12 November 2023

Bay of Plenty Air Services - The Eastern Bay of Plenty's Auster Airline


Bay of Plenty Air Services should not be confused with Bay of Plenty Airways.

Opotiki-based Bay of Plenty Air Services Ltd was inspired by a local, John Dicker who was the Engineer-Manager of the Bay of Plenty Power Board in Opotiki and Taranaki-man Harold Newton in the early 1950s. After the Second World War Opotiki wanted its air service restored and, at this time, Whakatane did not have an aerodrome. An air service briefly operated by the Tauranga Aero Club, on behalf of the Opotiki Aero Club, didn't met the town's expectations let alone the Eastern Bay of Plenty region's expectation.  A partnership between a local businessman and a pilot seemed a good option.

The pilot, Harold Newton, was born in Waitara in 1916 and grew up on the family farm near Urenui. Joining the RNZAF during World War II he did flying training in Canada before joining the RAF flying Wellingtons, Mosquitos and Beaufighters. 

On the 19th of February 1943 the Waikato Times reported that Pilot-Officer Harold B. Newton, of Urenui, was piloting a Beaufighter that shot down a Dornier near the South Wales coast on February 16. He sighted four enemy planes, the first one disappearing with two large fires burning near the engine. Pilot-Officer Newton then encountered two planes flying together. One escaped but the other he sent down in flames. Later another raider dived with smoke pouring from the starboard engine after being attacked, but it was not seen to crash. Pilot-Officer Newton was interned in Portugal in 1941, when he made a forced landing while going to Gibraltar, but returned to England in January of last year. He received the DFC for shooting down the two Dornier bombers and damaging a third. 

After the war he flew for the RAF’s Berlin Air Command, transporting food and other supplies to the West-Berlin enclave in the middle of Soviet-controlled eastern Germany. He is also renowned for, in the face of a failed prospective romance, buying and flying an Erco Ercoupe 415D from Belgium to New Zealand where it was registered ZK-AQXThe 19,000 kilometre journey took 3 weeks. The Ercoupe was later sold to the Auckland Aero Club.

Recognising the possibility of operating a non-scheduled air service from Opotiki to Whakatane  Auckland John Dicker and Harold Newton formed Bay of Plenty Air Services Ltd in late 1951. The company commenced operations from Opotiki in November 1951 using Auster J/5B Autocar ZK-AYN which had been registered to Harold Newton on the 15th of November 1951. 

An early photo of Auster Autocar ZK-AYN at Whenuapai

Harold Newton was later replaced by William Sutton as the new pilot but Harold was still available as the relief pilot. The company engaged with charter work and local joyriding from Opotiki. By August 1952 the company had flown 251 passengers on 118 charter flights as far away as Auckland and Wellington and it had flown 255 passengers on 90 local joyriding flights. The Opotiki News of the 9th of September 1952 reported that the plane was used considerably for carrying of hospital patients to and from Opotiki.  Whakatane residents also made use of the service, travelling by car to and from Whakatane to Opotiki to travel by air.

In August 1952 the company applied to operate a non-scheduled passenger and freight service from Opotiki to any aerodrome in New Zealand. They company also applied to operate two scheduled passenger and freight services, the first from Opotiki and Whakatane to Auckland stopping as needed at intermediate aerodromes as and when they become available and the second from Whakatane and Opotiki to Gisborne via To Araroa stopping as needed at intermediate airstrips around the East Cape as and when they were developed. The Auckland service was going to operate thrice weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays leaving Opotiki in the morning at 7.00am during the summer months and 8.00am during the winter months. The return flight was planned to leave at 4.30pm during the summer months and 2.45pm during the winter months with a flight time (including stops) of about 2½ hours. The Gisborne service was expected to operate twice weekly. The company planned to use a de Havilland Canada Beaver for the scheduled services. The Beaver was, at this time, a relatively new aircraft having only gone into production in April 1948 and the first examples having arrived in New Zealand in 1951. In the event the application for the Beaver-operated scheduled service was withdrawn at the start of the hearing. 

Instead the company was given a licence to operate non-scheduled (including air taxi and charter) passenger and freight services from licensed aerodromes at Opotiki and  Whakatane to any licensed aerodrome in New Zealand. No regular service was flown. 

Bay of Plenty Air Services' initial impetus didn't continue. A letter to the Bay of Plenty Air Services' Managing Director, Mr J. D. Dicker, indicated that the Civil Aviation Branch of Air Department had made inquiries about the operation of the company and these seemed to indicate that flying operations ceased on the 29th December of 1952. 

On the 4th of March 1954 the Auster was registered to the New Plymouth Aero Club. The company's licence lapsed and was revoked on the 7th of April 1954, the Auster having been registered to the New Plymouth Aero Club on the 4th of March 1954. Bay of Plenty Air Services Ltd was struck off the Companies Register on the 15th of January 1958.

As a couple of personal postscripts, I had the opportunity to go for a fly in the Auster ZK-AYN many years later when it was owned by topdressing pilots Colin Sutherland and Barry Cowley. Colin was down from the North Island and based at my home town of Hokitika doing some topdressing and wanted to check out the topdressing strips beforehand and I was invited for a flight. The Auster was finally withdrawn from the civil aircraft register on the 19th of July 2010. 

Auster ZK-AYN at Hokitika in February 1979

The other postscript is that Harold Newton's Erco Ercoupe 415D ZK-AQX is owned by his son and now lives in Hokitika. 

Erco Ercoupe ZK-AQX to Hokitika in November 2022. Photo : T Brownlee

This post marks the end of my series on air service operators to Opotiki. The profiles of the other operators may be found at https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2022/06/air-services-to-opotiki-index-of-posts.html

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