13 November 2022

Fast, Reliable, Modern, Comfortable Air Transport to the North - Northland Airways


Vincent "Roy" Draffin obtained his private pilot's licence in January 1954, and armed with a Commercial Pilot's Licence number 687, Roy applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority on the 17th of April 1957, to operate a scheduled passenger and freight services from Dargaville to Auckland's airports at Whenuapai and Mangere under the name of South Pacific Airways using a Cessna 182. The application was heard on the 8th of June 1957 and was refused by the Air Services Licencing Authority on the 1st of July 1957 with no reason given. 

Roy made a second application on the 21st of October 1957 made a similar application with the inclusion of Maungaturoto on the Dargaville-Auckland service but this was adjourned until such time as approval was given for South Pacific Airways to use Whenuapai. On the 3rd of January 1958 he wrote to the Minister of Civil Aviation indicating he wanted to fly into Whenuapai twice a day to connect with the morning and evening NAC flights. He also wanted approval to use Whenuapai, particularly since he had arranged for TEAL to do his maintenance at Whenuapai. Again, his application was unsuccessful.

In December 1958 a new Cessna 180 was imported and registered to Roy Draffin as ZK-BMT. It made its first flight in early 1959. Later that year Roy returned to the Air Services Licensing Authority seeking the transfer of an air service licence held by Aircraft Services (New Zealand) Limited. This company was primarily focused on topdressing, and it was happy to relinquish its air transport licence which allowed it to operate an Auster Aiglet on air charter services, excluding air taxi services, from Mangere.  The Auckland Aero Club and New Zealand Tourist Air Travel Limited objected to the granting of licence, but the Auckland Aero Club withdrew its objection subject to the applicant agreeing that its charges would not be less than those charged by the Club for similar services. 

In the course of the hearing, it emerged that Roy Draffin was also seeking a licence to operate a non-scheduled passenger and freight service between Mangere, Dargaville and Whangarei. The Authority informed him that a fresh application had to be made for this but granted Rent-A-Plane Services Ltd an air charter service from Mangere to any other licensed aerodrome in New Zealand on the 21st of October 1959 and noting that the applicant may not undertake scenic flights and joyrides. Rent-A-Plane were also not to undertake charters at a figure less than those charged by the Auckland Aero Club for similar services, except for the two proposed contractual charters of A.D. Organ Limited for the carriage of magazines and newspapers specifically referred to at the hearing, and any other contractual charters approved by the Authority, but as to these two contractual charters, and any other contractual charters so approved, the licence holder shall have the right to pick up passengers and/or freight on his return journey from the final delivery point directly back to the aerodrome of origin designated in the licence, provided however that where over a route of the National Airways Corporation the charge for passengers shall be 10 per cent above National Airways Corporation charges. 

The Authority's decision said,  It was shown that the applicant has been using and has paid for a Cessna 180 aircraft which was purchased in December last and that there are sufficient funds in the proposed company to enable it to operate, this in view especially of the fact that two substantial contracts will be available immediately on the approval of the transfer. Further, other prospective business appears to be reasonably well assured, and the evidence indicates that since he has been conducting work on a gratuitous basis Mr Draffin should be well able to operate a satisfactory service. Altogether there would seem to be no reason why, with prudent management, the venture should not be successful. We consider, therefore, that the transfer should be approved, a Cessna 180 to be substituted for the Auster Aiglet. 

With his licence approved Roy Draffin, who was 27 at the time, established Rent-a-Plane Services (NZ) Ltd on the 30th of October 1959 with a capital of £5,300. Rent-a-Plane Services began operating on the 1st of November 1959 initially operating as an air charter operator using Mangere as his base. The company was given a temporary licence to operate Piper PA23 Apache ZK-BLP on the 18th of November 1959.

Rent-A-Plane Services' Cessna 180 ZK-BMT at Mangere

The company later returned to the Air Services Licencing Authority and sought approval for non-scheduled. Rent-A-Plane's licence was amended on the 8th of March 1960 with the addition to their licence allowing the company to operate "non-scheduled passenger and freight services between Auckland, Dargaville and Whangarei. Services, which operated under the name "Northland Airways', began on the 4th of April 1960 with Roy Draffin flying two passengers being flown from Whangarei to Auckland in the Piper Apache, ZK-BLP. Northland Airways also used the Cessna 180 ZK-BMT on its services. While the company used Mangere as its Auckland base, it stopped at Whenuapai if passengers needed to connect with either National Airways Corporation or Bay of Plenty Airways’ flights from Whenuapai.

