Mount Cook Airline

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Mount Cook Airline
200 (old logo)
Founded 1920
Frequent-flyer program Airpoints
Airport lounge Koru Lounge
Alliance Star Alliance (affiliate)
Fleet size 16
Destinations 14
Parent company Air New Zealand
Headquarters Christchurch, New Zealand
Key people

Mount Cook Airline is an airline based in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is wholly owned by Air New Zealand and operates scheduled services throughout the country under the Air New Zealand Link brand. All aircraft are now in Air New Zealand livery. Its main base is Christchurch International Airport.[1]

Early history[edit]

The airline was established and started operations in 1920 at Timaru by Rodolph Lysaght Wigley, who in 1906 had driven the first motor car to The Hermitage. Wigley bought five war-surplus aircraft for sightseeing and formed the NZ Aero Transport Co., the first company of its kind in the country. The first aeroplane to land in Fairlie was a war surplus bi-plane E 4242 in May 1920 still with the RAF roundel on the fuselage. Passenger and freight routes served areas between Wellington and Invercargill. On October 1920 with Captain J. C. Mercer, Wigley flew on the first one-day flight from Invercargill to Auckland. After a series of mishaps, e.g. damage to landing equipment during forced landings in paddocks, the company went into liquidation in 1923.[2]

In the 1930s, Wigley formed Queenstown - Mount Cook Airway in conjunction with his son, Harry, later to become Sir Henry Wigley. Sir Henry remained the Managing Director of the airline until 1979 and Chairman until his death in 1980. The company operated charter flights around the Otago Lakes, Milford Sound and Mount Cook regions, until it was suspended by World War II.

Postwar history[edit]

Flying resumed in 1952 using an Auster J1-A Autocrat, registration ZK-BDX (since preserved, formerly inside the terminal of Queenstown Airport now at the Mount Cook Hermitage Hotel Edmund Hillary Centre).[3]

In 1954, NZ Aero Transport Company was reformed as Mount Cook Air Services Ltd, specialising in scenic flights, agricultural work and rescue missions. Sir Henry solved the problem of landing in the Tasman, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers by attaching retractable skis (designed and made in the company's vehicle workshop) to the Auster, and landed on the snow of Tasman Glacier. This is how the Ski Plane operation started, aimed at taking tourists to skifields and glaciers in ski-equipped light aircraft.

Mount Cook Ski Planes now operates a fleet of Cessna 185s and Pilatus Porters, and is the only company to land scenic flights on the Tasman Glacier to this day.[4]

The Mount Cook Group operated bus services, trucking, skifields and built an airfield at Mount Cook to bring in the growing number of visitors to the Southern Alps. Scheduled services for Mount Cook Airline began on 6 November 1961 between Christchurch, Mount Cook, Cromwell and Te Anau with a 26-seater Douglas DC-3. At this stage Queenstown was not certified for DC-3 operations and passengers were bussed from Cromwell to Queenstown. On 1 November 1963 the service to Cromwell was extended to Dunedin on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 3 November 1963 to Invercargill three days a week. The first scheduled flight into Queenstown was operated by DC-3 ZK-BKD on 4 February 1964.[5]

A Mount Cook HS 748 aeroplane parked at Palmerston North airport in 1974
Fokker F.27 of Mount Cook Airline at Rotorua Airport in 1992
A Mount Cook ATR-200 in the old Air New Zealand Link colours in 1997
A BAe 146 as operated briefly by Mount Cook Airline
A couple of Mount Cook ATRs at the Christchurch Airport in the current livery

Mount Cook Airline was one of New Zealand's tourism pioneers opening up the 'tourist trail' of Rotorua through to Christchurch, Mount Cook and Queenstown. For almost 30 years, it operated a fleet of Hawker Siddeley HS 748s across regional tourist routes in New Zealand. The first HS748 to arrive in NZ was ZK-CWJ it first flight was from Christchurch to Timaru and onto Oamaru on the 25 October 1968.[6] After a long evaluation study, the first of the new ATR 72-200s arrived in October 1995 as the chosen replacement of the HS 748s. They inturn were updated to the ATR 72-500 type in 2000[7]

In June 2001, Air New Zealand Group added extra capacity on domestic routes by introducing 4 BAe 146s to supplement the ATRs. These aircraft were taken from the failed Qantas New Zealand franchise. A temporary measure, they retired the following year after 6 extra Boeing 737-300s were added to the mainline fleet.[8]

Air New Zealand purchased part of the Mount Cook Group in the 1980s after Sir Henry's death,[9] increased to 30% on 5 December 1983, then another 47% (increased to 77%) in October 1985 after gaining approval on 18 July that year; and the remainder on 18 April 1991.[10][11]

Mount Cook Airline has 378 employees (as at March 2007).[1]


Mount Cook Airline serve the following routes in New Zealand:[12]

Auckland to Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Tauranga
Christchurch to Dunedin, Nelson, Hamilton, Invercargill, Palmerston North, Rotorua, Queenstown, Wellington
Wellington to Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin, Napier, Queenstown,
Hamilton to Christchurch, Wellington

Former Destinations[edit]

Mount Cook Airline over the years served many other destinations previously throughout New Zealand:[13]
Kerikeri, Kaikohe, Chatham Islands, Westport, Hokitika, Mount Cook, Timaru, Oamaru, Alexandra, Cromwell, Twizel, Te Anau and Milford Sound.


