09 July 2023

Have a Splash - Canterbury Planes


Canterbury Planes Limited was incorporated on the 15th of March 1988 by a Christchurch businessman, Stephen Pope. Canterbury Planes operated an ex-Sea Bee Air Grumman G21A Goose, ZK-ENY (c/n 1145) on scenic flights from Christchurch until the end of 1988.

The Christchurch Press of the 23rd of June 1988 reported Stephen Pope saying that if all his plans eventuated he would spend more than $1.5 million on a flight centre, restaurant-bar and children’s playcentre at Lyttelton. He has bought a nine-seat Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft which, with another amphibian, a four-seat Lake Buccaneer, will form the nucleus of Canterbury Planes, Ltd. The new company would begin flying on July 21 but because of delays in obtaining all the necessary approvals from the Lyttelton Harbour Board, operations would initially be based at Christchurch Airport. Mr Pope hopes to build the venture into a tourist attraction using a "1940 s aviation” theme. As well as servicing the needs of tourists the floatplanes will offer a passenger and freight service for Banks Peninsula residents. Approval had already been given for services to Akaroa. "Although we will be initially operating from Christchurch Airport we hope to base the whole operation at Lyttelton. The idea is to build a restaurant and bar and children’s play area, with a 1940 s aviation theme. "I have already purchased the proposed bar; it is the cockpit and cabin section of an old Comet airliner, which you can buy quite cheaply in America. It will be converted into a unique attraction, I believe.” Mr Pope said that as well as offering scenic flights round Banks Peninsula, the company’s intention was to run floatplane tourist services to Lake Coleridge and Lake Brunner, where visitors could indulge in a day’s fishing. “We also want to take visitors to Akaroa and at the same time give Akaroa people a chance to fly to Christchurch to do business or to carry freight for them.” Bruce Fulton, the general manager of the Canterbury Aero Club, was appointed as the chief pilot for the company. 

The Goose was refurbished at Ardmore wearing a silver, electric-blue and gold livery. The new operation required the training a few pilots with the aircraft using Lyttleton and Akaroa harbours and Lake Coleridge. 

The first flight to Akaroa was made on the 11th of July 1988 where a crowd welcomed the prospect of a 15-minute air link to central Christchurch. The flight was to test the Goose’s noise levels against the prevailing calm of Akaroa. Local opinion was that the old aircraft passed with flying colours. Even with the Grumman’s twin Pratt and Whitney 450 h.p. engines at full power, a helicopter hovering nearby was louder than the amphibian. 

Canterbury Planes' newly arrived Grumman Goose, ZK-ENY, at Christchurch on 13 July 1988

On the 16th of July the Goose sparked a full emergency alert at Christchurch airport after a problem with a faulty seal  in a fuel pump developed on take off. The Goose with nine passengers landed safely. 

On the 30th of July 1988 the Christchurch Press reported that the Akaroa County Council has given approval for Canterbury Planes, Ltd, to run an air service to the township. The approval, for a trial period until April, 1990, allows Canterbury Planes to land its Grumman Goose amphibian aircraft on Akaroa Harbour, and to park on land behind the town bowling club. Many people in Akaroa were in favour of the venture, said Cr Don Wright at yesterday’s council meeting. He said that the site behind the bowling club was preferable to the alternatives suggested at Green Point and Robinsons Bay. Canterbury Planes intends running a freight and passenger service for Peninsula residents, as well as offering tourist flights to Akaroa. A couple of days later the Goose was stuck in the mud at Akaroa while testing the tenacity of taxiing ramps at low tide. Stephen Pope, the company director, said the aircraft was deliberately run up on a mudflat to check if the ground was strong enough to support the amphibian’s weight. It wasn’t. The 46-year-old aircraft remained bogged for about 20 minutes, until a rising tide saved the day.

My photos of Canterbury Planes' Grumman Goose ZK-ENY at Christchurch on 12 August 1988... engines wrapped up

While Canterbury Planes' plans were developing well for services to and from Akaroa they were having real difficulties operating from Christchurch's Lyttelton Harbour. On the 3rd of August the Press reported that the company's plans for a $1.5 million visitor reception centre and tourist amphibian base at Lyttelton were in jeopardy because of the Lyttelton Harbour Board’s attitude to the project. Stephen Pope said that although he had permission to land his amphibious aircraft on the harbour he was unable to secure the use of land on which to park the Grumman Goose... Mr Pope said his company was working from Christchurch Airport but his original intention was to base the operations at Lyttelton. “But the discussions with the Lyttelton Harbour Board have dragged on for so long - several months now - that we have been forced to begin operations from the airport. “The Harbour Board owns the sites where we want to run the plane up and base our operations, but I can’t get a decision out of the board and messages I leave for people are not returned...” A site by the Coast Guard base at Lyttelton had been chosen by Canterbury Planes as ideal for its use and Mr Pope said an aircraft taxi-ramp he would install would be available for Coast Guard work, and the Grumman Goose would also be offered for search and rescue work. “The business community of Lyttelton wants us there, the Harbourmaster has given us permission to land on the harbour, but we can’t do anything until the board lets us bring the aircraft up on to land to park it.” The Mayor of Lyttelton, Mr Mel Foster, said the Lyttelton Borough Council would welcome any new business to Lyttelton but the land integral to Canterbury Planes’ request belonged to the Harbour Board. “I have discussed the project with Mr Pope and think every assistance should be given. But there seems to be a stumbling block within the Harbour Board. The board is not being as co-operative as it could be...” The board’s marketing executive, Mr Peter Davie, said the board was short of space and was looking for a suitable area of land for the seaplane base. “One area of land suggested was not suitable and we are now looking for the best available site. “The board does wish to encourage the project and we see it as good for the Lyttelton area,” Mr Davie said.

