Air Travel (NZ) Ltd

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Air Travel (NZ) Ltd was the first airline in New Zealand to fly scheduled air services. Founded by Bert Mercer in 1934, and based in Hokitika, the company flew a number of De Havilland biplane aircraft, servicing areas on the West Coast. Mercer saw potential for a commercial air service in this region because there were no roads south of Ross, and the residents therefore relied on steamers and bullock tracks for access to the outside world.


Air Travel (NZ) Ltd's first scheduled flight took place on December 18, 1934, from Hokitika to South Westland, and occurred shortly after the airline began delivering mail.[1] In 1945, not long after Mercer died in an air crash, the company came under government control but continued until 1967, when the national air carrier NAC began flights into Hokitika. Eleven pilots flew for Air Travel (NZ) Ltd between 1934 and 1947.[1]


Over the 33 years that Air Travel (NZ) Ltd was in service they operated a number of de Havilland biplanes, including three Fox Moths, two Dragonflies, a Dragon, and a Dragon Rapide, out of Hokitika's Southside Airfield, located on the south side of the Hokitika River. The first flight undertaken by Air Travel was in the De Havilland Fox Moth ZK-ADI, which is still in use.[2] As the service became popular, another Fox Moth, ZK-AEK, was brought into service in 1935.[3] Other aircraft included Dragonfly ZK-AFB (1937),[4] Fox Moth ZK-AGM (1938), Dragonfly ZK-AGP (1938), Dragon ZK-AHT (1944), and Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS (1944).[5] Further aircraft flown by the company included Dominies ZK-AKT, ZK-BAU, and ZK-AKS, which were flown in various liveries.


Three Aircraft operated by Air Travel have been involved in accidents, one of which killed Mercer himself. In 1942, Dragonfly ZK-AGP, piloted by Arthur Baines, lost a propeller and ditched into the sea, having just departed Westport en route to Nelson. All four passengers drowned.[1]

In 1943, Fox Moth ZK-AEK, piloted by Ozzie Openshaw, crashed while taking four passengers for a scenic flight over Franz Josef Glacier, although none of the passengers nor Openshaw was injured.[1] In 1944, Dragon ZK-AHT, piloted by Colin Lewis, crashed on Mount Hope, en route from Nelson to Westport. On board were six passengers, including Bert Mercer and another Air Travel employee, Maurice Dawe, both of whom died.[1]


Two successful anniversaries commemorating Air Travel NZ Ltd were held in 1994 and 2009, celebrating the 60th and 75th anniversaries of Air Travel (NZ) Ltd.[6] There have also been a number of books published with details about the company.[7]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Biography of Bert Mercer [1]
  • Information about New Zealand airlines and various publications [2]