At that time Air New Zealand served Hokitika with a twice daily Friendship service operated on Sundays through to Fridays flying a return Wellington-Westport-Hokitika-Christchurch service and a Saturday Christchurch-Hokitika return service. The two Friendship flights operated with an hour or two of each other and usually passed each other as they flew between Hokitika and Westport meaning there was no chance for business people to do a same day return journey to or from Hokitika. In handing the West Coast operation over to Air Nelson the then Air New Zealand chief executive, Jim Scott, said, "It no longer makes business sense to operate Fokker Friendships when smaller aircraft operating higher frequencies better suit the market. Our provincial services have always been an important part of our operations, but we must adapt to survive in changing times. What has been the best practice in the past does not necessarily provide the best solution for the future."
Air Nelson’s higher frequency replacement service to Hokitika offered 18 flights a week. These departed from Christchurch at 8.50am, 1.40pm, and 5.10pm Monday to Friday, arriving in Hokitika 30 minutes later. Return flights left Hokitika at 9.45am, 2.45pm, and 6pm. On Saturdays a morning flight was operated with two flights being operated on Sunday afternoons. The three flights a day schedule offered an extra 15 seats in and out of Hokitika each weekday. "It really is a positive move and not one of sadness," Paul Bowe, Air New Zealand’s southern regional manager, told the Greymouth Evening Star. "You are, in fact, getting more service and more seat availability. We see this not as a pulling out of the service, but a changing of the service to give more frequency with better connections.”
Air Nelson timetable effective 31 October 1988
Air New Zealand flew its last Friendship service to Hokitika on the 30th of October with Air Nelson commencing its service the following day, the 31st of October 1988. However, as Air Nelson’s first Fairchild Metroliner III, ZK-NSW, had only arrived in the country on the 26th of October, the first Air Nelson flight was flown by Keith Jenkins in Associated Air’s Cessna 402 ZK-DSB. The Metroliner made its first familiarisation flight to Hokitika on the 20th of November with it being used on regular services to Hokitika from the 21st of November 1988. Until that date a number of different commuter aircraft were chartered to maintain the Hokitika service including Bell Air’s Beech 99 ZK-LLA, Mount Cook Airline’s DHC Twin Otter, ZK-MCO, Associated Air’s Cessna 402s ZK-DSB and ZK-KAN, Cessna 421 ZK-WLG, Air Safaris’ Nomads ZK-NMD and ZK-NME, Air Nelson’s Piper Chieftains ZK-NSO and ZK-NSP and various Air New Zealand Friendships. Air Nelson had been given a some six weeks to prepare for the October 31 starting date so as to include the new West Coast timetable in Air New Zealand’s summer timetabe. Commenting on this Air Nelson’s managing director, Mr Robert Inglis, said, "In retrospect the time was a little optimistic. They asked us to try and meet that time and we have done the very best that we could and remain grateful that the West Coast people have been patient and understanding of our situation."
Hokitika people were not only patient and understanding, but they were quick to embrace the new service with the three daily flights being booked-out for much of the summer with flights which were not leaving full were carrying 16-17 passengers.
|Air Nelson's first Fairchild SA227AC Metroliner III, ZK-NSW (c/n 508), in full Air Nelson colours scheme at Hokitika on 8 August 1989.|
|The faces of Air Nelson in Hokitika... Above, Grace Trolle and Chris Cuff, and below Jim Jamieson. Source : Air Nelson Link, September/October 1997|
West Coat Times, August 1989
From the 1st of November 1989 Air Nelson adjusted their Hokitika schedule to allow the overnighting of a Metroliner in Hokitika. This permitted an early morning departure from Hokitika and early evening return and so enabled West Coasters the opportunity to do a full day of business in any of the main centres. The timetable, however, was not well thought out. The morning flight left Hokitika at 6.30am which meant Greymouth passengers had to leave Greymouth by 5.40 am to enable them to catch the flight. This, and the fact it was introduced just before the Christmas holidays, a relatively quiet time for business travellers, meant that it was not well supported and it was withdrawn on the 6th of April 1990, albeit with the prospect of its return and a better departure time when more aircraft became available.
The end of 1990 saw further expansion of Air Nelson’s services as Air New Zealand withdrew all its remaining Friendships. Tauranga, Rotorua, Taupo, Gisborne, Napier and New Plymouth were all added to the Air Nelson network and Saab 340s and more Metroliners were added to the fleet.
Meanwhile, not surprisingly, the extended West Coast service failed to generate sufficient patronage. The connection from Westport to Christchurch only averaged 2 to 3 passengers though sometimes this was due to the Hokitika-Christchurch section being heavily booked, meaning Westport travellers could not get seats. The five flight a day schedule, including the "round the rocks" connection to Westport and Wellington was dropped from 9th of February 1991. Hokitika reverted to a three flights a weekday schedule, at the same time losing its early morning departure.
West Coast Times, 3 September 1990
|Two Metroliners sitting at Hokitika made an impressive picture! Metros ZK-NSU (left) and ZK-NSY (right) at Hokitika on 8 August 1990.|
|Shown in the first Air New Zealand Link colour scheme is Metro ZK-NSV at Hokitika on 3 December 1997.|
|Saab 340 ZK-FXA doing the morning Christchurch-Hokitika-Christchurch service on 14 June 1994|
In the years that followed Air Nelson continued to operate its three weekday flights with a consistent pattern of an early morning flight to Christchurch, returning after the arrival into Christchurch of Boeing flights from Auckland and Wellington. The Metro would then return to Christchurch by mid-morning. A reverse schedule was operated late in the afternoon with a late Friday evening service returning the Metro to Christchurch. On Saturdays a return service was operated in the morning and two return services were flown on Sunday afternoons and an additional flight over to Hokitika on Sunday evenings.
In 2002 Air New Zealand started rationalising and re-equipping its Link carriers. Eagle Air became the small aircraft carrier and re-equipped with 19-seat Beech 1900Ds; Air Nelson became the mid-size aircraft operator with 50-seat Bombardier Q300s and Mount Cook Airline operating the large turbo-prop operators with ATR 72-500s. This meant the end for Air Nelson’s Hokitika service. The final flight Air Nelson flight, NZ8609, was crewed by Captain Dave Horrell and First Officer A. Virtue in Fairchild Metroliner ZK-NSY on the 11th of August 2002. On that day the Hokitika Air Nelson staff finished, Eagle Air opting for contractors rather than employees.
|Air Nelson Bombardier Q300 ZK-NEM arriving into Hokitika on 15 September 2015|
|Bombardier Q300 ZK-NEG operating the first flight of the full Air New Zealand schedule into Hokitika on 2 May 2016|
|The Air Nelson schedule effective 2 May 2016|
|An improved Air Nelson schedule which will be effective from 31 October 2016|