13 October 2013

Eagle, the High Flying Link Carrier


This is the final post of four detailing the history of Eagle Air... The first three can be found at




The introduction of the pressurised Beech 1900D with its stand up-cabin brought a new level of passenger comfort and appeal to Eagle Air’s customers. Before the introduction of the Beech into Hokitika Doug Roberts, Eagle Airways’ general manager, told the West Coast Times that the Hokitika service “was going from two star to four star. The Beech 1900s were more comfortable, people could stand up in them, had a toilet, plenty of room and reclining leather seats. The higher rate-of-climb the aircraft had would shave five minutes off both the Westport and Hokitika service flight times.”

Ahead of the delivery of the 16 brand new aircraft an American registered Beech 1900D, N84802 (c/n UE-53) arrived in Hamilton on the 9th of May 2001. This older aircraft was used for crew and engineer training and remained on the American register until the 24th of September 2001 when it was placed on the New Zealand register as ZK-JNG (c/n UE-53). By this time it had been joined by another a second Beech 1900D, ZK-JND (c/n UE-302). which was registered on the 28th August of 2001. The 28th also saw the first day of Eagle Air’s Beech 1900 service with ZK-JND operating Eagle Air flight 2134 from Auckland and Gisborne. ZK-JNG was used for the first time on an Eagle service on the 24th of September 2001 while the first of Eagle’s own, brand new aircraft, ZK-EAA (c/n UE-424) entered service on the 20th of October 2001 operating Eagle Air flight 2020 from Blenheim to Wellington. By the end of 2001 three of Eagle’s new Beech aircraft, ZK-EAA, EAB and EAC were in service while three Metroliners, ZK-PBA, OAA and SDA had been retired. Over the next 12 months the remaining new Beeches entered service at about the rate of one a month. The initial fleet of 16 aircraft registered ZK-EAA to ZK-EAP marked the end of the Beech 1900D production line.

The two "temporary" Beech 1900Ds... ZK-JND and ZK-JNG taken at Woodbourne on 1 November 2011
 

With the introduction of the Beech 1900 Eagle Air being the 19-seat operator for Air New Zealand Link and so took Air Nelson’s Metroliner services. On the 15th of July 2002 Eagle Air took over the Wellington-Taupo service, the first flight from Taupo being crewed by Captain Brett Moffat and First Officer Aaron Murphy in ZK-EAK. On the same day Eagle also changed the routing of its Auckland-Taupo service to include a stop at Rotorua on the southbound flight with the return flight from Taupo operating direct to Auckland.

The 15th of July also saw the first Beech service to Westport and this service was also operated by ZK-EAK. A few days later, on the 20th of July, Eagle operated its first Wellington-Timaru-Wellington service with ZK-EAG and on the 21st of July ZK-EAA operated Eagle’s inaugural Wellington-Nelson-Wellington service.

In theory the 22nd of July 2002 was also Wanganui’s turn to receive the Beech 1900s, however, due to aircraft unavailability Eagle’s first flights to the River City were flown by Airwork (NZ)’s Fairchild Metro 23, ZK-POF.

The 9th of August 2002 marked the end of an era with ZK-VJG flying Eagle Air’s last Bandeirante service. The last flight, Eagle Air 447 from Wellington to Blenheim marked the end of the company’s 22-year history with the Embraer Bandeirante.

Hokitika was the next Air Nelson port to change to Eagle Air. The inaugural flight was flown on the 11th of August 2002 with ZK-EAH flying the Sunday evening flight from Christchurch to Hokitika, the previous flights of the day being operated by Air Nelson. Timaru moved to a full Eagle service from the 8th of September 2002 while the following day Eagle introduced a new direct Whangarei-Wellington service with ZK-EAI flying the first flight. The same day Eagle introduced a Wellington-Napier-Wellington service. On the 13th of October 2002 Wanganui finally received its Beech 1900 service with ZK-EAL operating into Wanganui on the last flight of that day.

