14 April 2024

Airwork NZ - A Pioneer Company Still Flying High

Airwork is one of New Zealand's oldest aviation companies but at the same time is one of the most mysterious. This is my attempt to capture something of this company's history. I would welcome any corrections or additions which can be sent to westland831@gmail.com

Airwork (NZ) Ltd was founded in 1936, but  by two Wellington brothers, Arthur (Bill) and Charles Brazier, along with Joseph Green of Feilding. Later the John Brazier joined the family business becoming the chief after the war and going on to be managing director.

In August 1936 the Evening Post reported that Proposals are to go before the City Council for formal approval for the erection of a repair and maintenance workshop for aircraft just outside the boundary of the Rongotai Aerodrome, near Moa Point. The applicants are Airwork (N.Z.), Ltd., the principals being Messrs. Brazier Bros., who have had a wide experience in aircraft maintenance- and repairs. The elder brother is an ex-R.A.F. man and came to New Zealand as engineer to the Canterbury Aero Club and later became engineer to East Coast Airways. They propose to pay particular attention to the "stressed-skin" construction, which is a feature of the Phillips and Powis family of aircraft (Hawk, Falcon, Peregrine, etc.), but their work will cover the full range of servicing and repairing. The building proposed is so designed as to allow of considerable expansion in the future as the volume of work increases.

Airwork (NZ) Ltd was registered on the 8th of September 1936, with the objects of the new company listed as to repair, reinstate, and maintain in repair all types of aircraft and aerial conveyances of every kind and all accessories thereto

After being closed during World War II Airwork (NZ) reopened in Christchurch during the latter half of 1945. One of the early projects for the company was, in late 1946, the conversion of three Douglas Dakotas which had been used on the Royal New Zealand Air Force transport service from Christchurch to Auckland from uncomfortable military aircraft to aircraft suitable for civil purposes and the soon formed National Airways Corporation. The Christchurch Press reported on this work and gives the impression that Airwork was a highly regarded company. The civil version of the Dakota will have 24 cushioned seats with arm-rests, placed side by side in double and single rows. Except for sound-proofing and lining of the cabin, the aircraft will be practically the same as the civil-machines now in operation. The work of conversion is being done for the Air Department by Airwork (N.Z.), Ltd., the company responsible for the servicing and maintenance of the aircraft of No. 40 Squadron, which operates the R.N.Z.A.F. internal and South Pacific services. The first converted Dakota has had its war-time olive drab paint removed and the silvery duralumin fuselage highly polished. The interior is finished in green and white, and the seats, which were formerly the radio operators’ seats in Ventura bombers, have been reconditioned, and have green upholstery and silvered frames. A bulkhead at the rear cuts off the baggage compartment from the cabin. Work on the Dakotas, and the maintenance and servicing of aircraft for the R.N.Z.A.F.. the Canterbury Aero Club, and private owners, make Harewood one of the busiest airports in the Dominion. Upon the work done there depends the regular and safe running of the R.N.Z.A.F. internal and South Pacific services. Airwork (N.Z.), Ltd., which began operations in December last year with a staff of two, now has a staff of 114, most of whom served in the R.N.Z.A.F. as technical tradesmen. It shares the City Council hangar with the Aero Club, and occupies two other hangars, and half of a third. Under its contract with the Air Department the company maintains about 20 Dakota aircraft. Except for three used by the instrument flying school at Whenuapai, these are all operated by No. 40 Squadron. For the Aero Club the company maintains six Tiger Moths, a de Havilland Dragonfly, a Whitney Straight, and a Taylor Cub. It overhauls aircraft for private owners, and also owns a Whitney Straight and a Moth Minor. Airwork was to retain a maintenance contract with the newly formed NZNAC until the 31st of March 1948 while it developed its own infrastructure.

In June 1947 Airwork assembled two Miles Magisters, having become the New Zealand agent for Miles. Over the years the company picked up the agency for other aircraft manufacturers, the most notable early one being with the Piper Aircraft Inc. The company also had an enormous reputation and reach for aircraft engineering with Airwork proving major maintenance and rebuilds for aircraft from throughout the South Island, one of these being Queenstown-based Southern Scenic Air Trips. The company was also used to prepare ex-RNZAF aircraft for civil use as civil aviation started to grow again following the War years.

