31 January 2023

Sealed Runway Essential

After the weather we have had this summer, and particularly last Friday, the fragility of our roading network has been revealed. With the indefinite closure of SH25A between Whitianga and Auckland people travelling to or from Whitianga face a much longer journey. Ideally Barrier Air's new air service would provide a real bonus for the Whitianga community - and it will - but it would be much better if Whitianga had a sealed runway... Now locals are calling for urgent action. This from the Mercury Bay Informer last week...

We have had some of the “most shocking weather” on record and the situation of Whitianga’s isolation has never been more dire and more evident. Not just for the access to our resort community for holiday goers, and by default, our hospitality industry, but also for supplies, freight, medical emergencies, resident access and much more. As Grant Bacon CEO of Barrier Air says, “The last couple of weeks has categorically proved that the need for a weather-proof runway at the Mercury Bay Aero Club has never been more important”. Evan Wheeler, President of the Mercury Bay Aero Club, which owns and maintains the dual landing strips concurs. Evan cites the last 12 months as being exceptional in the almost 75-year history of the Club. Prior to 2021, the landing strips were closed, ma ybe an average of three to four days in any year. In 2022, as a result of the 95 consecutive days of summer drought in 2020, which took a grave toll on the health of the grass landscaping of the runways, the incessant rains of 2022 have decimated the patchy runways resulting in their closures for around 30 days in 2022 and so far, five days at the start of 2023. Everyone agrees that the weather in the past several months in this area has indeed been exceptional. The question is, how long will this weather pattern last? Truth is, nobody really knows, and really the question is, in the absence of dependable roading, how can we weather-proof our air services so that we do not continue to risk utter isolation? We need an all-weather solution for the runways. With our growing population in the area, now is the time to do something constructive about the issue. The good news is that we now have a viable and consistent air service to our community from the Auckland airport, which has been successful and well-supported by visitors and locals alike. What is different about the Barrier Air service is the regular schedule of flights, enabled by the carrier’s commitment to instrument flying (IFR) as opposed to visual flying (VFR). This, combined with Barrier’s investment in the larger 14-seater Cessna Grand Caravan fleet of utility aircraft, has been a game-changer for air services to our area.  Grant Bacon adds that even though the company has had some difficulties with the closures of the runways, needing to invest in their Whiti City Taxi shuttle alternatives for around 8% of their flights over the last six months, Barrier Air is still incredibly happy with the strong performance and support for their Whitianga business, which continues to grow. He reports a 150% growth year on year from Dec-Jan FY 2022 and is totally optimistic about the future. Grant adds that what will cement the future of the Barrier Air operation, as well as other future entrants, is to have an all-year weatherproof landing strip right here in Mercury Bay. Lynda Grant, Chair of the Mercury Bay Business Association, says that such a development will grow business year-round for Mercury Bay. Actually, this has already happened as Mercury Bay is one of the few areas in NZ moving ahead, and hopefully we can keep that momentum going. She says, such a scenario would mean that businesses and their staff and/or suppliers could fly in and out at will. More people could permanently reside here, working from home for their companies in other cities and countries. We might even have better freighting options for imports and exports to the Mercury Bay area, and of course, we would attract more tourists. “Whitianga could become more of a key tourist destination and commuting hub. These people spend money, ” adds Lynda, “ and tell others.” Evan Wheeler and the Aero Club are on board 100%. They see an all-weather landing strip as a beneficial community asset and the club want to make it a reality. As the owners of the land, they are costing out a feasibility study to work out the best options. However, there are a couple of issues that need to be sorted through. Geologically speaking, the project is not a straightforward one. A major issue is the water table under the Aero Club landing strips, which is only around one metre below the surface, and necessitates some major earthworks and engineering to stabilise a sealed runway. Such a project will require at least a metre depth of shingle under the runway which is 10 metres wide and a kilometre long. This means a lot of dirt needs to be removed and this triggers a more elaborate consent process with the Waikato Regional Council. The feasibility study will cost this out with all the options, but with a potential budget for the project of between 3 to 7 million dollars, depending on paving options taken, this is way above the means of the small, incorporated society. Meanwhile the club has worked to improve the drainage for the two runways and is in the second year of a project to reseed the runways with grass. Grant Bacon from Barrier Air commends the club for doing such a good job, saying the rebounds from closures have been so much faster. TCDC Councillor, John Grant, speaking personally, has said that he would support the sealing of the runway at the Aero Club and would like to see Council help to make this a reality. He says, "The problem is that the issue has been talked about in the past but did not grow legs. Perhaps it is time for the club and stakeholders like Barrier to formally present a case to the TCDC for assistance in making this happen." John adds, "Great Barrier Island has two sealed runways for a population of just 800 people, while we still have this situation. Sealing the runway must happen for all sorts of reasons, not the least, the health and prevention of isolation for Mercury Bay residents." Where to from here? Of course, funding such a major project is a big hurdle, although by definition, the project would be a dead sitter for the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), who’s key remit is to, “ensure that people living all over New Zealand can reach their full potential by helping build a regional economy that is sustainable, inclusive and productive”. Grant Bacon says that some communications have been made by Barrier Air with the Provincial Growth Fund, who have responded with positive sentiment, although the fact that the airstrip is technically “privately owned” by the incorporated Aero Club might present some challenges. Evan Wheeler says that the Aero Club has committed to driving such a project, but with their feasibility study alone costing $89K, the whole project is a funding nightmare for the 155-member club. He adds that the Aero Club would seal at least one runway tomorrow if they could. John Grant suggests that the Aero Club and Barrier Air form a leadership committee of key stakeholders in the Mercury Bay community to drive this forward. This project makes sense on so many levels, commercially, socially, and for safety reasons. 