Meanwhile the Harbour Board suggested an alternate site behind the fuel tanks on Godley Quay. Stephen Pope was reported as saying this would require an “enormous length of ramp... at a tremendous cost.” By the middle of September the impasse of finding a suitable landing area was still not solved. On the 13th of September the Press reported Stephen Pope saying he had been discouraged by a lack of co-operation shown by the harbour board... and negotiations with the harbour board were taking too long and costing too much money. With no progress after several months negotiations, he was placing the Lyttelton proposal on hold. “They have offered us areas of land that are quite unsuitable for our purposes and the whole attitude we have experienced toward the project has been quite negative.” The harbour board general manager, Mr Ian Brokenshire, denied this, saying the board was not being obstructive, but that it had to regard the seaplane proposal in the context of compatibility with existing port users. Mr Brokenshire said although he had not been dealing personally with the negotiations, the board had to consider the interests of all harbour users. The board’s latest offer was for an area of land on the seaward side of the oil wharf on Naval Point. Mr Pope said the area would demand the construction of a ramp out into the sea, at an estimated cost of $500,000. For this and other reasons he regarded the site as unsuitable. Mr Brokenshire said Canterbury Planes had selected areas which were already used for the launching and retrieving of yachts. “The problem is a question of compatibility of a seaplane in such close proximity to yachts.” 

On the 21st of September agreement was finally reached and the Lyttelton Harbour Board made land available to Canterbury Planes. Stephen Pope told the Press that subject to final agreements with the board he proposed shifting the tourist flying business from its base at Christchurch Airport to Lyttelton. The company’s distinctive Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft has been working from Christchurch since August, flying a freight and passenger service to Akaroa and offering tourist flights round the district. The Harbour Board’s approval was subject to nine conditions, one of which, Mr Pope said, would have to be negotiated with the board. Board approval was subject to the payment of landing fees as yet unspecified. Mr Pope said it appeared the board was emulating the Airways Corporation and the Christchurch airport company, and he regarded the question of user charges as an important point to be resolved. “One of the reasons we are leaving the airport is because of high user charges, particularly those proposed by the airport company.” The Lyttelton Harbour Board had agreed to make available an area of land on the eastern side of the Canterbury Volunteer Coast Guard headquarters. All costs associated with the development would be the responsibility of Canterbury Planes and the lease would be charged at an appropriate commercial rate, the board resolved. 

"Have a Splash" - Fly the Canterbury Goose. The Press, 1 October 1989

In late November the Akaroa County Council gave Canterbury Planes permission "to land" the Goose at the area opposite the Akaroa Bakery for 12 months as opposed to the previous landing site behind the town bowling club. The company had said this site was unsuitable. However, by this stage Canterbury Planes was in its last days. 

On the 2nd of January 1989 Bruce Fulton and Stephen Pope flew the Goose from Auckland to Norfolk Island via Kaitaia. It then carried on to Sydney via Lord Howe Island on the 5th and ultimately to Hamilton, Victoria. On the 12th of January the Press reported that the Goose had flown west, lured by Queensland money and sunshine. But the Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft, operated by Canterbury Planes, will return to Christchurch — although not for at least two months. Two hotels on Queensland’s Gold Coast, which are contemplating a fulltime amphibian service, have chartered the Canterbury Planes’ Goose for eight weeks. Its departure prompted reports that the Christ-church-based operation might be closing, but a spokeswoman for Canterbury Planes said this was not correct. “It will be at least eight weeks before the aircraft returns and in the meantime we have not taken any bookings for local flights in it, which might have led some people to mistakenly think we were not coming back,” she said. “We simply did not want to take bookings for the aircraft until we knew when it would be back in Christchurch.” Unfortunately, the Gold Coast charter venture did not eventuate.

On the 9th of February 1989, an advertisement in the Press announced that on the 7th day of February 1989 B.N.Z. Finance Ltd had appointed Stephen John Tubbs of Christchurch, Chartered Accountant and Christopher Paul Worth of Dunedin, Chartered Accountant as the receiver and manager of the property of Canterbury Planes Limited under the powers contained in a debenture dated the 23rd day of June, 1988 which property consists of all the undertaking goodwill and assets relating to the operation of the business carried on by the said Canterbury Planes Limited. 

Canterbury Planes was brought out of receivership after the sale of its plane to an Australian buyer which repaid the loan from the Bank of New Zealand. By then Stephen Pope, was in New York pursuing other business interests. The chief pilot of Canterbury Planes, Bruce Fulton, returned to  Christchurch. His, Christchurch Corporate Charters, which advertised in conjunction with Canterbury Planes, was not involved in the seaplane company’s receivership proceedings and Bruce Fulton said the company was getting good support from Canterbury companies.

On the 20th of March 1989 the Grumman Goose was registered to an Australian owner, being placed on the Australian aircraft register as VH-ENY on the 22nd of November 1989. In was cancelled from the Australian register in October 1990 and sold to a Thai company, Tropical Sea Air, and placed on the Thai civil register as HS-TOM on the 14th of January 1991. In 1995 it was sold to a German owner and was noted under restoration in the early 2000s.

Despite claims the company operated a regular service between Christchurch and Akaroa it seems, at best, as if it was an air taxi operator that operated charter services to Akaroa. Nonetheless for six months in 1988 Canterbury Planes offered something exotic flying over Christchurch and the Canterbury plains.


  1. Now derelict on outskirts of Mittelstetten, Germany. 48.246075 11.087200

  2. Thank you for sharing that... How sad... If others want to look paste the map reference into Google Earth and zoom in