In early 1949 an Airwork (NZ) Tiger Moth aircraft was fitted out for aerial seeding and topdressing work thereby pioneering the aerial topdressing sector that was going to be a major feature of the aviation industry in New Zealand. Airwork (NZ) itself was to be involved in the industry until the 1980s.

In 1951 Airwork (NZ) Ltd purchased a Miles M57 Aerovan IV, ZK-AWV, (c/n 6428) and applied for a licence to accept charter flights with the aircraft. The aircraft was capable of carrying about one ton of freight. 

Airwork (NZ)'s Miles Aerovan, ZK-AWV at Christchurch. Photo : D White Collection

On the 30th of July 1951 the first flight in the proposed air freight service was made when the Aerovan flew from Christchurch's Harewood airport to the Timaru aerodrome at Saltwater Creek on a survey flight. The Press coverage shows that the flight was also aimed at developing a new airport in Timaru. The manager of the company, Mr C. Brazier, also travelled to Timaru to seek the support of the South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce in obtaining a licence to commence operations. The chamber is in favour of the company's proposal, and sees the possibility of using it as a lever on the Government to develop the Levels airfield as Timaru's municipal airport. Both the chamber and the South Canterbury Airport Committee are anxious to see the Levels field developed, but the Government has held back because it thinks there would be insufficient support for any service operating to Timaru to warrant the expense involved in providing facilities at Levels. If it can be shown that an economic air freight service could be established, a strong case could be made out for Levels, the chamber believes. The Government will not licence Saltwater Creek because it considers it is liable to heavy flooding. After the aircraft landed at Saltwater Creek this afternoon, several members of the Chamber of Commerce took Mr Brazier and his brother, Mr John Brazier, out to Levels to inspect the field, and on their return the company's pilot made several trial take-offs and landings on the two longest runways at Saltwater Creek. "It's the surface that's the worst part. As far as distance goes, it is all right," said the pilot of the aircraft after his tests. He felt confident that the aircraft weighing 5800lb fully loaded, could easily use Saltwater Creek, as long as the two longest runways, each of 2300 feet, were available. After inspecting the site of the proposed Levels field, the party felt that although certain parts of it were criss-crossed with irrigation channels, and others were ploughed up, there was sufficient land on the southern side of the property for a freight plane to land. The Levels field has a far firmer turf than Saltwater Creek. "You could land a Flying Fortress there,” said Mr Brazier. "A full scale operation of the scheme will depend upon the granting of a licence. We are confident of getting the thing through," said Mr Brazier. "The Saltwater Creek airfield is as large as Rongotai and its longest runway is only about 300ft shorter than the longest at Rongotai," said. Mr D. R. Weeber, an aircraft maintenance engineer at the Saltwater Creek airport. He felt that the company’s best, proposition was to commence operations at Saltwater Creek with a medium-sized aircraft which could carry five to six passengers or up to a ton of freight, until such time as business warranted a larger aircraft and so a larger aerodrome. 

Sadly the Aerovan destroyed at Rongotai airport, Wellington, on the 2nd of November 1951. The Press reported that the Miles Aerovan aircraft that had just landed was thrown against a hangar door by a sudden gust of wind. The aircraft was almost completely wrecked. It had just completed a flight from Masterton, and Mr Chadwick had taxied to within 10 feet of the hangar. He had stepped down to the tarmac, leaving a company mechanic, Mr J. Weallams, at the controls. The ground staff had gathered round to push the aircraft under cover when a sudden furious gust caught the starboard wing. The aircraft, which weighed one and a half tons, was tilted up, and then turned right over on its back. The starboard wing caught on the hangar door and was torn off. The whole tail-piece swung on to the side of the door, and was shattered. Part of the port wing skidded across the tarmac and crumbled. The perspex canopy of the cockpit was smashed into fragments. Mr Chadwick had been standing beside the cockpit at the nose of the plane. He was trapped underneath the aircraft. The canopy was shattered about him.  

In 1952 Airwork (NZ) established South Island Airways that inaugurated an air service from Christchurch to Ashburton and  and Oamaru, and later to Nelson, using de Havilland Dominies. Sadly these services did not endure. This was to be one of only a few of Airwork's airline services. 