The first of Eagle Air's own Beech 1900s, ZK-EAA at Hokitika on 5 July 2010
On the 9th of November 2002 Eagle’s fleet replacement came to a close with Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-RCA operating the company’s final Metroliner services. ZK-RCA, under the command of Captain Brian Scott and First Officer Brent Elton, flew a Hamilton to Auckland sector, before operating a return service to Rotorua and then a final Auckland to Hamilton service.

From February 2004 Timaru picked up an additional weekday flight and from the 19th of March 2004 a raft of additional services were introduced, including a new early morning weekday service between Auckland and Tauranga, an additional Auckland to Hamilton service in the middle of the day, new early afternoon flights on Thursdays and Fridays between Auckland and Napier, additional flights from Monday to Wednesday between Gisborne and Wellington and Blenheim and Wellington. In addition to these the morning Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo service was changed to operate a dedicated flight to both centres while Saturday services were introduced between Wellington and Westport and Blenheim and Christchurch making both these services daily. A Saturday afternoon service from Christchurch to Invercargill and return was also introduced.

Beech 1900D ZK-EAB arrives into Auckland on 21 June 2008
However, the most dramatic addition to Eagle’s services on the 19th of March 2004 was the introduction of a daily service to a new port, Wanaka. Daily flights were operated to and from Christchurch with the inaugural flight being operated by ZK-EAP. On Sundays through to Fridays the flight left Christchurch at 10.45 am arriving at Wanaka at 11.45 am with the return sector leaving Wanaka at 12.05 pm to arrive back at Christchurch at 1.00 pm. The Saturday schedule operated about two hours later.

Beech 1900 ZK-EAD taxis out at Whangarei on 5 July 2011
While Eagle’s Beech 1900s were D models there was for a short time a C model operating their services. From the 11th of October 2004 Vincent Aviation’s Beech 1900C ZK-VAE was chartered to operate a twice daily Wellington-Blenheim-Christchurch return service. In the years following the Beech 1900C was also used regularly on services to Blenheim, Westport, Timaru, Nelson, Palmerston North and Hamilton.

From the 12th of December 2004 Hokitika received a fourth flight from Christchurch By this stage Eagle Air was each year operating some 55,000 flights nationally carrying over 750,000 passengers!

By the end of 2005 more than 10,000 people had flown on the Wanaka service and Air New Zealand announced the addition of five extra flights a week over the summer holidays. From the 26th of December 2005 Kaitaia again moved to two flights each weekday with a single flight on Saturdays and Sundays. Initially these flights were operated by a 19-seat Jetstream 32 leased from Air National. The weekday services were Auckland based with a northbound flights leaving at 8.20am and 5.05pm and return flights leaving Kaitaia at 9.25am and 6.10pm.

Beech 1900 ZK-arrives at Kaitaia, Eagle's most northern port, on 31 March 2009
In these years Eagle Air was trying its best to improve frequency and reduce fares, not an easy task with a sophisticated 19-seater aircraft. However, it often ran into disputes with airport companies struggling to make their airports viable. One such case was Taupo and in April 2006 flights were reduced between Taupo and Auckland because of a dispute with the Taupo District Council. Simon Rowbotham, council's chief executive, say the airline's demand cover a number of issues, including the removal of the Unicorn navigational system at the airport. "If Eagle Airways are not prepared to grow the Taupo passenger air market and work with us in a positive way to achieve that growth we will actively seek alternatives." Eagle, however, pointed out that it costs Taupo $700,000 a year to run its airport while Whakatane operated theirs for $200,000.


Flying from Auckland to Kerikeri on 5 July 2011



In other areas Eagle was expanding. An additional return service was offered between Wellington and Whangarei from the 26th of April 2006 as were new direct services between Nelson and both Hamilton and Palmerston North. An early morning service was offered from Nelson to Hamilton and return before the aircraft flew on to Palmerston North. A reverse service was flown in the late afternoon, early evening. These additional services were operated using Vincent Aviation’s Beechcraft 1900C.

