09 October 2011

Great Barrier Island's Professional Aero Club Service - NZ Air Charter


This post follows on from the post on the Auckland Aero Club service to Great Barrier Island http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/10/on-journey-to-heavens-and-great-barrier.html

In 1975 the Auckland Aero Club rebranded its commercial division as New Zealand Air Charter, the move partly motivated to promote the charter and air taxi operation more as a professional operation as to the perception of the being an aero club sideline. At this stage NZ Air Charter offered eight flights a week to Great Barrier Island on an air taxi basis. These services operated from both Ardmore and Auckland International.

NZ Air Charter timetable 1A, 1975
In 1977 new routes were established to Raglan/Taharoa and Coromandel and to Dargaville, Kaikohe and Kaitaia in 1978 following the collapse of Nationwide Air. By 1978 NZ Air Charter was offering twice daily flights to Great Barrier Island, with additional flights being operated over the summer. In addition to the Cessna 172s, Cessna 177 Cardinal, Piper Pa28 Archer, Piper Pa32 Cherokee Six, Piper Pa23 Aztec and Partenavia P68B aircraft were used. For a few months, at the end of 1977, the Club also leased Stewart Island Air Service’s Britten Norman Islander while this company awaited the opening of Ryans Creek airstrip on Stewart Island.

NZ Air Charter timetable, effective 14 December 1979

Two NZ Air Charter Piper Cherokee Sixes, ZK-ELK and ZK-DGZ at Auckland International ready for an early morning departure to Great Barrier Island on the 27th of Deceomber 1978.
A close up photo of both aircraft... Above Piper Cherokee Six ZK-DGZ taken at Ardmore...
...and a long way from home - Piper Cherokee Six ZK-ELK with NZ Air Charter titles at Hokitika in August 1982. 
The Great Barrier service was not only important for passengers, but it also carried the mail and a lot of air freight. A letter from the NZ Air Charter staff to the February 1982 edition of the Barrier Bulletin said, "We reckon Great Barrier folk are great bread eaters. N.Z. Air Charter carried 15,134 loaves of bread and 1,089 packets of rolls during December and January!"

The Club service was not without its detractors, however. As early as December 1977 one correspondent to the Barrier Bulletin was unhappy with the service, writing: “The Auckland Aero Club is obviously short of aircraft - pilots - and above all - TIME. When some of the Island's businessmen sit down on the airfield from 0900 hours when the aircraft is due, until sometimes 1030 hours - something is wrong - and it is obviously the system that needs an overhaul.” Despite the experience of late running flights, the lack of an IFR service and a definitive scheduled service and the condition of the grassed Claris airfield the service was appreciated by islanders. One local, recounting the Aero Club service, said, “Claris airfield used to be a desolate place as one waited in the tin shed for the plane to arrive. In bad weather the plane would hug the coast as it flew around to Claris. It was a good service and you weren’t charged for every ounce of overweight baggage!”

NZ Air Charter's Partenavia P68B ZK-ERA at Christchurch in May 1980.

In 1983 Great Barrier Airlines set up in competition to the Club service with the introduction of flights between Auckland International Airport and Great Barrier Island. This new service was a major challenge for the Aero Club service. In a bid to sustain its business the Club wrote to all Barrier residents appealing to and for their loyalty to Club service: “No flying service is more experienced in flying to and from Great Barrier than the Auckland Aero Club. Over the years you, as a resident and valued customer, have probably used our service, or purchased goods carried by the Auckland Aero Club. Milk, bread and papers are carried at a minimal charge to stores, and this service is run at a loss to the Aero Club; being provided as a gesture of goodwill. Mail is carried under contract to N.Z.P.O. Regularly we have been called out for emergencies, accidents etc. and sometimes at night in difficult conditions and have responded readily. As we see it, the most important part of the service has been the maintaining of a continued and reliable service to residents, Summer and Winter. This has been achieved over the years at a comparatively low profit to the Club... In addition, the Auckland Aero Club spends over $4,000 per year to maintain the Claris Airfield with no government or outside financial assistance… The purpose of this letter is to thank you for your past support and ensure you of our wish to provide the regular service you need, throughout the year. We ask for your continued support to enable us to run a viable service for as far into the future as possible.”

NZ Air Charter's Piper Archer, ZK-ENX, taken at Ardmore on 2 November 1986

In the event NZ Air Charter found the Great Barrier Airlines too vigorous a competitor. Auckland Aero Club officials acknowledged that the Great Barrier Service was, at best, only marginally profitable and generally running at a loss. An agreement was reached between the Club and Great Barrier Airlines whereby a goodwill financial payment was made to the Club and provision was made for the lease of two aircraft and maintenance services. The decision to end the service was not taken lightly because of the tradition of the long running service. The Auckland Aero Club/NZ Air Charter air service finally ended on the 1st of July 1984.

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