A separate post on the South Island Airways operation can be found here... http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2015/12/oamarus-first-christchurch-connection.html.

In October 1957 Airwork imported a Bell 47G helicopter ZK-HAE. It was mainly be used to serve the needs of Canterbury and Marlborough farmers for aerial spraying, but was also available for other work in the South Island, including aerial surveys and rescue work. 

Airwork had a licence to run air taxi and air charter services, including scenic flights and joy-rides, from Christchurch Airport since 1948. This was later extended to include flights from Rangiora Airport as well as scenic and excursion flights of more than 60 minutes from the Ashburton, Timaru and Oamaru airfields but the licence was rarely used. In December 1965 Airwork (NZ) were advertising an air taxi service from Christchurch using a Piper Twin Commanche. 

In late October 1969, following the fatal accident of Aztec Air's Piper Apache ZK-BYB which operated under Airwork's air taxi and charter licence, the air taxi and charter licence was withdrawn by the company’s managing director John Brazier. He said that his company had held the licence since 1948 but had not been very active with it and had no plans to recommence business. 

I am currently researching a post on Aztec Air.

On the 6th of March 1970 the Press reported that NZ Forest Products Ltd had purchased a twin-engined Piper Aztec from Airwork (N.Z.) and that Airwork would fly and maintain the aircraft. The arrival of Piper Aztec ZK-CUS was to start a long standing relationship with Airwork operated an air service to Tokoroa for the next 21 years. 

Details of this service can be found at http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/06/forestry-towns-businessliners.html

The 1970s saw the development of the aircraft maintenance and engineering operations. By 1970 a few facility had opened at Ardmore. In 1973 Airwork bought two Timaru-based companies, topdressing company, Auster Air Services, and maintenance provider, Aerotech. In February 1977 Airwork's Christchurch facility moved to a new location adjacent to the US Navy's Deep Freeze operations making provision for the eventual expansion of the international terminal. 

In 1978 Airwork's sales division expanded gaining the agency for Aerospatiale helicopters and the new Embraer Bandeirante commuter aircraft.

The years from 1981 to 1983 were challenging years for Airwork (NZ) Ltd incurring a number of losses. In 1981 the Rangiora-based agricultural engineering/manufacturing division was sold. In August 1981 the topdressing division was sold to Airwork Agricultural Aviation Ltd, a consortium of three other companies, with Airwork retaining a 25% holding. This company changed its name to Rowley Aviation in December 1983. 

Airwork ag-aircraft at Rangiora on my first visit to the airfield in January 1980... Piper Pawnee ZK-CIT

Fletcher ZK-DHD

Piper Brave ZK-EIG

In January 1982 Hugh Jones was appointed as Managing Director and faced with mounting losses the company's head office was moved to Auckland in July 1982. It was Hugh Jones who was going to be instrumental in transforming the company to the freight airline we know today.

By October 1983 Brierley Investments owned 43% of Airwork and on the 28th of October Airwork (New Zealand) Ltd was incorporated into the engineering company, Kidd Garrett Holdings, Ltd thereby placing them on the stock market with Airwork being taken off it. In April 1984 Kidd Garrett Holdings Ltd sold Airwork New Zealand (1983) Ltd, after using it for “back-door” listing on the Stock Exchange, to to Hugh Jones and Allan Hubbard who established Airwork (NZ) 1984 Ltd on the 6th of July 1984.   

Hugh Jones, in his publication "Hugh Jones and Airwork" records, At the time of the purchase Airwork employed more than 300 people - most in the Christchurch region; many by the failing agricultural machinery business in Rangiora. We purchased only the assets and negotiated transfer of all the licences and agencies prior to settlement. Of Airwork’s staff, we only kept 15 - those based at Ardmore in Auckland. The remainder along with the Canterbury facilities were purchased by Otago-based Southair Aviation Services. Airwork remained a 50/50 joint venture until I bought out Allan Hubbard’s share in 1988. At the time of purchase, Airwork employed more than 300 people — most in the Christchurch region; many by the failing agricultural machinery business in Rangiora. 1984, our business was mainly small aircraft maintenance and some avionics. We also managed and maintained an aeroplane for New Zealand Forest Products, which we flew to and from Kinleith every day.