Services were further expanded from the 6th of August 2006. Eagle Air launched a new service between Christchurch and Oamaru using 19-seater turbo-prop British Aerospace Jetstreams operated by Air National. The service saw a Sunday to Friday evening service southbound with early morning northbound flights operated Monday to Friday and on Friday evenings. The first flight arrived into Oamaru on the evening of Sunday the 6th of August 2006 and was operated by Jetstream ZK-ECI, the Spirit of Waitaki with 14 passengers aboard. The Jetstream also employed to operate the weekday morning service from Christchurch and Hokitika and a number of weekend services to Hokitika. This enabled additional Beech 1900 flights to Wanaka for the ski season.

The arrival of the first flight into Oamaru on 6 August 2006... Source : Otago Daily Times
A late running Beech flight meant both the early morning Beech flight to Hokitika and the later Air National Jetstream were on the ground at the same time on 25 January 2006

Again in early 2007 services were expanded. From the 12th of February Hokitika received a fifth weekday service to Christchurch, Taupo received an additional service to Wellington and weekday flights between Wellington and Westport were doubled enabling passengers from either centre enough time at their destination to conduct their business before returning home the same day. Vincent Aviation’s Beech aircraft were often used for the morning sectors. Wanganui was also linked south to Wellington for the first time since 2002 and this allowed connections to South Island centres.

Eagle Air’s operations were not without incident. On the 18th of June 2007 Beech 1900 ZK-EAK made a spectacular and successful wheels-up landing at Blenheim Airport after landing gear failed. The 15 passengers and two crew were unhurt. In September 2007 engineers discovered a problem with an undercarriage component which grounded the fleet for some days. Another incident which gained national headlines occurred on the 8th of February 2008 when an Eagle Air flight, being operated by Air National was hijacked between Blenheim and Christchurch. A knife-wielding Somali woman demanded that the pilots fly the plane to Australia. In the course of the incident the pilots and a passenger were stabbed. The plane landed safely in Christchurch. It was later revealed the woman had psychiatric issues.

The spectacular wheels-up landing of Beech 1900 ZK-EAK at Woodbourne on 18 June 2007. The landing can also be seen on Youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZZvNmt57rE
Photo : Marlborough Express
From the 19th of May 2008 Eagle Air launched a new direct service between Whakatane and Wellington. Early morning weekday flights were offered from Whakatane returning in the evening. A Sunday evening flight to Whakatane was also operated as well as a Friday night flight back to Wellington. This service was usually operated by Vincent Aviation’s Beech 1900 ZK-VAD. Meanwhile, Eagle Air’s direct Hamilton-Nelson and Palmerston North-Nelson flights ended on the 24th of December 2008.

2007 and 2008 saw fleet expansion with two second-hand Beech 1900Ds added to the fleet. ZK-EAQ (c/n UE-363) was imported from the United States and added to the fleet in March 2007 while ZK-EAR (c/n 388) was imported from Australia and was added to the fleet in July 2008. April 2008 saw an infrastructure expansion with the opening of Eagle’s new $ 1.5 million maintenance hangar at Hamilton.

The two "new" - second hand Beech 1900Ds... Above ZK-EAQ departs Hokitika on 11 January 2008 while below, ZK-EAR is on final approaches to Runway 34 at Wellington on 7 January 2013
 

In February 2009 Masterton was the added to the Air New Zealand network with flights to and from Auckland operated by Eagle Air. The new schedule was designed primarily to meet the needs of business customers with a 7.05am Monday to Friday departure from Masterton and an early evening Sunday to Friday return service. The airline also offered a service departing Masterton on Friday evenings. Over 300 people gathered to see ZK-EAI arrive with the first flight into Masterton on the evening of the 15th of February and for the subsequent terminal opening. The first flight out the following morning had a full complement of 19 passengers. 