Source The Mercury Bay Informer, 24 January 2023

20 January 2023

Extended Schedule

Originair has announced an expanded schedule from the 7th of February 2023. The airline says,  Essentially these changes are increased weekly flights between Nelson and Palmerston North. These flights will go from 7 flights a week to 10 flights a week departing Nelson on Mondays at 9:00am, Tuesdays, at 3.40pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9:00am and 3.40pm, Fridays at 1:00pm and 3:30pm and Sundays at 12:30pm and 3:40pm. The return flights will leave Palmerston North on Mondays at 10:30am and 2:00pm, Tuesdays at 5:00pm, Wednesdays at 1:50pm and 5:00pm, Thursdays at 10:20am and 5.00pm, Fridays at 5:40pm and Sundays at 4:20pm and 5:20pm.

The airline has also announced further Friday and Sunday flights between Nelson and Hamilton and the addition of prime time Hamilton to Palmerston North flights on Mondays and Fridays. The Hamilton-Palmerston North flights will go from 3 to 4 flights a week departing Hamilton on Mondays at 8.30am and 12:30pm, Wednesdays at 12:20pm and Fridays at 4.10pm. The return flights will leave Palmerston North on Mondays at 10:10am, Wednesdays at 10:20am and Fridays at 2:20pm and 4:50pm. On Mondays there will be a direct Nelson-Hamilton flight leaving at 7.00am and on Fridays a direct Hamilton-Nelson flight departing at 6.10pm.

Nelson to Napier return flights will also be operated on Fridays and Sundays to make weekends away in Hawke's Bay and Nelson easier with well-timed flights on these key days. On Sundays there is a Nelson-Palmerston North-Napier service departing Nelson at 12.30pm and and the return departing Napier at 3.10pm. On Fridays direct flights between Nelson and Napier depart Nelson at 12.20pm and Napier at 2.00pm.

The airline has also extended its six day per week summer return flight schedule between Nelson and Wellington for the next quarters high season travel period. Flights on this sector go from 2 flights a week to 6 departing Nelson on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 12:30pm, Fridays  at 4:10pm and Sundays at 1:20pm. The return flights will depart Wellington Monday to Thursday at 1:40pm, Fridays at 5:20pm and Sundays at 2:30pm.

Originair's statement also states The airline operated Nelson to Blenheim return flights twice daily while SH6 was closed for repairs in November and December. We have had many requests to continue this service and we are pleased to say this is being considered along with other routes and we hope to be able to finalise these plans very soon.

