Mount Cook Airline

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Mount Cook Airline
200 (old logo)
IATA ICAO Callsign
Ceased operations10 December 2019
Frequent-flyer programAirpoints
AllianceStar Alliance (affiliate)
Fleet size30
Parent companyAir New Zealand
HeadquartersChristchurch, New Zealand
Key people
  • Kelvin Duff - GM of Regional Airlines

Mount Cook Airline, formerly a subsidiary of Air New Zealand, was a regional airline based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Formerly part of the Mount Cook Group, it operated scheduled services throughout the country under the Air New Zealand Link brand.

The airline operated the ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 aircraft, and all its aircraft wore the Air New Zealand livery. Its main base was Christchurch International Airport.[1]

On 31 March 2019, it was announced that Air New Zealand was considering merging both Mount Cook Airline and fellow Link subsidiary Air Nelson into the mainline fleet.[2]

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.[3]

NZ Aero Transport Co fleet[edit]

Aircraft Introduced Retired Notes
Avro 504K 1920 1923 Five aircraft
Airco DH.9 1920 1923 Three aircraft

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.

Queentown - Mount Cook Airways fleet[edit]

Aircraft Introduced Retired Notes
British Aircraft Swallow II 1936 1939 Two aircraft. One aircraft was impressed into military service with the RNZAF in 1939.
Waco QDC Biplane 1937 1940 One aircraft. The Waco QDC was impressed into military service with the RNZAF in 1940.

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).[4]

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 Airline Douglas DC-3 at Christchurch International Airport in 1971.

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
Cessna 185 ski-plane at Mount Cook Aerodrome awaiting a Tasman Glacier scenic flight in January 1977
Fokker F.27 of Mount Cook Airline at Rotorua Airport in 1992
A Mount Cook ATR 72-200 in the old Air New Zealand Link colours at Hamilton Airport in 1997
A BAe 146-300 as operated briefly by Mount Cook Airline seen here at Auckland Airport in 2001
A couple of Mount Cook ATRs at the Christchurch Airport in Air New Zealand Pacific Wave 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. Its first flight was from Christchurch to Timaru and onto Oamaru on 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 in turn 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] On 9 December 2019, the airline was merged into the mainline Air New Zealand fleet and ceased to exist.[12]

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


Mount Cook Airline served the following routes in New Zealand at its closure:[13]

Auckland to Blenheim,[citation needed] Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Tauranga
Christchurch to Dunedin, Hamilton, Invercargill, Napier, Nelson, Palmerston North, Queenstown, Rotorua, Tauranga, Wellington
Wellington to Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Invercargill, Napier, New Plymouth, Queenstown, Tauranga

Former Destinations[edit]

Mount Cook Airline over the years served many other destinations previously throughout New Zealand:[14]
Alexandra, Chatham Islands, Cromwell, Great Barrier Island, Greymouth, Hokitika, Kerikeri, Kaikohe, Kawau Island, Milford Sound, Mount Cook, Oamaru, Paihia, Stewart Island, Taupo, Te Anau, Timaru, Twizel, Waiheke Island, Wanaka and Westport.


Mount Cook Airline currently operated ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 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[15] 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.

Air New Zealand announced on 5 November 2015 that an order for an additional 15 ATR 72-600 aircraft, worth NZ$568 million, had been placed making Mount Cook Airlines the third-largest ATR fleet operator in the world with 29 ATR72-600 aircraft. Deliveries of the additional 15 -600 aircraft, started in late 2016 with the last aircraft delivered to Mount Cook Airline in 2019. Subsequent aircraft will now be delivered to parent company Air New Zealand. The new aircraft replaced the existing 11 ATR 72-500 aircraft. The additional ATR 72-600, are used on domestic regional services, supplementing existing ATR 72-500, -600 and Q300 aircraft.

The Mount Cook Airline fleet consisted of the following aircraft (as of August 2019):[16]

Mount Cook Airline
Aircraft Total Orders Passengers
ATR 72-500 7 0 68 Being replaced by ATR 72-600s
ATR 72-600 23 6 68 Replacing ATR 72-500.
Total 30 6

Former Fleet[edit]

From 6 November 1961, Mt Cook Airline operated three Douglas DC-3 aircraft operating until their final withdrawal on 16 May 1978.[17][18] These aircraft were used to open up routes between Christchurch and Mt Cook, Cromwell and Te Anau/Manapouri. Passengers bound for Queenstown were initially bussed from Cromwell until DC-3 certification was obtained for Queenstown airport (although Cromwell was still used on demand, and as backup when Queenstown airport was unavailable due to weather). DC-3 aircraft were also used at various dates for services from Christchurch to Timaru and Oamaru, Queenstown to Alexandra and Dunedin and an extension from Te Anau to Invercargill.[17]