On the 25th of May 1987 Piper PA31-350 Chieftain ZK-EBT was registered to Airwork (NZ) 1984 Ltd for charter work. The following year moves were taken to establish air freight services. 

Airwork bought New Zealand Forest Products' Piper PA31T-1040 ZK-FPL but continuing to operate the Tokoroa air service. From late 1988 it was used to operate a night time Ardmore-Palmerston North-Christchurch-Ardmore service flying the National Business Review magazine five nights a week, though this was later reduced to four nights per week. This service was the foundation service for Airwork as we know it today.

In 1989 Airwork began a relationship with the New Zealand Police, initially with providing a helicopter for cannabis recovery  but later to the provision and operation of the Police Eagle helicopters. 

In 1990 Airwork entered into a relationship with New Zealand Post and the Air Post operation was born that was to operate Fairchild Metroliners, Fokker Friendships and a Boeing 737-200QC. Airwork reopened an aircraft engineering base in Wellington in 1990, presumably as part of the Air Post operations.

I am currently researching a post on Air Post.

Airwork (NZ) 1984 Ltd changed its name to Airwork (NZ) Ltd on the 24th day of October 1990. 

At various times Airwork operated a number of air ambulance operations using predominantly Piper PA31 Cheyennes and Fairchild Metroliners. In addition to this work general charter work was operated by various aircraft in the fleet.

Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-PAA at Hokitika on 29 December 1997 being operated as Childflight for Starship Hospital

The Mobil air ambulance, Piper PA-31T Cheyenne ZK-POD at Hastings on 13 October 1999

Airwork operated Fairchild Metroliner III for Life Flight NZ as seen here at Auckland on 23 June 2009

Piper PA-31T 1040 at Wellington on 4 October 1999

Piper PA31 Chieftain ZK-FOP at Whangarei on 17 August 2011

British Aerospace Jetstream 32 ZK-ECJ at Auckland on 23 April 2012

1993 saw Airwork moving into a purpose-built 1560 sq m hangar at Auckland International Airport. 

In 1997, private equity company Direct Capital bought 44% of Airwork and this company proved to be a good fit with Hugh Jones and this  relationship with led to the purchase of Hawker de Havilland in 1997 and the Boeing 737 for New Zealand Post in 1999. Later Direct Capital was taken over by Canadian private equity company Emerald Capital and the business became quite flat. In 2007 Hugh Jones increased his holding in Airwork to 80%.

In 1997 it acquired Perth engine overhaul business Pacific Turbine.

Skylink Air Charter was established in 2001 as a member of the Airwork Group offering passenger and freight air charters using the company Piper Chieftains, turboprops, corporate aircraft and Boeing 737s as required. In the main the aircraft remained untitled but three of the aircraft used received Skylink titles for a short time; Boeing 737-300 ZK-SLA, Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-POB and Piper PA31T-1040 ZK-FPL.

Just 4 days after being acquired by Airwork, Boeing 737-219C ZK-NQC, the quick change Boeing 737 at Auckland on 18 March 2001. The aircraft was used for charter work as well as freight work. Photo : M Ijsseldijk

Boeing 737-300 ZK-SLA with Skylink titles at Auckland on 6 August 2005. Photo : M Ijsseldijk

Piper PA-31T3 T-1040 ZK-FPL at Auckland in October 2005. Photo : P Dorbeck

Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-POB with Skylink titles at Auckland on 15 June 2010

In 2003 there were further changes in the company structure. What was Airwork (NZ) Ltd changed its name to Airwork Holdings Ltd on the 31st of July 2003, this being the holding company. Underneath it was Airwork Flight Operations which was incorporated a month before on the 23rd of June 2003 and became the airline division. The passenger and freight charter company traded as Skylink. Airwork (S.I.) Ltd changed its name to be the new Airwork (NZ) Ltd on the 31st of July 2003 and became the maintenance division. Heli Holdings Ltd was the helicopter division.

