This is the second installment on the story of Skyferry to Sounds Air story. For the first installment on Skyferry see : http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2014/08/skyferry-making-crossing-cook-strait.html. Once again I am extremely grateful to Cliff Marchant and Andrew Crawford for their time and encouragement in the preparation of these three posts, the last of which will be posted next Sunday.
The aircraft was an immediate success, with not only frequent regular IFR Skyferry flights performed to and from Picton, but also many IFR flights performed in and out of the many remote airstrips in the Marlborough Sounds. The prevalent problem with weather on these routes is the Wellington or mid-Strait conditions, so it is more a case of using IFR ability to get in and out of Wellington rather than the need for instrument approaches/departures on the other side. The success of this aircraft was regrettably short-lived.
|BN Islander ZK-SFE was used for charter work from Wellington to the Sounds. Photo taken at Wellington on 1 January 1989|
In July 1991 Skyferry collapsed and its air service to Picton ceased. Some months were to pass until January 1992 when a syndicate of investors including the Marchant family bought the Picton airport at Koromiko from the receivers of the collapsed Skyferry Ltd. Koromiko airport had its origins as a topdressing strip and it had been developed by Skyferry in the mid-1980s with the runway being extended to 670 metres and then sealed. Barry Hvid was appointed as General Manager and Soundsair commenced its own scheduled services between Wellington and Picton in early 1992, with the company continuing to operate charter flights from Wellington to airfields in the Marlborough Sounds.
|Unfortunately the early Soundsair timetables weren't dated... but with only three flights across Cook Strait my guess is this is one of the early ones circa early 1992|
In 1990 the protracted CAA delay to the introduction of the Skyferry Trislanders necessitated the sale of the Cessna 208 Caravan ZK-SFA to a third party. After the demise of Skyferry, Soundsair was able to lease this aircraft as their flagship for its Cook Strait service between Wellington and Picton. In addition to the Caravan a Partenavia P68, ZK-LAL, was used both as a backup aircraft or when only light loads were offering as well while both the Partenavia and Cessna 185 ZK-PRM, owned privately by the company principals Cliff and Diane Marchant, were used for charter to eight designated strips around the Sounds. Lake LA4-200 Buccaneer ZK-DQM, a single engine amphibious aircraft, owned and flown by Barry Hvid, was used to fly people from Wellington direct to their baches or to the Sounds’ secluded bays and beaches.
|Bought from Skyferry, Cessna Caravan ZK-SFA at Koromiko on 7 January 1994|
|Partenavia ZK-LAL was used on the Picton air service as well as for charter work. Photo taken at Ardmore on 30 November 1996|
|Cliff and Dianne Marchant's Cessna 185 ZK-PRM which was used for charter work in the Sounds. Photo taken at Wanaka on 18 April 1992|
|Lake Buccaneer ZK-DQM was used to fly people directly to their baches in their Sounds. Photo taken at Paraparaumu on 19 February 1994|
|An expanding schedule with flights between Wellington and Blenheim|
|Previously operated by Rawson Aviation Cessna 208 Caravan ZK-REY at Koromiko on 6 February 1996|
|Aero Commander 500 ZK-DCF at Woodbourne on 21 January 1999|
|A couple of views of Cessna 206 ZK-ENT - above, its original scheme as seen at Koromiko on 3 October 1999 and below repainted with the original Soundsair titling.|
|Timetable December 1997-March 1998|
While the Cook Strait service between Wellington and Picton was the bread and butter service for Soundsair other services were developed as well. At different times, over the summer months, non-scheduled flights were offered from Wellington, and for one summer from Auckland, to Takaka, Karamea and to the small airstrips of the Marlborough Sounds catering for tourist traffic to the Heaphy Track, Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough Sounds. For a number of years services were operated between Wellington and Blenheim, mainly on Friday and Sunday evenings but also for a brief time on a daily basis. A regular Friday and Sunday service was also operated from Wellington to Nopera in Kenepuru Sound. In February 1996 Soundsair began thrice weekly flights between Paraparaumu and Picton. This service was not successful and was short-lived. Again, from the 8th of October 1999, twice daily flights were once again started between Picton and Paraparaumu but once again these did not last long.
With the advent of Single Engine IFR (SEIFR) operations in Canada in 1992, and a growing awareness worldwide that SEIFR carried huge safety benefits for the travelling public, Soundsair re-opened dialogue with CAA in this subject. There were numerous exchanges of letters, meetings and discussions between the parties over some 3 years. Barry Hvid and Cliff Marchant put a huge effort into trying to persuade CAA to grant the company SEIFR.
Cliff Marchant recounts the event… The pilot was well aware of the weather conditions that day as he had already flown the Partenavia IFR into Picton Airport earlier in the day. He was fully aware that there was total blue sky, not a single cloud, at Picton Airport. The cloud in the Straits in a moist south easterly flow ceased once over the first row of hills in the Sounds. But unlike the IFR Partenavia flight, he was now required by the CAA Ops Specs to fly his Caravan, with its superior avionics and performance, to remain clear of controlled airspace under VFR, which took him closer to the hills on the western strait. His transponder was operating, but unlike IFR flights, Airways did not, nor were they required to, monitor his progress or report on any deviations.
