09 July 2017

Air Nelson - Part 1 - The Nelson-Wellington Commuter Airline



Air Nelson traces its origins back to Nairn Aviation. In 1976 Robert Inglis and Nicki Smith helped Harry Jenkins establish Associated Aviation in Paraparaumu. Two years later they established their own Motueka-based flying school, Associated Aviation (Motueka). In 1980 they, along with Harry Jenkins, bought Nairn Aviation and changed the flying school and air charter operator's name to Associated Aviation (Nelson). This Nelson-based company was later sold to Martin Butler who gave it the name Air Nelson before he sold the company back to Associated Aviation (Motueka). In 1985 Robert and Nicki decided to concentrate on developing Motueka Air Services and so Associated Aviation (Motueka)’s airline operation was split from the flying school and the airline was formed into a new company, Motueka Air Ltd. Air Nelson became a division of Motueka Air and offered charter, scenic tours, flight training and aerial photography from Nelson. A number of Cessna single engined aircraft were were used including Cessna 152 ZK-ELV, Cessna 172s ZK-EOK and ZK-EOX and Cessna 206 ZK-DFW.

Cessna 152 ZK-ELV at Motueka at 4 February 1989
Cessna U206F Stationair ZK-DFW at Palmerston North on 24 February 1985

Following on the from success of the parent company's Motueka air service Air Nelson began scheduled flights between Nelson on Wellington on the 16th of December 1985. At this time Air New Zealand and Air Albatross were offering numerous flights on the route with Friendships and Metroliners. Explaining his company’s rationale Air Nelson’s managing director, Mr Robert Inglis, said, "There is no intention to rapidly expand the service. We are interested in being complementary to the other airlines at peak times. We are also interested in supplying multi-engined aircraft for charter work for companies, sports and special interest groups." The first flight was operated under the command of chief pilot Bob Schmuke using Piper PA31 Navajo ZK-NSN. Initially two return flights were flown on weekdays and one return flight on both Saturday and Sunday with ticket prices of $55 being lower than both the company’s competitors.


Air Nelson's first aircraft, Piper PA31 Navajo ZK-NSN at Nelson on 20 January 1986

Air Nelson’s entry into the market was fortuitous. Four days after the launch of scheduled service Air Albatross was placed in receivership and ceased operations resulting in a large number of passengers trying to book on the newly established Air Nelson. Robert Inglis told the Nelson Evening Mail, "Most of our Christmas flights have been booked for the last month. We're putting on as many special flights as we can within the limits of staff duty hours and wise operating practices." Asked if his firm decided to begin the Nelson-Wellington run because it believed Air Albatross was going to fold, Mr Inglis said: "That's not the reason. We had observed throughout the last year that there was a gap in the timetable. We were also influenced in the decision to start by the fact that Air Albatross schedules seemed to be very unreliable. We've never seen ourselves as another Air New Zealand or Air Albatross. We're just trying to provide an alternative service at peak times.”


Air Nelson timetable number 1, effective 16 December 1985
 

By the end of January the service had grown to two return flights each morning and evening using the company’s Navajo and a leased Cessna 402 with the company looking for a larger aircraft. In 1986 two Piper Aztecs, ZK-DIO and ZK-PIX were added to the fleet to provide additional capacity on the Nelson flights as well as providing back-up for the Motueka Air Services flights from Motueka to Wellington.


Air Nelson's two Piper Aztecs that were used to provide additional capacity on the Nelson-Wellington service... Above, ZK-DIO taken at Nelson on 5 February 1989 and below ZK-PIX taken on 4 February 1989
 


The “larger aircraft”, which did not eventuate for another 12 months, were two 10-seater Piper PA31 Chieftains, ZK-NSO and ZK-NSP which arrived in April and May 1987 to cater for the traffic which had been steadily growing on the Nelson-Wellington route. The new aircraft enabled five return weekday flights to be operated. A lesser weekend schedule was also operated.


Piper PA31 Chieftain ZK-NSO at Nelson on 21 January 1991

With its location at the top of the South Island bounded by Cook Strait and mountains to the south Nelson has always been air minded. At the same time as Air Nelson introduced its two Chieftains Pacifica Air introduced services from Nelson to both Wellington and Christchurch using a Beech Super King Air. Robert Inglis stated his belief that there was only room for one alternative airline to Air New Zealand flying the Nelson-Wellington route and only time will tell if the new Nelson-based airline Pacifica Air will be successful. "We are not competing in the same market, Air New Zealand and Pacifica Air offer a fast, pressurised and turbine-powered aircraft service, and our place in the market offers cheaper fares," he said. He puts this down to more economically-run aircraft. The company intends continuing its five flights a day service between Nelson and Wellington.