19 January 2023

A new helicopter for me

My first photos of Eurocopter EC 130 ZK-HAT... taken at North Shore on 15 January 2023

18 January 2023

Classic Multi Trainer

Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche ZK-DOK was at North Shore last weekend... It is seen here on 14 January 2023

And departing on 15 January 2023

Classic Trainers at North Shore

I was delighted to get my first photos of Yakovlev Yak-52 ZK-DSJ at North Shore on 16 January 2023

Nanchang CJ-6 ZK-CVI at North Shore on 18 January 2023

15 January 2023

Buying a Licence - Northern Airways

In his serialised autobiography, Approaching that Final Approach, published in the Aviation News, Jim Bergman recounts his establishment of New Zealand’s first flying school, the Auckland Flying School. He was inspired by the American experience of flying schools, known as fixed base operators, as well as learning from the Australian experience of flying schools. It is a great account of manouvering the New Zealand civil aviation authorities to understand how aviation needed to develop. As part of this story a charter operator, Executive Air Travel Ltd, and from this company a regular air service was operated as Northern Airways. This story is so interesting it is best that Jim tells it himself…

In 1963 it appeared that there was no approval or licence required to carry out flight training in New Zealand except for the instructors themselves. As far as I was aware, there had been no flying school since the Walsh brothers’ WWI New Zealand Flying School seaplane/float­plane operation at Mission Bay in Auckland. At odd times instructors I knew had undertaken flying training in private aircraft which was, except for the scale, the same thing as I intended. At the time, however, to operate air transport one had to go through a very involved Air Services Licensing Authority hearing and also prove a need, but nothing in this appeared to apply to operating a flying school. 

Going into partnership with Earl Cox the pair arranged the purchase of Cessna 150s, ZK-BVY and BWX from the Wanganui Aero Club and the lease of Cessna 172, ZK-BUZ. The Auckland Flying School Ltd was subsequently formed and commenced operations the 28th of September 1963. One of the first employees was Ted Craw­ford who was going to become the chief pilot for Northern Airways. 

The first hint of trouble from the DCA came in late December 1963 with a letter from the Director, Sir Arthur Neville. This unregistered letter arrived just days before Christmas and stated in no uncertain terms that the Auckland Flying School was operating for hire and reward and required an Air Service Certificate. Operations were to cease immediately. 

Knowing the department closed down over Christmas and the letter wasn’t registered, I decided to ignore it - that is to say, if asked, that I never received it. Nowhere in the 1953 Regulations that were in force at the time did it say that any type of licence or certificate was required for flight training, nor was there any procedure for one to apply for an air transport certificate for flight training. I called their bluff with silence. There was no further approach from these people until after they had had their Christmas holidays. 

Early in January 1964 I received a phone call from some guy who said he was the Director's assistant and that as I hadn’t closed down my operation I was to do so immediately. I told him in no uncertain terms to jump in a lake. Next day I received a further phone call and was requested to attend a meeting with the Director of Civil Aviation in Wellington right away. Two days later I flew to Wellington with a lawyer. At the meeting quite a few threats were thrown around and during the discussion, held with some 10 very uncivil aviation personnel, they informed me in no uncertain terms that I had to close down. At this stage my lawyer intervened and wanted a clear statement of their grounds for that demand. Suffice to say that they were at a total loss. They were not sure of their grounds - in fact they didn’t have any -and I just think the aero club movement was behind the attempt. Faced with my lawyer and an organisation that had been operating successfully for 3½ months, had already flown nearly 1000hr, soloed 11 students and had qualified staff and management, I think they were running scared. The decision was made that they would take it all under consideration and I would be advised of their decision, but in the meantime we could continue flying. I never heard another word from these uncivil people. Hard to believe; however, under a different name and several changes of ownership, the school in is still operating.

The aero club movement opposed in force any attempt by any private operator attempting to get an air transport licence, making obtaining a licence an extremely difficult and a very expensive exercise. I applied to the Air Service Licensing Authority, went to a joke of a hearing and got declined. 