The inaugural flight from Masterton being prepared for departure, 16 February 2009. Photo : Eagle Air
The 2009 economic recession had a detrimental impact of Eagle’s operations. In April 2009 Timaru lost eight flights a week due to a drop in demand, followed by two more flights the following month. A schedule changes made to the Christchurch-Oamaru service from the 18th of May 2009 with the loss of the conveniently timed northbound early north and evening return service. There was immediate dismay from the local community and despite attempts to offer a better timetable changes proved disastrous for the North Otago service which gradually declined until it was completely dropped on the 31st of December 2009. The final service was operated by Beech ZK-EAL.

A twice daily Monday and Friday service was introduced between Christchurch and Westport on a six-month trial basis from the 6th of July 2009. This was aimed at moving staff, consultants and contractors for state-coalminer Solid Energy who partially underwrote the new service by guaranteeing a minimum seat occupancy for each flight. The first service was flown by Captain Alistair Marshall, first officer Dan Bolton in Beech ZK-EAJ. The service operated until the 18th of December 2009 with the company stating the six month trial had shown it was not viable. Sadly the introduction of this service caused the demise of Coastair which was already operating a marginal service on this route.

A brace of Beech 1900s - ZK-EAF (nearest) and ZK-EAL taxi for departure at Auckland on 29 April 2010

Eagle Air is often accused of a lack of cheap fares on its flights. The Westport News in May 2010, for example, reported that flying to Sydney may cost you less than flying from Westport to Wellington, with enough money left over to buy a decent book at the airport. While by an large Eagle Air offers a standard of provincial air service second to none in the world. Its greatest competitor is the car, with people often happy to drive some hours to get a cheap air fare from one of the main airports. The overheads of operating a 19-seat Beech 1900 as compared to a 171-seat Airbus 320 make the offering of many cheap seats difficult if not impossible. Changes in the management of Eagle Air have this helped this either. It seems to have lost its innovative edge as management has become more controlled by Air New Zealand.

From the 30th of August 2010 Eagle increased its flights between Christchurch and Wanaka and Christchurch to 11 flights a week with same day return flights being offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This impacted on flights to Hokitika with more flights being operated by Jetstreams and the cancelling of two flights each week on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. The expanded Wanaka flight timetable did not achieve the necessary support and by the end of 2011 the schedule had been reduced to a daily flight. Cuts were also made to the Whakatane-Wellington flights over the 2011 winter.

In January 2012 two Beech 1900s were repainted in the "All Blacks" scheme... Above, on 12 January 2012, ZK-EAG was positioned around to the Air New Zealand maintenance hangar to greet the arrival of big brother Boeing 777-300 ZK-OKQ in the same scheme. Below, a closer shot of the second Beech 1900 in the scheme, ZK-EAK arrives at Taupo on 14 February 2013. Plans to paint a third Beech in the scheme were scrapped after the 2012 grounding of the Beech fleet.
 

August 2012 saw more disruptions to the Eagle fleet when hairline cracks were found in the tail area of an aircraft during routine maintenance inspection. Once again this led to the grounding of the fleet for some days causing massive disruptions.

On the 30th of January 2013 Eagle Air ended its Christchurch and Wanaka service. Airline manager Carrie Hurihanganui said the service had always struggled commercially and rising costs forced the move. The last flight was operated under the command of Captain James Coppard in ZK-EAG.

The final flight to Wanaka : Source : http://www.odt.co.nz/news/queenstown-lakes/244194/eagle-air-takes-resort-last-time

Further cuts were announced in September 2013. On the 24th of December 2013 the final Wanganui to Wellington service was cut due to lack of demand along with increased costs. On the 7th of February 2014 Auckland to Masterton service was cut with Beech 1900D ZK-EAK operating EAG025 from Auckland to Masterton  and EAG026 from Masterton to Auckland.. Again lack of demand was cited along with increased operating costs leading to the route being no longer economically viable. From the same day Westport lost two flights a week.

