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

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