14 February 2021

Tauranga Aero Club's Air Taxi Activities


The Tauranga Aero & Gliding Club was formed in 1932 in the Tauranga Borough Council Chambers. Amongst those present was Mrs Hewlett – the first woman pilot to hold a licence in the British Empire. Addressed by Captain Blake, it was concluded and moved that an Aero Club be formed in Tauranga and a the new committee was headed by Mrs Hewlett. Things moved slowly and it was not until after the Second World War that the Aero Club obtained its first aircraft, two de Havilland Tiger Moths, ZK-AJT and ZK-AJU.

The Tauranga Aero Club's first De Havilland Tiger Moth, ZK-AJT at Tauranga

The Tauranga Aero Club logo, 1947 to the late 1950s

On the 4th of October 1946 Waco UIC ZK-ALG was registered to the Tauranga Aero Club. This aircraft had an enclosed cabin and it enabled it to be used for air charter and air ambulance work. From the 30th of January 1950 the Waco operated a short-lived air feeder service from Opotiki to Tauranga on behalf of the from Opotiki Aero Club to connect with NAC services.  The Waco was with the Club for ten years before being sold in January 1956. 

A couple of photos of the Tauranga Aero Club's Waco UIC ZK-ALG. The photo above is taken at Tauranga.

Walter S Bell's history of the Tauranga Aero Club records the beginnings of the Aero Club's involvement with Motiti Island. Shortly after the purchase of the Waco, resulting from Mr J Paterson of Motiti Island writing to the Bay of Plenty Times, Mr Ron Graham flew a Tiger Moth to the Island. Mr Paterson farmed on the island and thought aircraft might prove the most convenient means of access for his family and the Maori population. This was proven correct and one of Mr Paterson's paddocks was an adequate landing strip. Tiger Moths were to become busily engaged in ferrying freight and passengers to and from Motiti Island. This service (laters to be extended to include Matakana Island) probably helped more than any other single factor towards getting Tauranga Aero Club on its feet.

The replacement for the Waco, which was not used on the Motiti Island flights, was de Havilland DH.83C Fox Moth ZK-AQB. This was used by the Club on flights to Motiti Island until it was sold in April 1959 to John Paterson of Motiti Island. He had had his own Tiger Moth, ZK-BBK, for a few years and this was sold to the Aero Club at about the same time as he purchased the Fox Moth. In January 1961 he sold ZK-AQB to his brother Bill Paterson and he used the Fox Moth for many years as to move all manner of goods and people from Tauranga to the farm on Motiti Island. The Fox Moth had an unfortunate end. On the 28th of June 1972 the Fox Moth was on a flight from Motiti Island to Tauranga. Just after take off the aircraft lost power. The pilot elected to return to Motiti and then the engine stopped completely. The aircraft ditched into the sea some 400 to 500 metres off shore. The pilot and his passenger managed to get ashore.

DH 83 Fox Moth ZK-AQB in its home hangar while with the Tauranga Aero Club.

At various times the Aero Club branded the commercial air taxi activities in different ways with earlier aircraft carrying "Tauranga Air Taxi" titles and later "Tauranga Aerial Charter" titles.

Tauranga Aerial Charter's Cessna 172 ZK-CSY at Tauranga

The Club continued to be the sole commercial operator to Motiti Island. The 1969 White's Air Directory record that the Club was operating a Cessna 180, for freight only, while the 1971 edition records Tauranga Aerial Charter using a Cessna 185.

On the 4th of October 1971 the Tauranga Aero Club introduced a regular early morning flight to Auckland to connect with outgoing and incoming international and internal flights. Announcing the club’s decision to begin the service in the NZ Herald the week before, the club vice-president and publicity officer, Mr W Bell, said that there had been a consistent demand for connecting charter flights. The service would be on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and would leave Tauranga at 6.55 am arriving at Auckland at 7.40am leaving for the return flight at 8.30am and touching down at Tauranga again at 9.15am. “The flights will run on the basis of a non-scheduled air taxi service,” said Mr Bell. “They will fly to a timetable but will not leave if no passengers are offering.” The club’s new Piper Cherokee 180, with sophisticated instruments, will be used on the service. At this time NAC's morning flight from Tauranga to Auckland began they day in Gisborne stopping at Whakatane before arriving at Tauranga to depart at 8.50am arriving in Auckland at 9.30am. This was late for local business people so the service created a reasonable level of patronage. 