A National Business Review article in January 2004 reported that Airwork had added to its fleet with two new executive jets and a second Boeing 737 for Fiji charters and the acquisition of major general aviation engineering and support business Flightline. The report said Airwork has 270 staff, including 85 pilots, providing aircraft sales and leasing, overhaul and repair services, parts supply, training and flight operations including charters with a large fleet of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The company is the New Zealand agent for Aerospatiale and Piper and with the Flightline purchase picks up Cessna and Lycoming and Continental engines... Airwork moves more than 100 tonnes of mail and freight throughout the country every night with three Fokker F-27s and a Boeing 737-200QC... Its seven Metros include two air ambulances, one of which flew a medical evacuation from Niue to Auckland after the recent cyclone, while a large fleet of twin-engined helicopters performs charters, sight-seeing and general lifting work as Heli-Link. Airwork owns the Mechanics Bay helipad and supplies the Auckland police helicopter. Mr Jones said the 737 operated two or three charters a month for conferences, sporting and religious groups while the Metros were kept busy with smaller charters. A second 737, a –300 model formerly operated by the collapsed Arisen Australia, was bought late last year from its leasing company owner. "We felt there were opportunities in New Zealand to have such an aircraft avail-able for charter," Mr Jones said. "We had been thinking about it for some time and as the New Zealand dollar had gone up, inter-national prices dropped so we bought it well." The twinjet will operate package charters to Fiji for travel firm Flight Centre from March (see accompanying story). Airwork last week took delivery of a new 12-seat Falcon 900EX (extended range) business jet and will get an eight-seat Lear 35 next month. Mr Jones said the Falcon, which can fly Auckland-Honolulu direct, would be chartered for urgent company travel throughout the region while he had had inquiries from several people interested in using the aircraft for private touring around the Pacific. The transtasman-range Lear would extend the company's domestic and regional capabilities in air ambulance and business charter, he said... "Engineering is our core business –everything we do comes from engineering but we learned early that we had to control our own destiny by getting involved in contracted operations. "We got into the freight business in the mid-1980s with a contract to carry The National Business Review around the country and that developed into the NZ Post contract in 1988. "We are not in the people market but in aircraft operations – we fly and maintain fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and that's why the Flight Centre deal fits our approach to the aviation business perfectly." 

For the Flight Centre package holiday charter venture Airwork purchased Boeing 737-377 ZK-SLA configured in an all-economy layout. Flights were planned to take off in early March with six weekly return flights from Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch. Ultimately the venture failed to get airborne and by the 1st of July 2004 the Boeing 737 had been leased to Air Vanuatu. 

Another major feature of Airwork's operation is aircraft leasing. This is not without its problems. In 2004 it leased a Boeing 737-300, ZK-PLU, to Palau Micronesia Air enabling direct flights between the small Micronesian republic and Brisbane, Australia. Operations started on 5 August 2004 but only lasted to the 23rd of December 2004. High costs and under-performing sales led to the closure. 

Airwork's Boeing 737-300 ZK-PLU on lease to Palau Micronesia Air at Honiara, Solomon Islands, in 2004. Photo : J Mounce Collection

Another project Airwork embarked on in the early 2000s was the BK117 helicopter upgrade, a joint project between Airwork, Honeywell (engine manufacturer), Flight Structures (design organisation) and the Civil Aviation Authority. This project saw Kawasaki BK117 B-2 helicopters purchased from overseas and then fitted with improved Honeywell engines. These upgraded helicopters had similar operating capabilities to the newer machines but were much cheaper to purchase. 

International air freight operations took off in earnest in 2007. Hugh Jones recounts the story... We heard that Toll was looking for some aeroplanes. So, we phoned them up and were told that they were in the process of signing a deal. They said we were welcome to put in a proposal if we could get it in by the next Monday. This was on a Thursday. So, we put together a proposal, Toll liked what they saw and asked if we could refine it a bit. The next thing we knew we’d signed a deal.

It was a huge gamble, really. We knew there was an inter-country agreement coming that would allow us to operate in Australia under our existing air operator’s certificate, but it hadn’t quite been signed. We were confident it would happen, though, so we took the risk. We also had to purchase aeroplanes. We actually only met the start date with one aeroplane - the second and third came soon after — and we paid a bit of a penalty. Since then, though, the Toll contract has been a success for both us and Toll. We fly four Boeing 737 freighters for them - up to five when things get busy - flying four nights a week from Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. 

