when five horses were flown from Hamilton to Sydney in chartered Antonov AN-12 LZ-SFG. On the 23rd the Antonov flew Brisbane to Hamilton and the following day it flew from Hamilton to Sydney. After landing in Sydney yesterday, the horses were unloaded and replaced with chewing tobacco bound for Lae in Papua New Guinea.

Air Sofia's Antonov AN-12 LZ-SFG at Hamilton in February 1997

On the 9th of July 1997 another Antonov AN-12, LZ-SFL, returned to Hamilton along with its 10 crew and staff. The Antonov, which was painted all white, had “Chartered by Cargoair NZ” titles. The NZ Herald reported that, The Antonov was trialled in the city in February by Cargo Air, which used to run a cargo service for Kiwi. The plane is back because all the sums looked good, the airport's future looked bright, and because of Hamilton's central location, said general manager Colin Hunter. He will shift his Bay of Plenty company's headquarters to Hamilton from next week when weekly services to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney will start. Cargo Air will also employ three bloodstock specialists. The Antonov can carry 19 horses. It has special pens for cows, pigs and sheep and can carry anything from "a chicken to an elephant", Mr Hunter said.

Cargoair NZ's Antonov AN-12 LZ-SFL at Hamilton on 23 July 1997 (above) and 31 July 1997 (below)

The first flight from Hamilton to Melbourne and Sydney was operated on the 17th of July. It returned to Hamilton the following day via Norfolk Island. Special freight flights were operated to Norfolk Island on a number of occasions. From the beginning of August to the end of November the Antonov made at least 14 more flights across the Tasman operating from both Hamilton and Christchurch. Australian destinations included Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane as well as Norfolk Island.

Cargoair NZ's Antonov AN-12 LZ-SFL loading horses at Christchurch on 2 October 1997

On the 27th of November 1997 it was announced that Cargo Air was to be put into voluntary liquidation owing around $300,000 after just nine months' business. The Cargoair liquidator, Tom Rodewald of Te Puke, said about 65 creditors, including 15 overseas firms, were owed what he described as a staggering amount of money by a company which had few if any assets. The main creditor was Air Sofia. Others owed money included airports, customs, air maintenance crew, road transport firms, graziers, lawyers, accountants and communications companies.

The Antonov finally departed New Zealand on the 5th of December 1997.

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