Rent-A-Plane Services' Cessna 180 ZK-BMT at Mangere

Piper PA23-160 Apache ZK-BLP was leased from Henry Buchanan of Haast. The Air Services Licensing Authority placed a condition that the Apache and the Cessna 180 were not permitted to operate at the same time. To this end the Apache operated two return flights between Auckland and Whangarei on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Apache was configured to carry four passengers and flights left Auckland at 8.00am and 4.00pm and the return flights departed from Whangarei at 8.50am and 4.50pm. The fare each way was £2 19s 6d. At the time NAC was operating four de Havilland Dominie flights a day between Auckland and Whangarei. Northland Airways provided the earliest morning service and latest afternoon between the two centres. Northland Airways was also quicker the Apache taking only minutes compared to the Dominie's 50 minutes from Whenuapai. 

A couple of photos of Piper PA23 Apache ZK-BLP, both taken at Mangere. The Apache was used by Northland Airways for its services to Whangarei. 

Northern Advocate, 5 April 1960

Between Auckland and Dargaville, Northland Airways planned to use Cessna 180 ZK-BMT carrying three passengers. Initially flights were to operate twice weekly, with Monday flights departing Auckland at 9.30am and from Dargaville for the return flight at 10.20am and on Fridays, the flight departed Auckland at 2.30pm and from Dargaville for the return flight at 3.20pm. One return flight will be made on two days a week. The fare was £3 7s 6d each way. Despite serving Dargaville being Roy Draffin's original intention there was not a lot of response and the first flight into Dargaville was not flown until the 18th of April carrying one passenger and no one on the return flight. This was the only flight to Dargaville for the month.

Northland Times, 4 April 1960

In addition to these regular non-scheduled flights Northland Airways also had a regular contractor carrying the racing guide "Best Bets" and other books of the Best Bet's publisher, A.D. Organ Ltd. On Tuesdays a freight flight left Auckland's Mangere aerodrome and flew south through New Plymouth, Hawera, Wanganui and Palmerston North to Wellington. The aircraft then returned either direct or via New Plymouth to Mangere.

The airline's Dargaville timetable changed from the 1st of May 1960. On Mondays the Cessna departed Auckland at 11.00am to arrive at Dargaville at 11.35am. The return flight left Dargaville at noon to arrive in Auckland at 12.35pm. The Friday return flight was replaced by two return flights on Thursdays. The morning flight left Auckland at 8.00am to arrive at Dargaville at 8.35am. The return flight left Dargaville at 9.00am to arrive in Auckland at 9.40am. In the afternoon the flight left Auckland at 4.00pm to arrive at Dargaville at 4.35pm. The return flight left Dargaville at 4.45pm to arrive in Auckland at 5.20pm.

Fast, Reliable, Modern, Comfortable Air Transport, Northland Airways' timetable effective 1 May 1960

Northland Airways' timetable, effective 1 May 1960

On the 24th of May 1960 the New Zealand Herald reported that not one of Northland Airways' 38 scheduled services between Mangere and Whangarei were cancelled whereas NAC, which operated a Dominie from Whenuapai to Whangarei had reported the cancellation of 10 to 12% flights in the previous three months. Draffin suggested this was because Mangere often had more favourable weather. 

By the end of June Northland Airways had flown 143 passengers with most flights being flown to Whangarei and only four being operated to Dargaville. The Apache had ceased service by September.

From the beginning of the air service Northland Airways had been seeking approval to use Whenuapai not only as a stopping point but also as its Auckland base rather than Mangere. At this time Whenuapai, as well as being an air force base, was Auckland's airport. Operating there offered Northland Airways maintenance, meteorological and terminal facilities and at the same time allowed connections to and from NAC and Bay of Plenty Airways' flights. Roy Draffin, in making his appeal to use Whenuapai as the Auckland based argued There is very limited refuelling facilities at Mangere and only then at additional surcharge of 5/-. There is no tarmac at Mangere we can use. Passengers have to walk through mud to reach aircraft and there is no shelter for passengers in wet weather, no refreshment facilities at all and no conveniences for passengers. Whenuapai also offered better ground transport options to the Auckland city but the big advantage for Northland Airways was that it would save 33% extra running cost in not having to overfly Whenuapai to Mangere, especially when Air Traffic Control diverted their flights miles off course to avoid Whenuapai traffic, which would be entirely eliminated operating from Whenuapai.