A fleet of Hawker Siddeley HS-748s was operated from 1968 to 1996 operating into Mt Cook Airline's many tourist airports. 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 a 748 to operate the late evening off peak Invercargill - Christchurch route. The last commercial flight was on 9 February 1996, from Wellington to Christchurch. The 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]

On 2 December 1969, Mt Cook Airline introduced a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter (ZK-CJZ), intended for scenic flights from Queenstown to Milford Sound and scheduled flights from Queenstown to Te Anau/Manapouri and Queenstown to Alexandra and Dunedin.[18] The Twin Otter wasn't an economic success and was cancelled from 24 September 1973.[14] A second Twin Otter (ZK-MCO) was purchased in November 1983 for services between Auckland, Kerikeri and Rotorua as the HS 748 was too big for the loads on offer, but Mt Cook's Islander aircraft was too small.[19] In 1988 this was transferred to Queenstown, to operate scenic flights from Queenstown to Milford Sound and scheduled flights from Queenstown to Te Anau/Manapouri. A third was purchased in 1995 but both were disposed of in 1998 when Mt Cook Airlines light aircraft business was sold.

Eight 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]

Aircraft previously operated include:

Aircraft Introduced Retired Notes
ATR 72-200 1995 2006
Auster J/1B Aiglet 1951 Two aircraft
Auster J/5P Autocar 1956 Two aircraft
British Aerospace 146-300 2001 2002 Eight aircraft
Bell 206B Jetranger 1980 1985 One helicopter
Britten-Norman Islander 1970 Six aircraft
Cessna 180 Four aircraft
Cessna 185 Skywagon Now operated by Mount Cook Ski Planes.
Cessna U206 Stationair Three aircraft
de Havilland DH.98B Dominie Three aircraft
de Havilland DH.89A Dragon Ripide One aircraft
de Havilland Tiger Moth Two aircraft
De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 1969 1998 Three aircraft
Douglas DC-3 Dakota 1961 1978 Four aircraft
Eurocopter AS.350B Squirrel 1 1997 1998 One helicopter
Fletcher FU.24 Six aircraft
Fokker F27-100 Friendship 1991 One leased aircraft
Fokker F27-200 Friendship 1981 Three aircraft leased from the Department of Civil Aviation.
GAF N22C Nomad 1993 1998 One aircraft
GAF N24A Nomad 1993 1998 One aircraft
Grumman G-21A Goose 1972 1975 One aircraft
Grumman G-44A Widgeon 1975 Six aircraft
Hawker Siddeley HS 748 1968 1996 Eight aircraft
Kawasaki BK 117 Helicopter[20] 1996 1998 Three helicopters
Miles M-11A Whitney Stright One aircraft
Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter 1982 Four aircraft. Now operated by Mount Cook Ski Planes.
Piper PA-18A Super Cub 1956 Two aircraft
Piper PA-22 Tri Pacer 1956 One aircraft
Piper PA-31-350 Chieftain 1993 1997 Three aircraft

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.[21]


Former Mount Cook Airlines logo

The airline's symbol was 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,[22] before vanishing totally in the early 2000s. However, it made a return in 2012, appearing towards the front of Mount Cook's ATR 72-600 aircraft. The new logo was a much-simplified flower, featuring six separate petals rather than the former layered specimen.


  1. ^ a b "Directory: World Airlines". Flight International. 10 April 2007. p. 52.
  2. ^ Anthony, John (31 March 2019). "Air New Zealand considering merging Air Nelson and Mount Cook with jet business". Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  3. ^ Wigley - One Family on the Road to Tourism on website, viewed 2013-10-31
  4. ^ Photo of ZK-BDX
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Early Historic Fleet Details
  8. ^ Historic Fleet Details
  9. ^ [1] Rob Kerr
  10. ^ Mount Cook became a subsidiary
  11. ^ a b c Air NZ History Archived 31 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Lowe, Steve. "Farewell Mount Cook". 3rd level NZ. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  13. ^ Air New Zealand - Timetables
  14. ^ a b "25 years of Mount Cook Airlines Flights to Alexandra". 3rd Level New Zealand. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Global Airline Guide 2019 (Part One)". Airliner World. October 2019: 22.
  17. ^ a b "Mount Cook Airlines - Part 1 - The 1960s, the birth of an airline". 3rd Level New Zealand. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  18. ^ a b "Mount Cook Airlines - Part 2 - The 1970s, New Zealand's tourist airline". 3rd Level New Zealand. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  19. ^ "The Last Days of the Lily at Milford Sound - Mount Cook Airlines". 3rd Level New Zealand. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  20. ^ Clark, Peter (November 1996). NZ Wings: 26–27. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "Narrowbody Jet Maintenance Growth Expected for Air New Zealand Technical Operations in Christchurch". Air New Zealand. 21 April 2010. Retrieved 27 August 2010.
  22. ^ "Mount Cook Airlines ATR200's". ZK-MCX ATR.72-212 ANZ Link-Mount Cook CHC 09JAN99. Retrieved 8 September 2013.