Piper Cherokee 180 ZK-DEN which was used on the Auckland air taxi service. Photo taken at Ardmore.

The Aero Club's "new Piper Cherokee 180, with sophisticated instruments" was ZK-DEN. Unfortunately, on the 1st of November 1973 this aircraft was destroyed when it hit cloud covered terrain near Whakamaru, between Taupo and Tokoroa while it was doing other flying. The pilot and passenger were sadly both killed. The air taxi service to Auckland lapsed sometime after this. 

Some eighteen months later it was restarted. On the 3rd of November 1975 the service resumed, again operating on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday service. While the Aero Club's Cessna 206 ZK-DWV was the main aircraft used for this air taxi service, it was Geyserland Airway's Cessna 206 ZK-DKB that flew the first flight. The flights followed the same schedule as the earlier service with the addition of a Friday afternoon service that left Tauranga at 3.45pm to arrive Auckland at 4.30pm with the return service leaving at 4.45pm to arrive back at Tauranga at 5.30pm. 

Cessna 206 ZK-DWV was used for the second attempt at the Auckland air taxi service. Photo taken at Timaru on 13 March 1976

The service clearly grew and by the end of 1977 was running five days a week. In the December/January 1978 issue of NZ Wings reported that the Tauranga Aero Club has traded in Skyhawk ZK-DSI on a new Skyhawk ZK-EJT, which will be used on the club's five times weekly air taxi service from Tauranga to Auckland International. Arriving at Auckland shortly after 0730, the flights are designed to let passengers connect with flights for Sydney and the US, and also with an early morning NAC service to Wellington and a Whangarei air taxi service. Demand at times for these flights from Tauranga has been so great that the club has had to put three light aircraft on the 45 minute run. Efforts are now being made through the travel industry to promote the service to achieve a more consistent patronage. 

The changing of the 172s…  The old Cessna 172 ZK-DSI at Palmerston North on 13 March 1976

and the new Cessna 172 ZK-EJT at Tauranga on 16 May 1980 

In September 1980 the Aero Club bought out Pegasus School of Aviation Ltd. This operator was also involved in training and charter work from Tauranga. The fleet was subsumed into the Aero Club but the charter fleet, which included at that time Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-DEF and Piper Aztec ZK-DJG remained known as Pegasus Aviation. 

At some point the air taxi service to Auckland ended. Meanwhile, over the years, the Tauranga Aero Club continued to operate regular flights to Motiti Island with a variety of aircraft types. In November 1992 the Tauranga Aero Club acquired Cessna U206F Stationair ZK-TAM and this used was on the Club’s Tauranga-Motiti service from the 19th of December 1992. Facing competition from Island Air Charter the Club sold the Cessna 206 in December 1995 and this effectively marked the end of the Aero Club's air taxi operations. 

The end of the air taxi fleet. The Tauranga Aero Club's Cessna 206 ZK-TAM at Tauranga on 18 December 1993.

The Club did, however, and does continue to operate charter flights to Motiti Island as required. For some years in the 2010s these operated under Sunair's licence but once again the Club operates these under their own licence.  These are usually operated by the Club's Cessna 172 aircraft.

Tauranga Aero Club's Cessna 172 ZK-TAB at Tauranga on 21 April 2019

The Tauranga Aero Club continues to be a very active user of Tauranga airport offering a full range of training services of recreational pilots who want to attain their Private Pilot Licence and those who want their Commercial Pilots Licence and Instructor Rating. The Club also offers hire of its aircraft for members.

1 comment:

  1. Great read.
    My parents were involved with Tga aeroclub. I went solo their myself.