Somehow in 1960 Roy Draffin had managed the nearly impossible and obtained an air service certificate. His company, Rent-A-Plane, operated a Cessna 180 and a Piper Apache on charter and newspaper freight flights around New Zealand. It occurred to me that if I purchased his company I could get around having to apply again for an air service certificate, so in late 1963 I became the proud owner of Rent-A-Plane and, much to the disgust of the Auckland Aero Club and possibly even the Civil Aviation Division, I was in the air trans­port business. Wow! This was a whole new ball game. With our large student and pilot base and some fairly extensive advertising, something the clubs still did not do, word soon got around and we were in business. 

In December 1961 attempts had been made to relaunch Roy Draffin's Northland Airways. However, failing to find 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 the transfer of shares from the estate of the late Roy Draffin - half to the Auckland Flying School and half to Aircraft Hire Limited. This was duly submitted to the Air Services Licensing Authority and approved.

Subsequently, on the 6th of February 1964 the Air Services Licensing Authority heard an application by Rent-A-Plane Services Ltd, as the company was still named, to amend Air Service Licence No 254 to permit (a) the addition of Ardmore to the licensed aerodrome from which the licence-holder may operate (Roy Draffin had operated from Mangere which was closed for its transformation to become Auckland International Airport) and (b) the alteration of the fleet authorised to read – any one of the following aircraft - Cessna 310, Cessna 205, Cessna 172 or Piper PA28. The company was still authorised to operate: (a) non-scheduled passenger and freight air charter and air taxi services from Mangere to any licensed aerodrome in New Zealand; (b) non-scheduled passenger and freight services between Auckland, Dargaville and Whangarei; (c) non-scheduled passenger and freight services between Whangarei, Kaikohe, Kerikeri, Kaitaia, and Dargaville; (d) air charter and air taxi services from Whangarei, Kaikohe, Kerikeri, Kaitaia, and Dargaville; and (e) the aircraft authorised is 1 Cessna 180. On the 6th of March 1964 the Air Services Licensing Authority gave its approval for Rent-A-Plane Services to use Ardmore as its base with a Cessna 180 or a Cessna 172.

On the 14th of April 1964 the Northland Age reported that A new air service to connect Auckland and Kaitaia will be starting in about four weeks. It will be known as Northern Airways and will be run by Executive Air Travel (NZ) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Auckland Flying School. The service will be a timetable one, not scheduled, and flights will be made from Ardmore and Kaitaia four times a week using a Mooney Super 21, carrying three passengers. This aircraft is unable to land at Whangarei airport until it is bought up to standard for DC-3s when it will include Whangarei in its flight plan. There will be a four times a week service to Whangarei from Ardmore using a Cessna 172 which can land at Onerahi with a restricted loading. The new service will also call at the new aerodrome at Warkworth when it is completed. 

In late January 1964, Hamilton-based Aero Engine Services Ltd had taken delivery of a Mooney Super 21 and they approached Jim Bergman to lease it. On the 27th of April 1964 the Air Services Licensing Authority approved a company name change from Rent-A-Plane Services Ltd to Executive Air Travel Ltd and added the Mooney to the licence on the stipulation only one aircraft be operated. Jim Bergman quickly replied that the Air Service Certificate being issued for the Mooney was too restrictive and the Cessna 172 was required as a standby aircraft for the non-scheduled Northern Airways service, to initiate the Whangarei service, which the Mooney was unable to operate into, to allow charter into "low group rated" airfields and for casket and freight flying.

By the 6th of March ZK-CFV was part of the Auckland Flying School fleet. Ted Crawford, who had been managing the office, was about to gain his CPL. 

Mooney ZK-CFV at Dunedin on 19 June 1964

But it wasn't or clear flying as Jim Bergman continues... Now established with an air service certificate through the purchase of Rent-A-Plane... and its licence, as well as a New Zealand-wide charter licence we had a non-scheduled licence around Northland, which was absolutely marvellous. I considered that this had to be flown only on demand - that is non-scheduled - and since we didn’t have any demand we did no flying. The Auckland and Canterbury Aero Clubs were extremely unhappy that I had now an air service certificate and was able to compete with them, so they went to the Civil Aviation Division and the Air Services Licencing Authority, claiming that as we were not operating our licence it should be cancelled. Oh boy, back to paying lawyers and fighting the authorities again. 

