08 November 2020

Air Coromandel - The Small Friendly Airline Serving the Beautiful Coromandel Peninsula

Air Coromandel was established as the successor to the Coromandel Peninsula’s pioneering air services operated by Midland Air Services and in particular to the service operated by the Mercury Bay Aero Club. 

On the 9th of October 1986 Air Services Whitianga Ltd was to take over the air charter and airline section of the Mercury Bay Aero Club Inc. which had been operating as Mercury Airlines. The new company, which was to trade under the name Air Coromandel, was going to continue the twice daily air service operated from Whitianga to Auckland, calling at Ardmore Matarangi, Coromandel, Pauanui and Thames as required.  

In the new company’s prospectus, the directors, J S Bisley, A J Renner, E J Leadley and J H Stephenson, stated that with good administration and financial management, the air charter and airline passenger and freight revenue could be expanded. The prospectus said that 127,500 $1 shares would be issued to the Mercury Bay Aero Club for the purchase of Cessna 207 ZK-DXT and Cessna 172 ZK-JAZ. Over 50 other shareholders, mainly locals, invested in the establishment of the airline.

Air Coromandel's Cessna 207 ZK-DXT at Hamilton on 5 March 1988

Air Coromandel Cessna 172 ZK-JAZ at Ardmore on 23 September 1988

The new company’s prospectus also announced it had plans for a terminal to be built and an application was made for a licence to operate rental cars and a minibus to provide a ground service to compliment the air service. Meanwhile, the Mercury Bay Aero Club would continue its normal aero club activities, and withdraw from commercial operations, except at the request of the new company.

From the date on the timetable, the takeover seems to have taken over on the 1st of November 1986 and the first timetable indicates that in addition to the Auckland flights twice weekly flights were offered between Whitianga and Hamilton calling at Thames as required. The Hamilton flights did not survive beyond the summer and were not operated again. 

Air Coromandel's first timetable, effective 1 November 1986

The air service to Whitianga traditionally did very well during the summer months but struggled over the lean winter months. This pattern was intensified with the 1987 financial collapse. Nonetheless the Whitianga-Auckland normally operated twice daily, though in winter only a Saturday morning service and a Sunday afternoon service were operated rather than two flights on each day.

Scenic flights were also popular from both Whitianga and Pauanui. These included flight over Cathedral Cove, Mercury Bay, the Pinnacles and up to Port Jackson.

With things looking more positive the company leased GAF N22C Nomad ZK-SNZ for the 1988-89 summer. The airline’s Nomad operations got off to a bad start when it made a wheels up landing at Whenuapai on the 5th of November 1988 while it was being used for parachuting.

The trouble-maker, GAF N22 Nomad ZK-SNZ at Whitianga on 20 October 1988

Air Coromandel's timetable for the 1988/89 summer

From the 5th of December 1988 Air Services (Whitianga) Ltd also tried to break into the Auckland-Great Barrier Island air service market operating under Nomad using the name Gulf Air. See http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/08/quiet-coming-and-going-of-gulf-air.html

On the 29th of December 1988 Cessna 172 ZK-EKD, which Air Coromandel was leasing from the Mercury Bay Aero Club ditched into the sea at Hot Water Beach. The aircraft was being used to search for a lost swimmer when its engine failed and the plane ditched about 350m offshore. No one was hurt the incident.

While the Nomad had been leased to expand the Whitianga service and enter into the Great Barrier Island market proved to be an expensive mistake leaving a massive financial liability. In October 1989, however, Air Coromandel was in financial trouble. The company lost $94,000 in the 1988-89 financial year and shareholders' funds were reduced from $204,000 to $59,000. At the company's annual meeting the chairman, Mr Bob Norton, described the airline as "a cause which appears to have been lost." Shareholders voted to scale down the airline's operation with a view to calling a special general meeting to assess the viability of its long-term operation. As part of its restructuring the company announced its intention to sell its Cessna 207, ZK-DXT, to clear its accumulated debts of $145,000. While the immediate intention was to sell the Cessna 207 it remained for a time while discussions continued with a new investor and the airline continued operations with it and Cessna 172 EJU which was hired from the Mercury Bay Aero Club. 