On the 18th of July Roy Draffin wrote to the Deputy Director of Civil Aviation as part of the company's desire to use Whenuapai as its base. He stated that our figures show since commencing operations on the 1st of April of this year that we have made 55 flights to Whangarei and carried 163 passengers. Of the total number of flights 18 have been to Whenuapai with 34 passengers for connections with other air services. 

After months of lobbying the Director of Civil Aviation wrote to the Minister of Civil Aviation on the 2nd of August 1960 recommending that Northland Airways be permitted to use Whenuapai as their Auckland base. This was conveyed to Roy Draffin on the 22nd of August but with conditions... that Rent-a--Plane Services (N.Z.) Ltd...
1. Will be permitted to use Whenuapai Aerodrome as a terminal but not as an operating base. In this connection it is understood that Rent-a-Plane Services will wish to use Ardmore as a base when this airfield is cleared for use. 
2. That no space can or will be made available in the Whenuapai Terminal Building for your specific use. 
3. That no additional buildings or facilities will be permitted to be erected for your Company's use at Whenuapai. 
4. That when Stage 1 of the new Mangere Airport is completed and in operation, the Whenuapai licence for civil aircraft will be withdrawn or amended and your operation will have to be transferred to Ardmore. Connecting flights with scheduled movements may be possible, but this matter will be reviewed in the light of experience. 
5. That the standard operating conditions for light non-scheduled aircraft using Whenuapai will apply. 
6. That the parking of your aircraft. at Whenuapai will be confined to the area south of the T.E.A.L. hangar. 

The change to Whenuapai began in October 1960. The timetable alterations allowed a longer day in Auckland for Whangarei travellers. About the same time as this decision was given it was announced that the company had also applied to the Air Services Licensing Authority for a licence to extend its operations to serve Kaitaia. Northland Airways proposed a twice daily return service from Whangarei with the Piper Apache leaving Whangarei at 7.00am to arrive at Kaitaia at 7.30am The aircraft would them leave Kaitaia at 7.45am to arrive at Whangarei at 8.20am and Auckland at 9.00am In the afternoon the flight would leave Auckland at 3.00pm to arrive at Whangarei at 3.30pm and Kaitaia at 4.15pm The plane would depart at 4.30pm to arrive back at Whangarei at 5.00pm and Auckland at 5.40pm The final flight home to Whangarei would arrive back at 6.20pm.

On the 8th of January 1961 the Air Services Licensing Authority approved the amendment of Air Service Licence No. 254 to include (a) a non-scheduled passenger and freight service between Whangarei, Kaikohe, Kerikeri, Kaitaia, Dargaville and (b) and air charter and air taxi service from Whangarei, Kaikohe, Kerikeri, Kaitaia and Dargaville.

The extended northern services finally started on the 23rd of January 1961.

On Mondays and Fridays, the Cessna 180 departed Auckland at 7.45am to arrive at Whangarei at 8.20am, Kaikohe and 8.50am and Kaitaia at 9.10am. The return flight left Kaitaia at 9.15am, Kaikohe 9.35am and Whangarei at 10.05am to arrive at Auckland on 10.40am.

An afternoon service was offered Monday to Saturday. This left Auckland at 3.00pm to arrive at Whangarei at 3.35pm, Kaikohe at 4.05pm and Kaitaia at 4.30pm. On Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays a return flight to Auckland left Kaitaia at 4.40pm, Kaikohe 5.10pm and Whangarei at 5.40pm to arrive at Auckland on 6.10pm. The Monday return flight to Auckland enabled the Tuesday Best Bets flight to operate south to Wellington and then be back in Auckland to operate the afternoon northbound service.

On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings the Cessna 180 overnighted at Kaitaia and this enabled a morning flight to Auckland that left Kaitaia at 7.30am, Kaikohe 7.50am and Whangarei at 8.30am to arrive at Auckland on 9.05am. This meant a Kaitaia passenger could leave home at 7.00am, catch the 7.30am flight, connect with NAC at Whenuapai, and be in Invercargill the same day. 

Carrying both Northland Airways and Rent-A-Plane Services' titles, Cessna 180 ZK-BMT at Whenuapai in 1961. Note the destinations served on the tail.

As the Cessna 180 was only a three seater it landed as needed to pick up and drop off passengers. The company was also intending build an airstrip at Paihia.

