15 December 2013

Oamaru's First Passenger Air Service



On Saturday the 13th of December 1952 a field day was help at Oamaru’s Hilderthorpe airfield to announce the inauguration of a new service between Oamaru and Dunedin’s Taieri airfield which was to be operated by Queenstown-based Southern Scenic Air Services Ltd. The service, Oamaru’ first passenger service, was to be operated as an extension of the Southern Scenic’s existing Queenstown-Dunedin service using single-engined three-passenger Percival Proctors. The company's business manager Mr E. F. Harvie said that although the service would operate on a non-scheduled basis flights would be made even for one passenger. However, he warned Oamaru residents that as the service was non-scheduled it would not be possible for a passenger to proceed to Hilderthorpe, unannounced, and expect to find an aircraft or seat available. “As is the usual practice in all air services reservations are necessary and the Union Steamship Company in Oamaru had been appointed sole representatives of the company.” If the demand warrants it, he said, the service will be placed on a fixed schedule, and later the Proctors may be replaced by twin-engined de Havilland Dominies, which carry seven or eight passengers.

The company announced that the schedule would operate Monday to Saturday, as required, with the plane departing Queenstown at 10.45 a.m. to arrive at Taieri at 11.45 a.m. The Oamaru flight would then depart Taieri at 12.30 p.m to arrive at 1.05 p.m. The return service would depart Oamaru at 1.20 p.m. arriving at Taieri 1.55 p.m and then departing Taieri at 2.30 p.m. to arrive at Queenstown at 3.30 p.m. The Oamaru-Dunedin fare was set at £2 10s. The company also said that “at least until Airwork Ltd begins the operation of the air service between Christchurch and Oamaru there will be no free transportation provided by the company and passengers will have to find their own means of transportation between the aerodrome and Oamaru. At Taieri, however, passengers may travel, seating accommodation permitting, on the National Airways Corporation taxis.”

Oamaru Mail, 15 December 1952

Some 120 residents attended the field day at Oamaru’s Hilderthorpe airfield including the Member of Parliament for Oamaru, Mr T. L. Hayman. Also at the airfield for the occasion was the Canterbury Aero Club's de Havilland Dragonfly ZK-AFB and and an Airwork (NZ) Ltd de Havilland Dominie. Airwork were to begin an air service between Christchurch and Oamaru under the name of South Island Airways the following February.

The first flight was flown on Thursday the 18th of December 1952 “when in perfect weather conditions at precisely 1.05 p.m. (right on time)” Percival Proctor ZK-AQK touched down. The inaugural flight was flown by company director John Kilian. On the return flight to Dunedin Cr. A. E. Claridge (representing the Mayor who was unable to make the trip), Mr E. M. Freeman, president of the Oamaru Junior Chamber of Commerce and Mr J. H. F. White of the Oamaru Mail were the passengers as guests of the company. The flight south departed at 1.22 p.m. the plane circling Oamaru before proceeding south to reach Taieri by 2.00 p.m. The three Oamaru businessmen were scheduled to be flown back to Dunedin the following day but bad weather prevented this with even NAC diverting their Taieri bound flights to Oamaru. The three Oamaru businessmen returned to Oamaru by road.



A first day cover for the first flight


The aircraft that flew the first service, Percival Proctor ZK-AQK taken (I think) at Taieri.

The new air service did not much garner much public support. On the 30th of June 1953 the Oamaru Mail carried the news that Southern Scenic intended to apply for the cancellation of their service between Oamaru and Dunedin. The Oamaru Mail was quite pragmatic in noting that “to a certain extent the time factor in the Dunedin-Oamaru service failed to appeal to travellers. With a journey of eight miles from Oamaru to Hilderthorpe and a slightly longer journey from Taieri to Dunedin the total time taken for the journey saved little time on a normal car trip.” The Oamaru Mail also made the observation that Oamaru people were not air-minded as on the same day South Island Airway’s announced that the frequency of its service to Oamaru was to be halved, “both services have been affected by the lack of support from the public.” This lack of “air-mindedness” was to be a feature of future air services to Oamaru.

For more on Southern Scenic see

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