The Air Services Licencing Authority in its wisdom sided with the aero club movement and quite unbelievably (to me, anyway) declared, after a very expensive two-day hearing, that the understanding of the ASLA and the CAD of a non-scheduled air service licence was that a service had to be operated. This was actually saying that we had to operate to a schedule. We had a very good lawyer who advised us to operate the service for a period and, if it proved not profitable, advise the Air Services Licencing Authority that the service was being discontinued due to lack of custom. He indicated that they would then have no choice but to cancel that part of our licence. I had no faith in a schedule on a non-sched­uled licensed service that would have to be flown VFR but decided we had no choice and so had to give it a go. 

Jim Bergman continues: Ted Crawford, who had been with me since I started the Auckland Flying School, had now obtained a commercial pilot's licence, so we decided that he would be the main pilot on our soon-to-be-established Northern Airways service flying to a schedule (on our non-scheduled licence). These people in authority were hard to believe and sure had me confused. We published and advertised a non-sched­uled (can you really believe these guys?) daily except Sunday Auckland (Ardmore) - Whangarei - Kerikeri - Kaitaia and return air service, using mainly the Mooney Super 21. 

The service started on the 15th of May 1964 flying from Ardmore to Kerikeri, Kaikohe and Kaitaia with stops according to demand. 

The "timetable" saw Northern Airways fly to Kaitaia, via Whenuapai and Kaikohe as necessary, on Monday mornings with an immediate return. On Tuesdays and Wednesday afternoons an afternoon flight was offered with the return departing the following morning. On Friday afternoons a return service to Kaitaia was operated. 

NZ Herald, 14 May 1964

Northland Age, 29 May 1964

As Jim Bergman notes, The Mooney was the most modern aircraft flying the route, was very fast and comfortable, and it was going to be daily. The Mooney was equipped to what today would be considered (private) IFR standard, so Ted was able to fly the route most days. 

At the time the service started Whangarei’s Onerahi Airport was closed for reconstruction taking the airport up to Douglas DC-3 standards. Northern Airways had wanted to operate into Whangarei as well but the Mooney's all up weight also precluded its operations into Whangarei. Northern Airways had wanted to use the Auckland Flying School's Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ to operate flights into Whangarei but were prohibited because their licence only allowed one aircraft which the Air Services Licensing Authority presumed to be the Mooney. On the 22nd of June, after a flurry of telegram and letters, with Jim Bergman insisting that he should be able to have a backup aircraft, the Licensing Authority finally agreed. Whangarei airport had already been reopened on the 8th of June 1964 after the redevelopment work enabling NAC to operate Douglas DC-3s into Whangarei and, ironically, Northern Airways' Mooney.

NAC's new Northland air service presented Northern Airways with another a problem. From the 8th of June 1964 a DC-3 overnighted at Kaitaia and departed for Kaikohe and then direct to Auckland at 7.30am, 15 minutes before Northern Airways' departure time on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Sporting Executive Air Travel and Auckland Flying School titles, Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ at Whangarei

Some years ago, Ted Crawford shared some memories of the service with Bruce GavinFlights operated northwards in the mornings and returned later the same day. While the Mooney was fast it was not ideal for the service having a cramped cockpit, small luggage compartment and was very sensitive to centre of gravity alterations. 

Jim Bergman concludes, We did in fact carry quite a few passengers but as I thought, the service proved uneconomical and after 10 weeks, as advised by our lawyer, we discontinued the service and advised the ASLA. I never heard any more on the subject and went ahead with a very successful on-demand air charter service. 

Mooney ZK-CFV at the opening of the Rotorua Airport on the 3rd of October 1964. Notice sister ship Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ behind. Also operated by Executive Air Travel it was being used for the  service between Auckland and Whitianga.