On the 1st of December 1989 a Pauanui tourist lodge owner Rainer Hoehn bought the 60 per cent shareholding owned by Mercury Bay Aero Club giving him a controlling interest in Air Coromandel. The deal saw the sale of the Club’s 127,500 shares at 10 cents each. The airline continued to operate with Piper Aztec ZK-FHO being lease from Rainer Hoehn’s Pauanui Air Services Ltd. He told the NZ Herald that, the tiny airline — with three employees and three aircraft — was at the point of closing down because of loss of patronage, revenue and "internal problems." Mr Hoehn said that two years ago the airline was flying 1500 hours a year and now it was down to 700 hours. He wanted to recapture that market by offering attractive fares and first-class services.

In July 1990 the Cessna 207 ZK-DXT was sold and in August 1990 Air Coromandel leased Britten-Norman BN2A-26 Islander ZK-FWH for the Auckland service joining three other leased aircraft, Piper Aztec ZK-FHO, Cessna 206 ZK-FJH and Cessna 172 ZK-EJU.

BN Islander ZK-FWH at Ardmore on 29 September 1991

In late 1990 Urs Meier, Air Coromandel’s chief pilot told NZ Wings, "Patronage dropped off in the 1970s as fuel prices rose, but Whitianga hasn't really recovered since the October 1987 crash. Local patronage is slowly increasing and last winter was 22 percent up on 1989, but we carry mostly tourists, especially in summer."  However, the traffic was not enough to sustain the Islander which was removed the fleet before the 1991 winter.

Later in 1990 Rainer Hoehn sold his shareholding in Air Services Whitianga Ltd to Roy Broughton and Les Sampson who operated Hibiscus Air Services based at Ardmore. When Roy Broughton was killed at Franz Josef in the Nomad in October 1993, Les Sampson continued to run the company. 

While the airline was under this ownership a variety of aircraft were used including, Aero Commander 500 ZK-CWP, Cessna 172 ZK-EJU, Cessna 206s ZK-FJH and ZK-RPG, Australian-registered Cessna 337 Super Skymaster VH-ROY, GAF Nomad ZK-NOM, Partenavia P68B ZK-PLA, Piper Aztec ZK-CUS, Piper Cherokee ZK-CNQ as well as Britten-Norman Islander ZK-FWH returning to the fleet on a regular basis over a number of years. 

Air Coromandel's 1992 winter timetable. Note the comment that "We are not a scheduled airline"

Aero Commander 500 ZK-CWP at Nelson on 18 April 1992

The Australian Coromandel airliner, Cessna 337 VH-ROY at Auckland on 11 July 1993

Air Coromandel's GAF N22 Nomad ZK-NOM at Ardmore on 16 February 1993

Air Coromandel's Piper Cherokee ZK-CNQ at Ardmore on 14 December 1993

Air Coromandel's Piper Aztec ZK-CUS at Hamilton on 25 March 1995

In a move away from the Coromandel Peninsula during the winter of 1993 Air Coromandel was offering skifield flights from Ardmore to the Chateau on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

NZ Herald, 15 June 1993

NZ Herald, 3 March 1993

In 1995 Great Barrier Airlines Flight Operations Ltd bought a controlling shareholding of Air Coromandel. At this time Air Coromandel was operating a Cessna 172 and a Partenavia and had the sole commercial flying rights to Whitianga. Great Barrier Airlines’ Mark Roberts said, "Whitianga has a great positive feeling and a potential that's undeveloped and still to be realised. It was a strategic move and tied up the centre of operations. We now operate to all the holiday destinations between Rotorua and the Bay of Islands in our route structure, and Whitianga is also a good base for training and pilot checks."

NZ Herald, 10 October 1995

From 1995 Air Coromandel branding and services appeared in Great Barrier Airlines’ timetables. The mainstays of the air service were Cessna 172s ZK-DOL and ZK-EJU and Partenavia ZK-PLA but Great Barrier Airlines’ aircraft were also used to operate their services. Over time however the Air Coromandel branding was dropped from the Great Barrier timetables and aircraft during and had completely disappeared by 1999.

Cessna 172 ZK-DOL at Ardmore on 15 September 1996

Cessna 172 ZK-EJU, carrying both Air Coromandel and Mercury Bay Aero Club titles, at Whitianga on 30 August 1993

The Air Coromandel timetable, ca 1997, with associated airline Great Barrier Airlines branding.


  1. Another very well researched and presented account of one of the Coromandel’s small airlines, adding another example of aviation and social history to the other histories of the region you have compiled. Congratulations.

  2. Never ceases to amaze the amount of research put in to produce these articles. Kudos!