Airwork Boeing 737-400 in Toll colours at Auckland on 2 January 2020

In December 2007 a NZ Herald article further mapped the Airwork's development... Airwork has generally flown under the radar since majority owner Hugh Jones and an unnamed business partner bought it in 1984. The firm's strategy has been "low-key and cost-effective", says business development manager Wayne Christie. "We're not ostentatious, we don't have a big flash building." It's difficult to tell how big the company is: it won't say how many aircraft it owns, just that it "owns and/or operates" 40 of them. However, Christie confirmed that it did own "some" Boeings and helicopters... The company aims to secure long-term contracts with blue-chip customers and avoid exposure to the vagaries of the retail market. Christie sees big potential in outsourcing maintenance globally and points to figures from airline manufacturer Boeing that predict huge growth in the Southeast Asian market

The company's progress hasn't been completely turbulence-free. Airwork had to close flights between the tiny Micronesian island of Palau and Brisbane due, it is understood, to financial issues on the part of the Palau Government. 

More recently, Airwork lost its search-and-rescue contract in January after the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust bought a helicopter and found another operator... 

The company has three divisions: Airwork Flight Operations, which operates a fleet of 15 aircraft and is based at Auckland International Airport; Heli Holdings, which "owns and/or operates" 25 helicopters and has contracts with government agencies, mining and oil companies and tourism operators, and is based at Mechanics Bay on Auckland's waterfront; and Airwork New Zealand, the company's highly respected maintenance division. Airwork Flight Operations' biggest cargo contract is with NZ Post, a service called Air Post that Airwork runs in a joint venture with courier companies Express Courier and DHL. The cargo plane, a Boeing 737-200 QC, flies the freight by night and passengers by day (the QC stands for "quick change" - between passenger seats and cargo containers). Airwork Flight Operations organised transport to and from games for the Lions rugby team in 2005. Heli Holdings' major contract is to supply and fly helicopters for the police, which it has been doing since 1988. Airwork New Zealand, which is the company's core business, has workshops at Ardmore Airport, Mt Cook, Timaru and Queenstown, and has local and international customers for its extremely specialised overhaul and repair work. The workshops also design and install specific equipment such as winches, seats and stretchers, and recently manufactured its own testing equipment to test the winches used on emergency helicopters. Because the maintenance division is the company's "bread and butter", says Christie, having enough qualified engineers onsite is paramount. 

Two corporate jets have been registered to Airwork, Cessna 560 Citation Ultra ZK-AWK which was on the register twice between 2009 and 2011, and Israel Aircraft Industries 1124A Westwind which was on the register from 2011 to 2014. 

Airwork's Cessna 560 Citation ZK-AWK at Auckland on 14 September 2010

July 2012 saw the establishment of Inflite Charters Limited, an amalgamation of Air National’s fixed wing charter division and two divisions of Airwork NZ, Helilink and Skylink, to form what the company described as, “New Zealand’s largest private air solution company.” 

A separate post on Inflite Charters will be the next operator profile and it will be published next month

By May 2013 Airwork had in its fleet, four Boeing 737-300Fs on dry lease to Toll Priority, one Boeing 737-300F on dry lease contract to Air Post, one Boeing 737-300 on dry lease contract in Europe, three Boeing 737-400s with one on dry lease to Alliance Airlines, one IAI 1124 Westwind air ambulance with Inflite Charters Ltd, two Fairchild SA227-CC Metro 23s three Fairchild SA227-AC Metroliner IIIs,  two BAe J32EP Jetstream with Inflite Charters Ltd, two Fokker F.27 Mk 500 Friendships, one Piper PA31-350 Chieftain and 29 helicopters.

On the 22nd of August 2016 Parcelair Limited, a joint venture company owned by Fieldair Holdings Limited, a subisdary of Freightways, and Airwork Holdings Limited commenced operations using three Boeing 737-400 freighters between Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch leased from Airwork. 