Later Executive Air Travel's Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ was used on a regular service to Whitianga with Peninsula Air Travel

In 1966 Northland Airways revisited the air service. On the 15th of July 1966 the Northern Advocate reported that, A new weekly service linking Whangarei, Kaikohe, Kerikeri and Kaitaia with Auckland, with two return trips on Wednesday, is scheduled to start on July 27. This is stated in advice received from Mr J. S. Bergman, operations manager for Executive Air Travel (NZ) Ltd. The new service will be known as Northland Airways (Air Taxi) Service. A single engine Cessna aircraft capable of carrying 600 pounds of freight or three passengers be used initially on the run. A Piper aircraft could also be used. The company also holds an air taxi licence allowing it to operate from any Northland or Auckland airfield to anywhere in New Zealand, and on its Northland service the plane used will land at any airfield as passenger or freight traffic demands. The timetable shows that the morning service will leave Auckland at 7 p.m. and, travelling by way of Whangarei, Kaikohe and Kerikeri as required, is scheduled to arrive at Kaitaia at 8.45 a.m. leaving again on the return trip at 9 am. to reach Auckland using the same aerodrome if necessary, at 10.45 a.m. used. The afternoon service will leave, Auckland at 2 p.m., arriving at Kaitaia at 3.45 p.m. The return flight will start from Kaitaia at 4 p.m., arriving at Auckland at 5.30 p.m.

The weekly service used Cessna 172 ZK-CFD.  The service, however, seems to have been short-lived.

Meanwhile the Auckland Flying School, and its charter operation, Executive Air Travel, continued to expand with the establishment of the Christchurch Flying School, Taupo Flying School, Air Services Ltd and the Paraparaumu Flying School. In January 1968 Rex Aviation approached Jim and Earl offering a very good price for their majority shareholding, and with the existing partners in Taupo and Christchurch happy with Rex, the Auckland Flying School was sold.

Thanks to Jim Bergman for allowing me to use so much of his aviation autobiography in this post

14 January 2023

Close to Flying

Out for an engine run and taxi on the eastern side of North Shore airfield today was still to be registered Miles M 38 Messenger 2A ZK-AKE. More on the history pf this classic can be found on the sister blog, NZ Civil Aircraft, http://nzcivair.blogspot.com/2017/09/miles-messenger-zk-ake-at-north-shore.html

Miles Messenger ZK-AKE at North Shore on 14 January 2023

Kerikeri a week ago

Last weekend I was in the mid-North... At Kerikeri on 7 January 2022 Pacific Aerospace 750XL ZK-TTL was taking off on a tandem drop mission

The surprise was Merlin Lab's Cessna 172 ZK-CTY. I had a look at Kaikohe the following day but apart from some gliders over the far side of the field nothing was happening


11 January 2023

Wild Weather at North Shore

Last weeks wild weather wasn't great for plane spotting... there were only a couple of days where I took some pics at North Shore

On the 2nd of January 2023 Barrier Air's Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDE was having a rocky ride into North Shore

A couple of minutes later Island Aviation's BN Islander ZK-SFK took the same rocky ride... the Islander had left the Barrier before the Caravan which had passed it enroute.

On the 4th of January Barrier Air's Cessna Grand Caravan ZK-SDC arrived from the Barrier but the weather closed in and it stayed at North Shore overnight before positioning to Auckland the next day. This is certainly not the summer the airlines serving Great Barrier were looking for!

08 January 2023

(12) Cliff Lewis' Air Travel Memoirs



Part 12 of a twelve part memoir written by Cliff Lewis, an Air Travel (NZ) pilot. It is a great story and I have tried to leave it as Cliff wrote it, with the exception of some grammatical corrections to make it an easier read. Some of the history is slightly wrong and I will make comment on alongside each post.

I hope this makes a good summer read.

This memoir relates to my my larger post on Air Travel (NZ) Ltd which can be found here -


Chapter 12 - - Mishaps and Disasters

All the foregoing sounds very romantic and historical but now let me tell you all of some of the misadventures that always accompany any aircraft services. 