Mount Cook Airline currently operate ATR 72-500 and ATR-600 aircraft from main cities to larger provincial towns and also on some main trunk routes. Complementing fellow subsidiary, Air Nelson's smaller capacity Q-300 airliners.

The original ATR 72-200 fleet was swapped for the updated ATR 72-500 during 2001–2002. Extra aircraft were also added allowing Air New Zealand to retire the last of its Boeing 737-200s. In October 2011 Air New Zealand announced an increase of the ATR fleet by purchasing 7 new ATR 72-600 models with five on option. Air New Zealand received the first of these 68-seat aircraft in October 2012, the rest following gradually through to 2016. 4 purchase options were taken up in November 2014 when Air New Zealand announced the shutting down of Eagle Airways' flight operations and giving over route capacity to Mount Cook and Air Nelson [14] The ATR-600s were delayed for four years due to the economic conditions of the time. The -600 model is a further development of the type including a revised cabin layout and RNP navigation to allow flights into New Zealand's more marginal weather dependant airports such as Wellington, Queenstown, Rotorua and Hamilton.

Mount Cook Airline
Aircraft Total Orders Passengers
ATR 72-500 11 0 68
ATR 72-600 5[15] 8 68

Previously operated[edit]

The airline previously operated:

A fleet of Hawker Siddeley HS 748s was operated from 1968 to 1996, they operated into Mt Cook Airline's many tourist airports, some gravel paved strips[citation needed]. The type operated scheduled services to the Chatham Islands from 1990 to 1992 after Safe Air withdrew flying operations. From 1992 to 1994, Air New Zealand chartered an example to operate the late evening off peak Invercargill - Christchurch route. The last commercial flight was on 9 February 1996, from Wellington to Christchurch. The aging HS 748 fleet was replaced by 7 ATR 72-200s from 1995 after an evaluation process that included the Fokker F50, Bae APT, and Saab 2000.[11]

8 ex-Qantas New Zealand BAe 146-300s were temporarily operated by Air New Zealand after Qantas New Zealand's collapse. They were used to boost extra capacity to domestic service from June 2001 to 2002. The BAe 146s were placed under Mount Cook Airline's management structure for the duration. (Up to 4 aircraft were operated at any one time as the BAe fleet were rotated through and sold off.) This allowed time for Air New Zealand to add another six Boeing 737-300s to the mainline fleet. The BAe 146s were then retired ending 12 years of domestic service in New Zealand.[11]

Also operated:

Change in heavy maintenance[edit]

In April 2010, parent airline Air New Zealand announced that it was moving the ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 heavy maintenance work away from Mount Cook Airline's home of Christchurch Airport to Nelson. Air Nelson's maintenance base would take over all ATR 72-500/600 heavy maintenance work from November 2010. In 2011, Eagle Airways was subcontract some ATR maintenance at its Hamilton engineering base. The fate of this operation is still to be decided on after Eagle Airways flight operations cease in February 2016.[16]

Incidents and accidents[edit]

On 9 July 2010, Mount Cook Flight 5067, an ATR 72-500 flying from Christchurch to Invercargill, was forced to divert to Dunedin due to a burning smell on board the aircraft.[17] The flight landed safely and the 53 passengers were bussed to Invercargill.[18]

On 19 October 2012, Mount Cook Flight 5061, an ATR 72-500 flying from Christchurch (NZCH) to Invercargill (NZNV) with 46 people on board was flying the approach to Invercargill when the crew had to fly a missed approach due to an engine problem. The crew called Invercargill Tower controllers and reported the problem. The crew landed safely. Air New Zealand confirmed that one engine was not responding correctly to engine commands.


Former Mount Cook Airlines logo

The former Mount Cook Airlines logo.

The airline's symbol is the Mount Cook Lily which was displayed on the tails of its aeroplanes prior to the integration with the Air New Zealand link brand in the mid 1990s. At this stage the flower was relegated to a spot just below the tail,[19] before vanishing totally in the early 2000s. However, it has made a return in 2012 appearing towards the front of Mount Cook's ATR 72-600 aircraft. The new logo is a much-simplified flower, featuring six separate petals rather than the former layered specimen.