New Zealand National Airways Corporation
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|Ceased operations||1978 (merged with Air New Zealand)|
|Focus cities||Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland|
|Frequent-flyer program||NAC Flightcard|
|Alliance||Air New Zealand, British Airways, Pan American Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Trans Australian Airlines (TAA) .|
|Fleet size||25 (1 April 1978)|
|Destinations||Kaitaia, Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Whakatane, Rotorua, Taupo, Gisborne, Napier, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenheim, Nelson, Westport, Hokitika, Christchurch, Oamaru, Timaru, Dunedin, Invercargill (At 1 April 1978)|
|Company slogan||"Wings Of The Nation" - "Getting more people together"|
|Parent company||New Zealand Govt.|
|Headquarters||Wellington, New Zealand|
|Key people||Sir Leonard Isitt, founding CEO. Doug Patterson, CEO 1978.|
New Zealand National Airways Corporation, popularly known as NAC, was the national domestic airline of New Zealand from 1947 until 1978 when it amalgamated with New Zealand's international airline, Air New Zealand. The airline was headquartered in Wellington.
NAC was itself a government-led amalgamation of RNZAF 40 Transport Squadron, Union Airways and a number of other smaller operators, including the country's first commercial air service Air Travel (NZ) Ltd. At the time of its inception (1945), it was equipped with de Havilland Dragon Rapides, de Havilland Fox Moths, Douglas DC-3s, Lockheed Electras, Lockheed Lodestars, and one de Havilland Express which latter was returned to the RNZAF before the official 1947 inaugural start date. Although chiefly a domestic airline, in late 1947 NAC also provided international services to some nearby South Pacific countries, using converted ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Short Sunderland IIIs, as well as long-rang Douglas DC-3Ds to Fiji via Norfolk Island.
By the time of the merger with Air New Zealand, the fleet consisted of 25 aircraft comprising Boeing 737s and Fokker F27s. Engineering workshops were set up at Christchurch, Whenuapai (Auckland), Palmerston North, Gisborne and Nelson.
- 1 History
- 2 Fleet history
- 3 Last years
- 4 Final Fleet
- 5 Other Interests
- 6 Accidents and incidents
- 7 Surviving aircraft
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The NAC network started with the following destinations: Kaitaia, Kaikohe, Whangarei, Auckland, Tauranga, Gisborne, Napier, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenheim, Nelson, Christchurch, Westport, Greymouth, Hokitika, Whataroa, Waiho (Franz Josef), Haast, Dunedin and Invercargill.
The initial network was based on destinations served by the airlines it was formed from. New destinations added between then and airline's merger with Air New Zealand included:
- Rotorua in April 1948
- Wanganui in November 1954
- Timaru in April 1957
- Whakatane in November 1962
- Taupo and Oamaru in March 1966
In November 1956 the NAC services from Hokitika to South Westland were once again taken over by West Coast Airways. Other destinations removed from the network were Greymouth in 1951 and Kaikohe in August 1970.
Pacific Island services
NAC served the Pacific Islands in various capacities. Services began in 1947 using Douglas DC-3 aircraft and included Norfolk Island, Tonga, Samoa and The Cook Islands. Fiji was also served by NAC using Short Sunderland III's from the RNZAF. All services were withdrawn and taken over by TEAL on 15 October 1952, except for Norfolk Island which continued until September 1955.
NAC wanted to return to the Pacific area in the late 1970s and began to lobby the NZ Government for a return of its international licence as it planned to equip with the larger Boeing 727-200. This was one of the catalysts for the forced merger with Air New Zealand in 1978, as the latter airline felt it could lose the Pacific Islands and charter market to NAC.
After World War Two NAC continued to rely on prewar 'tailwheel' types of aircraft. Both the high speed twin engine 10 seat Lockheed Model 10 Electra and 15 seat Lockheed Loadstar were used, along with the slower British built de Havilland Rapide/Dominie and single engine Fox Moth. All three twin engine types could operate into all airports while the Rapide and Fox Moth could land on remote beaches on the West Coast as well as some lighthouse station airstrips. The two Lockheed types had disappeared by 1952 due to maintenance issues and accidents. The de Havilland Dominie operated until 1963. NAC did trial more modern British built airliners such as the Miles Marathon and de Havilland Dove but found them unacceptable (in the case of the Marathon) or too expensive to operate for network requirements (Dove).
The Douglas DC-3 was the airline's major type right through to the mid-1960s with up to 27 being operated over time.
NAC operated a large airfreight network using dedicated DC-3 cargo planes under the 'Freightair' banner. These aircraft operated into airports that were not on the regular passenger network, such as Opotiki, Masterton, Alexandra and Roxburgh.
In the 1960s NAC's 12 best DC-3 "Douglas Liner" airframes were upgraded. This included better soundproofing, new interior fittings and the fitting of larger windows. This was in response to competition in the provincial market from SPANZ, who operated DC-3s equipped with large double sized 'viewmaster' windows. NAC's upgraded aircraft were branded as 'Skyliners'. In 1954, NAC asked the government to encourage the development of airports so it could operate the Convair 440 or the Elizabethan airliner.
NAC continued using DC-3s into the 1970s. Kaikohe was permanently dropped as a destination in 1972. Passenger services to Timaru and Oamaru were operated with DC-3s until their runways were paved. One 'Skyliner' DC-3 renamed Waitaki was kept on for this service, until December 1974.