Before the now great Haast airfield was constructed Bert Mercer had one of John Cron's steers take dislike to these aeroplanes and promptly charged this intrusion in it's grazing ground. Result, a damaged lower wing. Result again, we had to wait for Owen Templeton to be flown to the Haast with all his repair equipment to make the aircraft serviceable enough to fly back to Hokitika. 

(Cliff's memoirs were written well after his Air Travel days and this incident was well before he started with Air Travel. I the incident he is referring to actually happened at Weheka - Fox Glacier on the 8th of February 1935... The Hokitika Guardian reported on the incident the following day... "An accident occurred to Mr J. C. Mercer’s plane when taking off from Weheka yesterday afternoon. With two passengers on board, the plane was moving off when, a bullock ran out of a clump of trees and charged the machine, causing it to turn over. The occupants escaped with minor injuries, but structural damage was sustained by the plane, which is being brought up to Hokitika for repairs").

I, myself, had an unbelievable experience. I was taking off from the Maitahi River strip and suddenly my aircraft developed some most disturbing noises. I was lucky and just managed to get the aircraft back to the landing strip. Upon examination we found that a conrod had pierced the crankcase. Once again Owen Templeton to our aid with a serviceable engine. We, with all the primitive accessories available, were able to replace the damaged engine. I flew on south and Owen returned to Hokitika. 

Our next mishap was definitely a tribute to a very competent pilot whom Bert Mercer had engaged. He had a terrific thing happened to him. This was Ossie Openshaw who had an engine failure while he was flying tourists over the Franz Josef Glacier. He managed to safely put his aircraft down upon this terribly rough glacier without a loss of life to all occupants. If ever a George Cross was entitled this man deserved it. Well done Ossie. 

It was after I, myself, left Air Travel to offer my services to the RNZAF, that a very unfortunate accident occurred for the company. One of the company's aircraft lost a propeller just north of Westport. The pilot, Mr Arthur Baines, did his utmost to help all passengers but finally had to save his own life. A tribute to you Arthur for your valiant efforts. 

Then came the greatest tragedy of all. Bert Mercer travelling in one of his own aeroplanes struck a hilltop at Glenhope. Bert Mercer along with our company's secretary Maurice Dawe  lost their lives. 

The West Coast of the South island will never forget Bert Mercer

The War time Air Travel (NZ) fleet 19391200 Fox Moths ZK-ADI, AEK and AGM and Dragonflies ZK-AFB and AGP at Hokitika in December 1939 as the airline celebrated its 5th anniversary. 

The Aircraft

DH Fox Moth
ZK-ADH - Lent by Canterbury Aero Club
ZK-ADI - Air Travel’s first
ZK-AEK - The Prince of Wales’ aircraft
ZK-AGM - Rebuild using parts of ZK-ADH 

DH Dragonfly

DH Dragon
ZK-AHT On loan from RNZAF in which Mercer lost his life 

DH Dragon Rapide
ZK-AHS - Replacement for ZK-AHT

The Pilots

The Indomitable “Bert Mercer”
The Greatly Loved “Jim Hewett”
Cliff Lewis - The Author - Canterbury Aero Club
Johnny Neave - Canterbury Aero Club
Ossie Openshaw - from Australia
Arthur Baines - Canterbury Aero Club
Colin Lewis - Ex Auckland Aero Club

The Engineers

Owen Templeton
His young apprentice Tom Harris 

The Office

Billie Mercer
Marie Mercer
Andy Drummond

Every one of you came up to the highest standards of the West Coast way of living and I trust that the rest of New Zealand will be inspired to emulate your efforts.

07 January 2023

(11) Cliff Lewis' Air Travel Memoirs



Part 11 of a twelve part memoir written by Cliff Lewis, an Air Travel (NZ) pilot... 

This memoir relates to my my larger post on Air Travel (NZ) Ltd which can be found here -


Chapter 11 - - Then came the War

We now had four aircraft along with four pilots, however, Air Department requirements still had to be made for the annual Certificate of Airworthiness. So whenever this fell due the pilot whose aircraft had to undergo this procedure was withdrawn from service to assist Owen Templeton and the hangar at Hokitika. He helped strip the aircraft down to its last nut and bolt, clean each part thoroughly, to Owen's satisfaction, and helped reassemble them when ready after the Air Department's inspector, Frank Sorrell, had approved of everything being up to standard. When you were one of Mercer's pilots you really knew your aircraft from nose to tail and you took pride in doing so.