The arrival of the Chieftains saw the introduction of Air Nelson’s smart maroon and silver colour scheme giving the company a good corporate image. At this time Air Nelson also tapped into growing demand for charter from business people, special interest groups and sports teams. They also operated air ambulance flights for the Nelson Area Health Board for patient transfers and other emergency requirements.


Air Nelson charter...
 


The Nelson-Wellington Commuter Airline
Air Nelson timetable, effective 1 September 1987

An Air Nelson advertising supplement from the Nelson Evening Mail of 10 February 1988 showing the fleet, the interior of a Chieftain and the staff.
 



In July 1988 Air Nelson and Hamilton-based Eagle Air announced they had joined forces to begin a regional network linking Nelson with Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and Wellington. At the same time it was announced that in November 1988 Air Nelson would extend its services to the West Coast operating a Wellington to Nelson, Westport and Greymouth service in the morning and returning along the same route in the afternoon with a seven seat Piper Navajo.

In their joint statement, Air Nelson’s managing director Mr Robert Inglis and Eagle Air’s general manager Mr Don Good said the move meant "unprecedented commercial co-operation between two New Zealand airlines." The agreement saw Air Nelson move onto Eagle Air's Qantas-developed computer reservation system with Air Nelson taking over the Palmerston North-Nelson service from Eagle Air. "Eagle and Air Nelson's aircraft are tailored to give these routes a high frequency service, allowing the consumer to fly at a departure time convenient to the operational and economic needs of the airline." The strengthening of ties heralded a new era of co-operation between airlines facing the prospect of potentially high cost increases from the Airways Corporation and airport authorities "which the New Zealand consumer in today's environment, especially in the regional centres, will not and cannot pay".

The statement said Air Nelson would restructure its operations to improve efficiency and enhance its service. “Motueka Air and Air Nelson would merge, and be upgraded to a full Piper fleet of Chieftains and Navajos. Its services to Wellington will thus be considerably enhanced." Air Nelson would also open its own maintenance division in Nelson. "Air Nelson takes over the mantle of New Zealand's largest Piper Chieftain operator from Eagle, who at one stage operated four of these aircraft and had build up a great deal of experience over 11 years of owning, operating, and servicing these workhorses of the commuter air business," it said.


For a post on Motueka Air Services see

There were two other pieces of news announced in July 1988. First was the news that Air Nelson would also open its own maintenance division in Nelson. The other announcement was the news that Air Nelson had negotiated a contract with Ansett New Zealand to handle its freight on the Nelson-Wellington run. 

AIr Nelson took over Eagle Air's flights between Nelson and Palmerston North on the 1st of August 1988 with three flights each way on Mondays and Fridays, two flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and a single flight on Saturdays and Sundays. Connections were made at Palmerston North to Eagle Air flights to Auckland and Hamilton.

Air Nelson's Piper Chieftain ZK-NSP at Hokitika on 26 November 1989

Also on the 1st of August 1998 Motueka Air merged with Air Nelson and these flights appeared in the Air Nelson timetable. At this point three Aztec flights were operated between Motueka and Wellington each weekday with one flight being operated on both Saturdays and Sundays as well as a Motueka-Nelson service. Also appearing on the Air Nelson timetable was the Monday to Saturday newspaper service to Takaka. This was flown by Cessna 172 ZK-EOX and operated either from Nelson or Motueka depending on what traffic was offering.


The Takaka plane... Cessna 172 ZK-EOX at Nelson on 21 June 1991

Air Nelson timetable effective 1 August 1988... It shows the planned services from Wellington and Nelson to Westport and Greymouth as well as a Palmerston North-Wellington service all of which were to commence on 1 November 1988 



With the rise and fall of Air Albatross Air New Zealand recognised the need to change its provincial services. With the rise of another regional competitor in an aligned Air Nelson/Eagle Air operation Air New Zealand acted and on the 16th of September it was announced that Air New Zealand had bought Eagle Air and a half share in Air Nelson. It was also announced that it was relinquishing flights to Hokitika, Westport and some of its Nelson-Christchurch and Nelson-Wellington flights in favour of Air Nelson. In announcing the changes Air New Zealand’s chief executive Mr 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."

So began Air Nelson’s part in revolutionising provincial air services in New Zealand. 

1 comment:

  1. Very good researched article Steve thanks for all your dedicated effort!!!

    ReplyDelete