15 April 2023

ZK-CIC Retired

Air Chathams has retired its first Metroliner ZK-CIC after nearly 30 years of service with New Zealand's largest regional airline. This makes the ZK-CIC the longest serving aircraft of any aircraft Air Chathams have operated.

The Fairchild Swearingen SA227AC Metroliner III, c/n AC-623, was first registered to the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation of San Antonio, Texas, in October 1985 as N623AV. The following month the registration was transferred to the AMR Leasing Corporation of, Dallas, Texas. In April 1992 it was sold to British Aerospace Incorporated of Herndon, Virginia. It returned to the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation in January 1993 before having its American registration cancelled in September of that year and being registered to Air Transport (Chatham Islands) Ltd  as ZK-CIC on the 22nd of September 1993. With a change in the company name the registration ownership was changed to Air Chathams Ltd on the 2nd of August 1996.

ZK-CIC was purchased to replace Beech 99 ZK-CIB, Air Chatham's first turboprop. With the introduction of the Metroliner Air Chathams introduced a more comprehensive schedule to the mainland with twice weekly flights from the Chathams to Christchurch and three or four flights to Wellington, one of these also including Napier. Flying at 250 knots with a capacity of 17 cubic metres and equipped with a rear-loading cargo door measuring 1.3 metres, the Metroliner was an ideal combi aircraft, being used to transport one tonne of freight with 11 passengers or in an all-cargo configuration carrying two tonnes.

A desperation shot of ZK-CIC but one which shows off the advantage of the Metroliner's large rear cargo hatch. The Metroliner, while crammed, offered a pressurised cabin and more flexibility to the expanding airline. Taken at Christchurch on 28 April 1994

From 1994 an air war developed with Mount Cook Airline who were operating the Government-subsidised air service to the Chatham Islands. This battle was to cost both Mount Cook and Air Chathams dearly but in the end Air Chathams was to prevail with Air Chathams introducing the legendary Convair 580 to the route.

Heavy in the tail... Metroliner ZK-CIC fuelled and loaded starts at Christchurch for the long haul to the Chathams on 11 November 1996.

With the introduction of the Convair Air Chathams had to look for new work for the Metroliner. In September 1997 the Southland Times announced that it was going to fly consignments of live lobsters between Invercargill and Christchurch. In late 1997 and 1998 it was used on contract with Ansett Air Freight and Air National while still being available to support the Convair during maintenance or breakdowns. Later Origin Pacific also used the Metroliner for both passenger and freight services. 

Above, Metroliner ZK-CIC at New Plymouth on 8 October 1999 while operating passenger services for Origin Pacific. Below, painted in full Origin Pacific colours, ZK-CIC at Christchurch awaiting take off clearance on runway 29 while on an Origin Pacific freight flight on 16 October 2000.

After the collapse of CityJet in late 1999 Origin Pacific picked up their freight runs and ZK-CIC was used on this work as well as well as Origin's passenger services.

Following the collapse of Origin Pacific in 2006 the Metroliner returned to the Air Chathams fleet for use on charter work as well as back up for the Convair and during this time it was used to operate an extra Friday flight between Christchurch and the Chathams over the summer months.

Back operating for Air Chathams but still in Origin colours, ZK-CIC, on finals for runway 02 at Christchurch on 7 December 2007.

In 2008 Air Chathams established Chathams Pacific which operate domestic services in Tonga until 2013. A Convair and Metroliner ZK-CIC were deployed to Tonga. 

Still with Origin Pacific colours but Chathams Pacific titles ZK-CIC arrives back into Tongatapu's Fua'amotu International Airport on 6 January 2011

In 2013 Tongan government set Real Tonga to provide a second airline and competition in the small Tongan domestic market. Rather than compete in the limited market Air Chathams made the decision to withdraw its Chathams Pacific operation and so Metroliner ZK-CIC returned to New Zealand on the 6th of February 2014. 

There was, however, little work for ZK-CIC in New Zealand until the 28th of April 2015 when Air New Zealand withdrew its services to Whakatāne. Air Chathams took over the service the same day. ZK-CIC became the mainstay of the Whakatāne service. Initially two flights were operated each weekday with a reduced weekend schedule but from the 27th of July 2015 the weekday schedule was increased to three flights a day. 

A rather bland looking Metroliner ZK-CIC looking for work at Auckland on 25 March 2014

The Whakatāne service got further promotion in December 2015 when Air Chathams rebranded ZK-CIC in a unique Whakatāne colour scheme featuring White Island/Whaakari. 