Was it a good investment? The Masterton airport terminal as seen on 15 April 2009... Will it have an airline serving it after the 7th of February 2014?

Changes to the runway length requirements meant the Beech 1900s were increasingly unsuitable for air services into Whangarei. The final services, EAGLE 856/857 from Auckland to Whangarei and return were operated on the 9th of February 2014. The Whangarei-Wellington service continued to operated by Eagle until April 2015.

On the 11th of November 2014 Air New Zealand announced that following a comprehensive review of its regional network that there would be a progressive phasing out of its Beech 1900 fleet which would be replaced by Bombardier Q300 services. The company stated that Beech fleet had been losing more than $1 million a month. The company also announced it would withdraw from Kaitaia , Whakatane, and Westport entirely and from the Whangarei-Wellington, Taupo-Wellington, Palmerston North-Nelson and Hamilton-Auckland routes.

Kerikeri's last Beech 1900 flights were operated in Febraury 2015. ZK-EAB did the last overnight service flying in on 7 February as NZ2674 and flying out on 8 February as NZ2661. Then later in the day ZK-EAM flew the last two Auckland-Kerikeri return flights as NZ2654/NZ2689 and NZ2662/NZ2665.

On the 28th of April 2015 Eagle Air operated its final services from Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport with all three centres losing their Air New Zealand service. The final Westport services were operated under the command of Captain Andrew Mercer and First Officer Jason McDonald in Beech 1900D ZK-EAN on flights (EAG587/EAG588).

Air New Zealand flies out of Westport on 28 April 2015 for the last time. Beech 1900 ZK-EAN

Beech 1900 ZK-EAE operated the final flight from Whakatane to Auckland (EAG532) and the final return flight from Auckland to Kaitaia  (EAG602 and EAG603). Beech 1900 ZK-EAI operated the final Taupo-Wellington service (EAG501).


The final flights into Taupo, Rotorua, Tauranga and on the Auckland-Hamilton route were operated by Beech 1900 ZK-EAB the 8th of February 2016.

The final flight to Taupo. Beech 1900 ZK-EAB on 8 February 2016
The arrival of the final Auckland-Hamilton service - ZK-EAB at Hamilton. Eagle Air first flew the Auckland-Hamilton route in 1980 with Embraer Bandeirante ZK-ERU. 

On the 1st of May 2016 Eagle Air operated its final South Island services. Beech 1900D ZK-EAC operated the final services between Christchurch and Hokitika while Beech 1900D ZK-EAH operated the final services from Blenheim flying to Christchurch and return.

After earlier being replaced by Bombardier Q300s on the Auckland-Wanganui route the Beech 1900 was again redeployed to operate the Wanganui service. The final services EAGLE 761/762 from Auckland to Wanganui and return were operated on the 12th of June 2016.

Eagle Air pulled out of Gisborne on the 31st of July 2016. The final Eagle service was operated from Gisborne to Wellington  by Beech 1900 ZK-EAN (NZ2237/Eagle 237).

Eagle 237 taxis out from Gisborne on the last flight to Wellington on 31 July 2016.
All good things have to come to and end, and the end came for Eagle Air on the 26th of August 2016 when Beech 1900 ZK-EAH flew the final services. The morning services, NZ2101 from Hamilton to Palmerston North, NZ2425 from Palmerston North to Wellington, NZ2435 Wellington to Palmerston North and NZ2102 from Palmerston North to Hamilton were flown by Captains Alan Breen and Barry Brown. The final afternoon services from NZ2105 Hamilton to Palmerston North, NZ2421 Palmerston North to Wellington, NZ2426 Wellington to Palmerston North and NZ2106 Palmerston North to Hamilton were flown by Captains Peter Reid and Chris Mortimer.