The tourist traffic at Franz Josef and the Fox Glaciers was just jumping out of its skin. Jim Hewett had to have a larger aircraft, so the company decided to purchase another Dragonfly,  this to be based at Franz Josef. 

Once again this meant that one of the Fox Moths would become idle unless another pilot was acquired, so under Mercer's careful scrutiny, Ossie Openshaw was engaged. He went through all the drill that each of us had gone through and then out on to the service he went and he also did a magnificent job of work. One particular piece of flying he achieved I will tell you of later. 

Then came the war of 1939!!!

Cook Strait Airways had been operating a service from Wellington to Nelson and Greymouth via Westport. Air Travel were asked to take over the Nelson to Greymouth section as a daily service to release the de Havilland Rapides to the Air Force. Mercer met every requirement, so Air Travel services now covered the entire West Coast, Nelson to Jackson Bay.

A further demand was made of Mercer and his company. They were declared to be an essential service and again the Air Force requested that a patrol be carried out once a week over the southern fiords for any sighting of enemy vessels in the area. Our commission was to inspect every Sound in the Southern area of New Zealand and continue on to Stewart Island and return to Invercargill and Dunedin. To achieve this mission we had to break every rule in the book of Civil Aviation's safety regulations. Our Dragonfly could not carry enough petrol in its tanks to cover such a distance, so I always went with Mercer on these flights. Our wing tanks held 24 gallons and we had a cabin tank that held another 12 gallons. The cabin tank could be fed to the wing tanks as required. My job with eight four-gallon drums in the cabin of the aircraft was to keep replenishing the cabin tank so we could refill the wing tanks as required. We never saw even a fishing smack, but Air Travel did its duty.

Again the War and the Air Force requested the release of Jim Hewitt to form its communications flight at Rongotai.  It supplied, in his place, a pilot of Mercer's choice, one Arthur Baines whom Mercer had also taught to fly at the Canterbury Aero Club. He got the same drill that we had all gone through and he more than proved his worth later as I shall relate. 

I, myself, at this stage just could not stay in Civil Aviation whilst there was a war on and I promptly wrote to Jim Hewitt at Communications Flight Rongotai requesting him to have me seconded by the Air Force to join his flight at Rongotai. This became an immediate arrangement. I said goodbye to the West Coast, did a refresher course with the Air Force at Harewood and Wigram with some 3000 flying behind me and became a VIP pilot of Communications Flight, Rongotai. We were later given the title of RNZAF number 42 Squadron. 

Bert Mercer, I personally thank you.

Jim Hewitt and Cliff Lewis were not the only ones who were enlisted with the RNZAF. Air Travel (NZ)'s first Fox Moth ZK-ADI was impressed into the Air Force as NZ566 where it served with the Communications Flight Rongotai and 42 Squadron. After the War it was based in Rotorua where it was used on on forest fire patrols until April 1948. It later returned to Hokitika as ZK-ASP and was used on NAC's South Westland air service.

With my departure from Air Travel the Air Force once again came to Mercer's aid and ironically enough sent to him a pilot called Colin Lewis. This great pilot had the misfortune to be in charge of one of the company's aircraft when, under atrocious weather conditions, it hit Mount Hope and Bert Mercer along with Maurice Dawe lost their lives. 

To Colin Lewis, please accept my greatest sympathy that such a tragedy could occur to any pilot. My regards and admiration of your flying ability. It was always superb!!!

06 January 2023

King Air Ambulances

Air Whanganui's Beechcraft B200 Super King Air ZK-PMJ on approach to Runway 23 at Auckland on 30 December 2022

Having off-loaded its patient passenger at Air Centre One Skyline Aviations' Starship Hospital Beech B300 King Air 350 ZK-SSH taxis back to its hangar at Auckland on 30 December 2022