Fairchild Metroliner ZK-CIC, the Whakatāne plane, taxis to the terminal at Whakatāne on 28 December 2015

And again, a full sun shot of Air Chatham's Whakatane colour scheme, at Whakatāne on 21 April 2017

Following the tragic eruption of Whakaari/White Island, in August 2020 ZK-CIC was stripped of its Whakatāne colour scheme which featured the volcanic island. It was in an interim colour scheme before being repainted back into full Air Chathams' colours.

Air Chathams' Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-CIC in the rain at Whakatāne on 11 August 2020. 

Back in Air Chathams' colour scheme, Fairchild Metroliner ZK-CIC at Whakatāne on 26 April 2021. Personally I don't like the URL titles.

In more recent years ZK-CIC has been used on Air Chathams' regional services, primarily to Whakatāne, as well on the various charter passenger and freight services that Air Chathams operated. 

By late 2022 ZK-CIC's days were drawing to an end and there was talk of retiring it from the fleet.

It operated its final passenger flights on the 17th of October 2022 flying flight 3C 824 from Auckland to Auckland to Whakatane under the command of Alan Breen and Tom Fackney and then 3C 829 from Whakatane to Auckland under the command of Tom Fackney and Daryl Petit. The final freighter flights were operated on the 4th of November 2022 from Wellington to the Chatham Islands and the final freighter flights, 3C 221 from Wellington to the Chatham Islands and the return flight 3C 212 from the Chatham Islands to Wellington under the command of Darron Kyle and Gary Downs. Its final positioning flight was from Wellington to Auckland on the 24th of November 2022 as 3C 251 under the command of Nico Matsis and Nick Reid.

By April 2023 ZK-CIC was sitting engineless at Auckland International Airport. Air Chathams' Chief Operating Officer Duane Emeny told 3rd Level New Zealand,  "It is highly unlikely that she will fly again sadly. Structural work required on a well used airframe is highly cost prohibitive."

ZK-CIC engineless at Auckland on 9 April 2023 alongside Metro 23 ZK-POE.

Like the Convair ZK-CIB, Metroliner ZK-CIC was capable of operating in a number of roles... all passenger, all freight or combi. For Air Chathams this made ZK-CIC an ideal workhorse and a great platform for its 30 year service with the airline.

Jayden Beck, Operations Control Manager wrote a final epitaph for ZK-CIC, describing her as, "a truly beloved aircraft by a lot of the Air Chathams team."

Flying into the history books... ZK-CIC departing Auckland on 13 February 2021


  1. How many Metro's does this leave Air Chatams with now?

    1. Two... Metroliner III ZK-CID and Metro 23 ZK-POF

    2. Any idea why much younger POE is grounded?

  2. Managed 16 flights on CIC. Out to CHT a few times and the rest between AKL and WHK. A solid bird that served Air Chats well. Sad to see her go!

  3. I hear them fly over my house (in Mount Maunganui) between Auckland and Whakatane

  4. The question is now whats the replacement plan for these ?

  5. The first date in the blog for this aircraft (manufactured date) cannot be right as its 2 years + after CIC entered service for Air Chathams. Have tried to find correct date but the usually reliable online resources are variously quoting 1980, 1983 and 1985.

  6. You're right... a typo on my part. It has been fixed.

  7. A good replacement for the Metroliners would be a brand new fleet of Beech 1900C airplanes.

    1. I think the D model is what you mean... and they too are long out of production.

    2. I think there could be some more Saab 340’s in the pipeline. They’re a good, rugged machine well suited and proven for New Zealand operations.
      Suspect we’ll hear some news from Air Chathams in the coming months of their fleet plans.

    3. Would be nice to see some more SF34s in their fleet

    4. The 1900 is just way to fragile and fuel hungry and now, too old (last one was off the factory line in 2001 UE-439 ZK-EAP). I’m guessing the Metro will be replaced by Saabs.

  8. Looking at the photo of CIC with POE is POE owned by Air Chathams. I seem to recall reading somewhere I thought this blog that they had an additional Metro they could make airworthy if they wanted. I was wondering if this was still the case?

    1. According to the CAA Registry POE is with Air Chathams

    2. I think the Mero you are referring to is ZK-POB bought by Air Chats in Dec 16 but as far as I am aware has never actually flown for them. iirc, she was bought as a backup aircraft and spares source.

    3. POE and POF were bought together by Chats off Airwork. Very capable 23 models. There was talk of getting POE back flying again but I think it’s time has passed.

  9. I hope she gets preserved and not just cut up with its solid nz history. Would make a awesome display stable mate with zk cib at the national toy and transport museum in wanaka... maybe something for bring our birds hone to consider???