For more on Parcelair see : https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2017/11/parcelair-night-time-freight-flyer.html

In early 2017 Rifa Jair Co., a subsidiary of the Chinese-owned Zhejiang Rifa Holding Co., accumulated acquisition of 75% of the Airwork’s shares. In September of that year the company had increased its shareholding beyond the 90% threshold that allowed it to automatically purchase the remaining shares.

Meanwhile, the annual report for Airwork Holdings to shareholders for the year ended 31st of March 2017, the last year such reports were issued, reported, During the year the Fixed Wing Division commenced operations for a new ACMI customer in Australia, delivered two 737-300F aircraft to a new Dry Lease customer in South Africa, and finalised the B737-400F freighter conversions commenced in prior years; with all aircraft now on lease. Two further B737-400 passenger aircraft were purchased for a European operator, providing additional feeder stock for future freight conversions. One converted aircraft was involved in a landing incident in Europe in August 2016, with the aircraft written off, however the lease has now been replaced by the lease of another aircraft to the same customer. The net gain on insurance associated with the lost aircraft has been offset by some non-recurring costs associated with the introduction of additional freighter aircraft in NZ and Australia. The New Zealand Parcelair operation is now operating with its full complement of three 737-400F aircraft, significantly expanding the capacity of our national air freight operation. Toll Priority’s operations in Australia are also operating with the full complement of four 737 -400F and one 737-300F aircraft. All the 737-300F aircraft that previously operated for Toll Priority and which were replaced with 737-400F aircraft have been re-leased to new customers. The Fixed Wing Division will continue to focus on its dry lease fleet and ACMI customers, with expansion and new lease and contract opportunities assessed as they arise. We continue to see strong demand for freight aircraft around the world.

One of the Boeing 737-300 freighters, ZK-FXJ, at Auckland on 6 June 2020

The Helicopter Division saw revenues and earnings decline due to continued challenging market conditions, in particular within the resources sector, and the non-recurrence of certain high yielding short-term contracts in the prior year. The Helicopter Engineering business had some significant achievements including further customer growth for the Airwork Service Plan programme, which simplifies maintenance and service support for customers, and further customer growth off the back of increased certifications and the expanded facility in Auckland. New customers provided 10.9% of the Helicopter Engineering business’ revenue. We have further invested in our sales and marketing capability to continue to grow our customer base. The Helicopter Leasing operations added a net four helicopters to its operating fleet (no net change in owned helicopter numbers) and continued to redeploy helicopters from areas of market weakness to ones of growth.

In January 2020 Airwork began a trans-Tasman air freight service between Auckland and Sydney. The five times per week service was operated in conjunction with Federal Express Corporation. The first service was operated on the 21st with Boeing 737-400 ZK-TLM flying from Auckland to Sydney as AIRWORK 1 and returning back into Auckland on the 22nd as AIRWORK 2. In May 2020 Airwork's flights to Australia were increased as part of the Government's International Air Freight Capacity scheme which was necessitated by the Covid pandemic.

A December 2020 report in NZ Aviation News reported that Airwork had 35 fixed wing aircraft on the books - five Boeing 737-300Fs, 17 Boeing 737-400Fs, 12 Boeing 757-200Fs and two Airbus 321-220s. The first B757 conversion from passenger to freight started in 2017. The economics of operating freighter aircraft is different to passenger operations as they have much lower flying hours than passenger operations. While Airwork is essentially a New Zealand based company, it has representatives and facilities around the world. In the Covid-19 era, the freight component of Airwork is doing well.

Three Boeing 737-400 freighters at Auckland in the standard Airwork colour scheme... ZK-TLM on 6 June 2020

ZK-FXL on 13 February 2021...

and ZK-AWA on 11 May 2023

Airwork used a Boeing 757 for a year from late 2020. Leased from the Greek airline Olympus Airways, Boeing 757-223F SCD SX-APX arrived in Auckland on the 3rd of December. It operated AIRWORK 1 from Auckland to Sydney that evening returning in the early hours of the 4th of December 2020 as AIRWORK 2. It's final services, were again operating as AIRWORK 1 and 2 on the 8th and 9th of December 2021.

The Olympus Boeing 757-200 freighter SX-APX about to depart Auckland on 13 March 2021

From the 4th of July 2022 FedEx New Zealand introduced a new overnight trans-Tasman service, linking Christchurch with Melbourne via Auckland five days a week using Airwork's Boeing 737 freighters.

