23 September 2020

The Death of Air New Zealand's last inter-Regional Route


I am somewhat surprised that the Hamilton and Palmerston North newspapers have failed to report on the cessation of the Air New Zealand service between the two centres... not that Air New Zealand has made much attempt to announce their withdrawal from the route.

The Hamilton-Palmerston North route was the last inter-regional route operated by the national carrier. All other domestic sectors operate either between the main centres or from regional centres to or from a main centre.

The Hamilton-Palmerston North service was introduced on the 27th of September 1948 and this was operated by Lockheed Electra aircraft. The first flight was flown in Electra ZK-AFD under the command of Commander R T Mounsey and Junior Commander  K B Fitton. Initially the southbound flight operated from Hamilton to Wellington direct and stopped at Palmerston North of the northbound flight. On the 22nd of October 1948, the National Airways Corporation's Lockheed Electra, ZK-AGK, Kaka, flown by Commander G. M. Hare, was on a flight from Palmerston North to Hamilton when it crashed on the western slope, of Mount Ruapehu. The crew of two and the 11 passengers were killed. 

On the 13th of June 1949 the Electras were replaced by the larger 15 seater Lockheed Lodestars. By 1952 the Lodestars had gone from the fleet and the Douglas DC-3s replaced them on flights between Hamilton and Palmerston North.

In 1966 40-seat Fokker Friendships replaced the DC-3s. The southbound service departed Hamilton at 8.05am for the 1 hour flight to Palmerston North. The flight then carried on to Christchurch. The afternoon service, having arrived from Christchurch, departed Palmerston North at 3.35pm.

As NAC acquired more Boeing 737s the Vickers Viscounts were released to the regional routes and from the 5th of March 1973 the Viscounts took over the Hamilton-Palmerston North-Christchurch route. By this time the Viscounts' days were numbered and from the 21st of July to the 30th of September 1974 there was an unusual addition to the aircraft that operated the Hamilton-Palmerston North route. This was in the form of a Mount Cook Airlines Hawker Siddeley 748 which was chartered to operate the Christchurch-Wellington-Palmerston North-Hamilton services. 

From the 1st of October 1974 NAC's Fokker Friendships took over the daily flight between the two centres and the Friendships continued to operate the NAC service until the 31st of March 1978 and then beyond with Air New Zealand  from the 1st of April 1978.

In August 1980 Air New Zealand announced its intention to trim some of its international and domestic schedules and abandon some routes altogether because of worsening economics. Included in these was the daily Auckland-Hamilton-Palmerston North-Wellington service. Figures given to the Air Services Licencing Authority showed that the Hamilton-Palmerston North service had an average of eight passengers a trip and lost $636,000 a year, and that an average of only 3.2 passengers boarded each Auckland-Hamilton flight for a loss of $625,000 a year. The Hamilton-Palmerston North sector reported revenue of $117,000 compared with costs of $812,700.

On the 16th of June 1980 Eagle Air, which had been operating its own air service between Hamilton and Palmerston North with a Beech Baron and Piper Chieftain, took Air New Zealand Fokker Friendship service between the two provincial services using an 18-seat Embraer Bandeirante. The new service, which also included Auckland and Wanganui, operated three flights a day. This was the beginning of the transformation of this route and turning it into a very profitable inter-regional route. Until the Eagle Air take over NAC and Air New Zealand had only operated a daily service with no thought to being suitable for business traffic. With Eagle Air's flights timed to suit business traffic the numbers using the service grew. 

On the 31st of October 1988 Air New Zealand took over ownership of Eagle Air. For some time the airline continued to operate in Eagle Air colours but from the 21st of May 1991 the Eagle fleet, along with Air Nelson’s fleet were rebranded as Air New Zealand Link.

With the take over by Air New Zealand Eagle Air the fleet was expanded to include 18-seat Fairchild Metroliners which were used between Hamilton and Palmerston North to replace the  Later the Bandeirantes and Metroliners were replaced Beech 1900s that Eagle Air operated for Air New Zealand.