As he approached the South Island in the vicinity of Port Underwood he was cruising at 2500 feet, above scattered cloud which was increasing in density below him. He could have simply remained at 2500 feet until arrival over the airport which he knew was totally clear, but there is a VFR rule precluding flight over more than 4/8 cloud, so the pilot duly descended to get below the cloud and in deciding to execute that manoeuvre, fell into the same old typical VFR “into the cloud and into the hill” with tragic results.
The single engine was operating flawlessly at impact, as was the transponder – no-one was watching. Indeed it took the best part of an hour for Airways to check their data and determine exactly where the crash site was.
Just 2 weeks later, on 16th Feb 1996, the local newspaper rang Soundsair to seek reaction to the fact that CAA was grounding the airline along with Air Chathams. Somewhat bewildered, a Soundsair management call to CAA soon revealed that the reasons for grounding Air Chathams were invalid for the attempt to shut down Soundsair, but the itchy trigger attitude of CAA was quite disconcerting.
In April 1996 another Cessna 208 Caravan, ZK-PDM (c/n 20800240) was imported and added to the fleet as a replacement for the ill-fated ZK-SFA. The dialogue between CAA and Soundsair intensified considerably given the loss of SFA. It seemed that great progress was being made towards SEIFR for the Caravan until November 1996, when a letter arrived effectively rescinding all progress to date. Within six weeks the airline was grounded, with CAA citing “serious safety concerns.” Soundsair operations continued with chartered aircraft but the nature of the “concerns” were relatively minor and rapidly resolved. Freight flights resumed within a matter of days and all the airline’s services were fully airborne again within 10 days.
It still took a full two years from that recommendation to finally receive SEIFR. Looking back on these events Cliff Marchant reflects that, in some ways the story of Skyferry/Soundsair is also a story of the evolution within the CAA. We now have a great relationship with CAA and the present people there.
About this time, in mid 1998, Cessna Caravan ZK-REY ran out of engine hours. The legal expenses for both the grounding and Coroner’s inquest meant there were no funds available for the overhaul so the aircraft was sold to a skydiving operator in Portland, Oregon, who was able to continue use of the engine “on condition”.
The final successful push for SEIFR involved a big effort from Soundsair CEO Willie Sage throughout 1999 and into 2000, although he left soon after.
In late 2002 the company flagship ZK-PDM suffered a CT blade separation while on final at Wellington. The expensive repair also took two months to execute, so Britten Norman BN2A Islander ZK-REA was leased from Great Barrier Airlines to fill the gap until PDM returned.
During this time, an internet based reservations system was developed in conjunction with a savvy Soundsair passenger. This system is now used by over 40 airlines worldwide.
|Britten Norman Islander ZK-REA was the only aircraft to be painted in the full new colour scheme. It is seen taxiing to the terminal at Koromiko on 28 April 2003.|
|The existing colour schemes were retained on both the Cessna Caravan ZK-PDM (above) and Cessna 206 ZK-ENT (below) but new titling was applied. The Caravan was taken at Koromiko on 3 November 2003 and the Cessna 206 at Wellington on 6 November 2006.|
By this stage the airline was offering up to 8 flights a day between Wellington and Picton. The hard work of 2002/3 resulted in a credible profit for the airline. Cliff Marchant had successfully negotiated Soundsair through turbulent times but he knew that to realise Sounds Air’s full potential would require way more resources than he had, plus a dedicated full-time owner/manager to replace his part-time input, so in December 2003 Cliff and Dian
Aircraft Operated by Soundsair
ZK-CHK Cessna 185C (c/n 185-0755)
ZK-DCF Aero Commander 500-A (c/n 500-A-1274-97)
ZK-DOA Cessna U206F Stationair (c/n U20602203)
ZK-DLA Britten Norman BN2B-26 Islander (c/n 2131)
ZK-DQM Lake LA-4-200 Buccaneer (c/n 591)
ZK-EKE Cessna 172N Skyhawk (c/n 17269940)
ZK-ENT Cessna U206G Stationair (c/n U20603667)
ZK-LAL Partenavia P68B (c/n 70)
ZK-PDM Cessna 208 Caravan (c/n 20800240)
ZK-REA Britten-Norman BN2A-26 Islander (c/n 43)
ZK-REY Cessna 208 Caravan (c/n 20800151)
ZK-SFE Britten-Norman BN2A-21 Islander (c/n 406)
ZK-VCT Cessna 172P (c/n 17276430)
ZK-WED Cessna 207 Skywagon (c/n 20700009)
For the subsequent post on Sounds Air see : 3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com.nz/2014/08/sounds-air-fast-scenic-way-to-cross.html