The final flight, NZ2106, Eagle 106 from Palmerston North to Hamilton
Fuelling up for the Eagle's Air final flight, Beech 1900 ZK-EAH at Palmerston North on 26 August 2016
Boarding Eagle 2106 for Hamilton - Captain Chris Mortimore greets Captain Alan Breen... 
ZK-EAH after its final flight to Hamilton on 26 August 2016. Drinks in the Koru Lounge followed. Through the window I saw EAH being towed silently away like a heare driving into the darkness.

For more on the final flight see :

Malcolm Campbell's Eagle Air was marked with courageous innovation and enterprise. Its impact on the history of regional air services in New Zealand has been huge. It is with real sadness that we bid it farewell.

Raytheon (Beech) 1900D Fleet

EAA (c/n UE-424)
EAB (c/n UE-425)
EAC (c/n UE-426)
EAD (c/n UE-427)
EAE (c/n UE-428)
EAF (c/n UE-429)
EAG (c/n UE-430)
EAH (c/n UE-431)
EAI (c/n UE-432)
EAJ (c/n UE-433)
EAK (c/n UE-434)
EAL (c/n UE-435)
EAM (c/n UE-436)
EAN (c/n UE-437)
EAO (c/n UE-438)
EAP (c/n UE-439)
EAQ (c/n UE-363)
EAR (c/n UE-388)
JND (c/n UE-302)
JNG (c/n UE-53)

Eagle Air founder Malcolm Campbell and Eagle Air's General Manager in 2004 Doug Roberts with the original Airtourer and one of the Beech 1900 fleet. Photo : Eagle Air

16 comments:

  1. Fascinating post - what's happened to ZK-EAR and EAQ? Are they still flying? I had no idea Eagle didn't have a GM either...that was quite a startling revelation. And thankfully you've mentioned the last Bandeirante flight - nice!

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  2. Not to put too fine a point on it but Air Nelson currently has no GM either. Expect to see these roles filled in the near future.

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  3. I flew on EAR to Wanganui. Still flying I think

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  4. All the EA-series Beech 1900s are still part of the fleet... Only JND and JNQ have gone.

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  5. The three Air NZ Link carrier's are now lead by one GM, Sarah Williamson.
    My thoughts are in 3 years the Beech fleet will be half what it is today, and in 5 years gone altogether. We'll have pre 1990 airline services (without the Govt subsidies) again......... Hopefully the niche ports who lose services over time will have a third level operator fill the gaps. Watch this space!

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  6. All regional airlines including Eagle now have their own GM's.

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  7. What a great article. Well done. You didn't mention my favorite Eagle route though, the Saturday flight from CHC to IVC, operated until 2008 (I think). It meant they pretty well covered the entire country for a period of time. Things sure have changed (and not for the better).

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    1. Good point... the Invercargill service started on 20 March 2005 but I am not sure how long it lasted. From the best of my knowledge the only ports the 1900s have not operated into regularly are Dunedin, Queenstown and maybe Napier... I'm not sure about the latter.

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    2. I have never seen 1900s in ZQN or DUD though

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  8. Hi Anon
    To the best of my knowledge Sarah Williamson is the GM Regional Airlines and there are vacant positions for "Head of Eagle Air, Head of Mt Cook and Head of Air Nelson".

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  9. Napier has seen 1900s, but not on a scheduled basis. About a month ago our Q300 got downgraded to a 1900D on WLG-NPE

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  10. All three links are now manned by a Head of... There is a GM for all Link airlines as stated above. In three years the fleet will be 12-14. There is a strong case for at least another 8 years in the aircraft.

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  11. Hi Anon, do you know the names of the GM's for the respective Link airlines please?

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  12. Isn't Darin Stronger the GM of Air Nelson, Carrie Hurihanganui the GM of Eagle Airways and Sarah Williamson the GM of Mount Cook?

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  13. That is how the structure used to work. Darin is now back with the parent company as Head of Pilots, Carrie is now working with the airports team I think and Sarah is now GM of all three as GM Regional Airlines. I do not believe the newly created roles of "Head of NM/PG/EX" have yet been filled.

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