For a time, an ATR 72 was used on the Palmerston North-Hamilton route, northbound only... The ATR 72 operated the service on a Friday night only. 

On the 26th of August 2016 Air New Zealand closed Eagle Air The final Eagle Air services were flown under the command of Captains Peter Reid and Chris Mortimer flying NZ2105 from Hamilton to Palmerston North, NZ2421 from Palmerston North to Wellington, NZ2426 from Wellington to Palmerston North and the final Eagle Air operated service, NZ2106 from Palmerston North to Hamilton.

On the 29th of August 2016 Air Nelson took over the Air New Zealand air service between Hamilton-and Palmerston North. Like Eagle Air before it the Bombardier Q300 left Hamilton early in the morning, had a brief stop in Palmerston North and then continued northbound. A northbound service operated from Wellington through Palmerston North to Hamilton after which the Q300 operated a direct flight to Wellington. The reverse pattern was operated in the afternoon/evening. The Q300 service proved incredibly popular with good loadings considering it upgraded from a twice daily 18-seat Beech 1900 service to a twice daily 50-seat Bombardier Q300 service. 

The Air New Zealand flights between Hamilton and Palmerston North operated until the 24th of March 2020 when the country was placed in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In recent days Air New Zealand has quietly stated their service will not resume.

Meanwhile Originair is positioning itself to commence a Palmerston North-Hamilton service. Sadly their schedule has no appeal for the business traffic which makes up the bulk of the traffic. It will be interesting to see if Originair looks to urgently improve their schedule. Otherwise the route remains ripe for the picking.


  1. I wonder if PMR-WLG route will exist ever again or just be like what HLZ-AKL is now nothing

  2. I can't see it... I think it is like AKL-HLZ - too close! Personally I think Originair needs to move fast... Have one doing HLZ-PMR-HLZ-NSN in the morning and reverse in the afternoon evening. A second J32 doing a NSN-PMR-NSN-TRG in the morning... reverse in the afternoon.

    So two flights a day from NSN and HLZ to PMR.

    Sounds Air could try a BHE-PMR... Or they could try PMR-WLG to connect to their NSN, BHE, and PCN flights BUT I think two fares added together wouldn't work

    1. I disagree honestly, WN to PM by road takes a long time especially during morning and evening commuting time. Especially on a smaller capacity Jetstream I believe the route would be profitable. At the very least I don't think the sector would fail to break even on a Jetstream.

    2. Why anyone would drive that route in peak time when there is a reliable and comfortable commuter train (the Capitol Connection) with food, beverage and wifi service to boot that does it in under 2 hours is mute. More relevant to a PMR-WLG route is that it is also way cheaper than Originair could ever charge. For that reason its even worse for an air connection than AKL-HLZ.

    3. That's true actually, I didn't take the train into account.

  3. Hi Steve, I'm a regular viewer of your blog and find what is written extremely interesting. As I left NZ in 2003 I enjoy keeping up to date with what's happening in "Kiwiland".
    I have just read your latest post about Air New Zealand withdrawing from the HLZ - PMR route.
    Forgive me for pointing out what seems to be a "typo" but I don't think it took 11 hours to fly from Hamilton to Palmerston North in a Friendship. Quote " departed Hamilton at 8.05am for the 11 hour flight to Palmerston North". Even my trusty Morris Minor did it quicker than that in 1966

  4. Thanks Kevin - much appreciated... I HATE proof reading so I am always grateful for typo corrections... but also info corrections, additions etc. Hope you are keeping safe beyond Kiwiland.

    1. Great work.

      You also missed "On the 31st of October 1988 Air New Zealand took over ownership of Air New Zealand."

  5. What surprises me is that they didn't learn from history and have the HLZ - PMR flights continue to CHC instead.

    Also the reason the papers didn't report the route closure is that Air NZ never officially announced it.

    1. There are direct HLZ-CHC now... In the past via PMR was a one plane service.

  6. Up until a few years ago there was a late Friday night ATR HLZ-PMR-CHC service. Departed around 8pm from memory. Only operated in the one direction, once a week