In December 2022 Airwork sold its helicopter business to Salus Aviation

In 2023, as part of its aircraft leasing operations, Airwork were force to write off $176.5 million on five aircraft leased to a Russian operator as they remain “illegally” under its control following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Boeing aircraft were not to be recoverable due to sanctions.

In late 2023, with Texel Air moving into the Australasian air freight market, it was announced that Airwork's Toll Australian contract would end by mid 2024.

In the meantime, Airwork keeps on moving quietly and largely unknown by most New Zealanders. The arrival of air freight competition in this part of the world will undoubtedly be the deciding factor in the airline's future which will be watched with interest.

New Zealand Aircraft Registered to Airwork (Aircraft currently registered to Airwork are in bold)

Boeing 737-200

  • ZK-NQC (c/n 22994) NZ Post

Boeing 737-300

  • ZK-FDM (c/n 25016)
  • ZK-FXJ (c/n 25264)
  • ZK-FXK (c/n 25256)
  • ZK-FXL (c/n 28702)
  • ZK-FXM (c/n 25184)
  • ZK-FXT (c/n 23862)
  • ZK-PLU (c/n 24094) Palau Micronesia Air
  • ZK-SLA (c/n 23653) Skylink
  • ZK-TLA (c/n 23383)
  • ZK-TLB/1 (c/n 24209)
  • ZK-TLB/2 (c/n 26310)
  • ZK-TLC (c/n 23705)
  • ZK-TLD (c/n 23706)
  • ZK-TLE (c/n 24834)

Boeing 737-400
  • ZK-AWA (c/n 29203)
  • ZK-JTQ (c/n 24442) 
  • ZK-PAK (c/n 24444) Parcelair
  • ZK-PAQ (c/n 24443) Parcelair
  • ZK-PAT (c/n 24683) Parcelair
  • ZK-PAU (c/n 25371)
  • ZK-TLF (c/n 24709)
  • ZK-TLJ (c/n 24432)
  • ZK-TLK (c/n 24434)
  • ZK-TLL (c/n 25362)
  • ZK-TLM (c/n 24813)
British Aerospace Jetstream 3201
  • ZK-ECI (c/n 946) Inflite
  • ZK-ECJ (c/n 969) Inflite
  • ZK-JSQ (c/n 968)
Cessna 421C Golden Eagle
  • ZK-WLG (c/n 421C0492)
Cessna 560 Citation Ultra
  • ZK-AWK (c/n 560-0396)

Fairchild SA227AC Metroliner III

  • ZK-LFT (c/n AC-582) 
  • ZK-NSS (c/n AC-692B) NZ Post
  • ZK-PAA (c/n AC-582) 
  • ZK-POA (c/n AC-551B) NZ Post
  • ZK-POB (c/n AC-606B) NZ Post, Skylink

Fairchild SA227CC Metro 23
  • ZK-POE (c/n CC-843B)
  • ZK-POF (c/n CC-844B)

Fokker F27-500 Friendship

  • ZK-NAN (c/n 10365) NZ Post
  • ZK-NAO (c/n 10364) NZ Post 
  • ZK-PAX (c/n 10596) NZ Post
  • ZK-POH (c/n 10680) NZ Post

GAF N22B Nomad

  • ZK-NDB (c/n N22B-37) NZ Post
  • ZK-SNZ (c/n N22C-104) NZ Post

Israel Aircraft Industries 1124A Westwind

  • ZK-RML (c/n 339)
Miles M57 Aerovan IV
  • ZK-AWV (c/n c/n 6428)

Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain

  • ZK-EBT (c/n 31-7552044)
  • ZK-FOP (c/n 31-7405227)
  • ZK-PAI (c/n 31-7852118)

Piper PA-31T-620 Cheyenne

  • ZK-MPI (c/n 31T-7720009)
  • ZK-POD (c/n 31T-7720009)
  • ZK-ROM (c/n 31T-7620055)

Piper PA-31T3 T-1040 

  • ZK-FPL (c/n 31-8475001) NZ Post, Skylink

1 comment:

  1. that's a really informative read, so comprehensive! Thanks Steve