Straits Air Freight Express

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Logo of Safe Air Limited
Straits Air Freight Express
Bristol 170.31 ZK-AYG SAFE BLA 09.04.55 edited-2.jpg
SAFE Bristol 170 series 31 in 1955 after rebuilding its fuselage with no windows. The badge near the door reads "NZR Rail Air"
Bristol Freighter on approach to Wellington, New Zealand, 1981
Bristol Freighter on display in Nelson city, 2012

Straits Air Freight Express (SAFE) was a cargo airline, established in 1950, named for the fact that it encompassed Cook Strait and connected the North Island and South Island (of New Zealand) railway systems from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Aircraft operated[edit]

The main aircraft type that the company operated was the Bristol Type 170 Freighter Mk.31. The first two examples were delivered in mid-1951.[1] The "cargon" system was designed in-house - a pallet and transfer system using modified railway flatcars to allow trucked loads to be transferred directly into the nose doorway of the tail-wheeled aircraft. This reduced the turn-around time of 10 tonne unload/load cycles to less than 10 minutes. For such an operation, that was an extremely fast cycle. Eleven Bristol 170s were still in operation with SAFE in 1977.[2]

The company also operated two larger Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy four-engined turbine propellor freighter aircraft from the 1980s.[3]

Chatham Islands Passenger Services[edit]

New Zealand's most eastern home islands, the Chathams Group was linked with the main islands of New Zealand with a combined air freight and passenger service using a unique removable passenger pod that could be placed into the hold of the Bristol Freighter. Extra sound insulation was used to drown out the mighty Hercules engines and earplugs provided. Windows in the pod lined up with those in the fuselage. Flight times were approximately three hours.

In 1982 when the paved runway at Tu-uta Point was built, the AW.660 Argosy was placed into service with a far more comfortable passenger pod based on the cabin of a Boeing 737. The pod still exists today, placed in the hold of ZK-SAE.

When flying operations ceased in 1990, Air Chathams was founded to keep the air route open after Air New Zealand pulled out in 1992.

The company, which was renamed Safe Air Limited in 1966, diversified into aviation maintenance. In 1972 it was bought by the National Airways Corporation, which then merged with Air New Zealand. Safe Air continued to be operated as an independent entity by both owners. It ceased flying in 1990, but has continued to expand as a maintenance facility and now employs approximately 350 staff.


  • Davis, P.W. and Piercy, S. Bristol 170, Britannia and Canadian Developments. 1977. Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. ISBN 0-85130-054-5
  • Eastwood, Tony, and Roach, John, Turbo Prop Airliner Production List, 1998, The Aviatiuon Hobby Shop, ISBN 0-907178-69-3
  1. ^ Davis and Piercy, 1977, p. 4
  2. ^ Davis and Piercy, 1977, p. 4
  3. ^ Roach and Eastwood, 1998, p. 32

External links[edit]