Northland Age 17 January 1961

At the time Northland Airways commenced operations NAC was operating an Auckland-Kaikohe-Kaitaia Douglas DC-3 service with the flight departing Auckland at 12.40pm to arrive at Kaikohe at 1.30pm and Kaitaia at 2.10pm. The return service departed Kaitaia at 2.30pm and Kaikohe at 3.10pm to arrive at Auckland at 4.00pm thus making the Northland Airways service much more conducive for business traffic. 

Northland Airways' timetable effective 16 January 1961

In the year ending the 31st of March 1961 Roy Draffin flew 933 passengers on his charter and air taxi services and 382 people on local services. In the period from the 1st of April to August 1961 514 passengers were flown on his charter and air taxi services. 

On the 3rd of October 1961 Roy Draffin operated the Cessna 180 ZK-BMT south to Wellington on its Best Bets flight. On his return flight to Whenuapai via New Plymouth he was advised of bad weather enroute. The pilot elected to bypass New Plymouth and track direct to Whenuapai. His last reporting call was 5 miles west of Raglan at 1,500 feet. The Northland Times reported that farmers wife from Te Akau, north of Raglan, was reading the paper just after 6pm when she heard a plane flying so low that she thought it was going to hit the house. She heard two explosions and then the planes motor revved hard. "I ran down to the woolshed a 100 yards from the house and told my husband who had been mustering sheep for shearing. He resaddled his horse and galloped off". He found fiercely burning Cessna plane which had crashed in thick fog. Later in the night two policemen from Hamilton and one from Raglan climbed the hill in bitter cold and found smouldering wreckage strewn about. Constable Michael Pellow, Hamilton, spent an all-night vigil by the wreckage. Roy was only 29 at the time.

John Stokes of Midland Air Services continued to operate the service for two or three weeks after the accident to carry booked passengers before the company's Northland air service ended. 

In December 1961 the Air Services Licensing Authority was advised that the Company was endeavouring to make arrangements to continue the services authorised. However, the estate experienced great difficulties as was but to be expected in view of the fact that the aircraft had been lost. 

In his April 1962 accident report, the Chief Inspector of Accidents, Mr O J O'Brien said, “Draffin's attitude to poor weather and his approach towards his responsibilities as a pilot in general may perhaps be judged by consideration of a series of incident reports taken from his personal file held by the Civil Aviation Administration.” Then report then cited seven instances of unsatisfactory pilot behaviour between the 5th of July 1960 and the 8th of August 1961 that led to the suspension of his commercial licence for 14 days from the 10th of August 1961 and an interview with the Director of Civil Aviation during which he had been told a much higher standard of airmanship would be required. “Furthermore, he was told in so many words that if he continued to operate in his present manner he would certainly be killed.” After this interview the licence was reinstated on August 14. “The accident,” said Mr O’Brien, “was caused by the pilot’s imprudent decision to continue a flight (rather than abandon it by making for an alternative aerodrome) by entering weather incompatible with visual flight rules, with the result that the aircraft flew off-course and collided with a ridge totally obscured by cloud."

Roy Draffin's father spent much time and incurred great expense in clearing his son's name in connection with the accident, and after prolonged investigation and efforts did so. In June 1962, on the direction of the Minister of Civil Aviation Mr McAlpine, the printed report of the circumstances of Roy Draffin's crash was officially withdrawn, "because the investigation by the Chief Inspector of Accidents cannot yet be legally considered complete. The withdrawal of the report was the result of a Crown Law Office ruling on the interpretation of Regulation 10 (3) of the Civil Aviation (Investigation of Accidents) Regulations, 1953. This regulation provides that where any degree of responsibility may be attributed to any person, he or his legal personal representatives shall be permitted to make a statement or give evidence, to produce witnesses, and to examine any witnesses from whose evidence it appears he may be blameworthy. The ruling means that until this provision has been complied with, no investigation into the circumstances of an accident can be deemed to be complete. The legal personal representatives of the pilot have now advised that they wish to invoke Regulation 10 (3). The report, printed and published in April 1961 was therefore withdrawn by the Minister’s order.

Meanwhile, failing the availability of funds for the purchase of a new aircraft, steps were taken to dispose of the shares in the company. In November of 1963 an application to transfer the total shareholding to the Auckland Flying School above was duly submitted to the Authority and approved. On the 24th of March 1964 the Auckland Flying School incorporated a new company, Executive Air Travel Ltd, to take over Rent-A-Plane Services' air charter business. This new company was to resurrect the air service and operate it under the name Northern Airways. 

This post concludes my series of posts on air services that have operated through Dargaville. An index to the profiles of other service can be found... here  http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2012/11/dargaville-index-of-posts.html

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