De Havilland Heron
NAC operated one tricycle landing gear type of piston powered airliner in the 1950s, the de Havilland Heron 1. Being the first four Herons produced they had fixed undercarriages instead of the retractable undercarriage on later models. The original use for this aircraft was to keep Cook Strait services to Wellington operating while Rongotai airport was being rebuilt. The Herons operated mainly from Nelson in the South Island as well as to Blenheim, Rotorua and Hamilton. The Heron however proved underpowered for the rough weather of Cook Strait, their fixed undercarriages causing too much drag in headwinds. Their heavy engines caused wing spar fatigue due to the light aluminium alloy used. Steel spars were substituted but with a weight penalty reducing passenger numbers to below economical levels. De Havilland did offer the Heron 2, a major improvement over the Heron 1 but this was not taken up. Heron ZK-BEQ was used as a royal aircraft when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited New Zealand for the first time in 1953-54.
When the old Rongotai airfield closed in 1957, the Herons were considered for the Nelson-Christchurch-Invercargill route but the aircraft were sold off to private operators instead. By then, only the DC-3 and Rapide/Dominies made up the NAC Fleet.
The last type of piston engine airliner to be operated by NAC was a leased Mt Cook Airline Britten Norman BN2 Islander ZK-MCD, used during 1976-77 to operate a service on the Auckland - Whangarei - Kaitaia route. This was to allow services to operate while Kaitaia's compacted gravel runway was sealed for use by heavier aircraft. The Islander using an alternative grass strip. It was repainted in the "new" Wings of the Nation red and orange colour scheme.
The pioneering turbo-prop powered Vickers Viscount first appeared in New Zealand in 1953 when an early model -700 was flown out for the London to Christchurch Air Race. Although suitably impressed, NAC management couldn't justify the cost of operating the airliner to what were then very substandard and limited airports; at the time only Christchurch and Auckland were capable. In 1954, after the NZ Government encouraged the development of nationwide airports and with the promise of Wellington Airport being completed in 1958, NAC ordered four of the new larger 800 series type.
The Vickers Viscount 807s were introduced from 1958, three initially being purchased. The first was used as a training aircraft and operated alone for a year on the Christchurch-Auckland route, and to Palmerston North which substituted for a still uncompleted Wellington International Airport. Services to Wellington began the following year, after the major reconstruction of Wellington's Rongotai Airport was completed a year later, two more Viscounts had joined the first by then. Services to Dunedin began late in 1962 with the purchase of the fourth aircraft in 1960, after the closure of Taieri Aerodrome to airliners and the opening of the larger Momona Airport further down the Taieri Plain.
The famous 'Viscount Jump' effect saw passenger numbers swell. Powered by four Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops, the Viscount was two generations ahead of the DC-3. In 1966 NAC bought a second-hand aircraft, modifying it to 807 standard, bringing the fleet to five. This opened up Viscount services to Hamilton and Invercargill.
The Vickers Viscount continued on until the last was withdrawn in 1975, when the '807' type had started to develop wing spar fatigue. Several were repaired and sold. The end of the Viscount era also realised NAC's wishes to operate a two aircraft type fleet. Two extra Boeing 737-200s were purchased as replacements (see below).
It would be another twenty years before the Viscount's natural successor, the ATR 72-200, would take over the major provincial services.
For the growing provincial routes, it was a Dutch-built 30-seat airliner that would be the true successor to the DC-3. The Fokker F27-100 short-haul airliner suited the NAC provincial network perfectly and, like the Viscount, was Rolls-Royce Dart turboprop-powered would prove popular. The 'Friendship' had been flying since 1956. However the British government attempted to force NAC's hand into purchasing the similar Handley Page Herald, reminding their New Zealand counterparts of possible trade tariffs being imposed on purchasing a 'foreign' aircraft. A British European Airways-owned Herald was flown out to New Zealand and participated in the opening of Wellington's rebuilt airport, putting on a short field and extreme manoeuvering air display. BEA management offered to leave the demonstration Herald with NAC for a year to trial on proposed routes. The New Zealand government intervened saying the Fokker aircraft had already proved itself while the Herald was still in test mode for its changed powerplants. The Fokker F27s were also Rolls-Royce powered while most of its electronic and mechanical components were made in the United Kingdom, thus negating tariff restrictions. So the Dutch built airliner won the day and a large order over time.
The Friendships began service with the first arriving in late 1960. Another seven arrived during 1961, launching provincial turbo-prop services to Hamilton, Napier, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Nelson, Blenheim and Invercargill. They primarily operated to regional airports with sealed runways, and also on the main trunk route alongside the Viscounts, flying the off peak services replacing the DC-3. They operated the first services to Dunedin's new Momona Airport in 1962 until traffic built up enough to use the Viscounts there. Four more secondhand -100s joined the fleet and five of the larger Fokker F27 Friendship Mk500s were purchased, three new and two secondhand, from 1973. NAC colours would return to the international Norfolk Island run, albeit under an Air New Zealand charter, with a Mk500 model flying the Auckland to Norfolk Is route.
The Friendships served New Zealand for thirty years, latterly under Air New Zealand ownership, progressively being rundown through the 1980s before the last of the fleet was withdrawn in 1990.
As early as 1959, when the first Vickers Viscounts were entering service, NAC management discussed when to equip with pure jet aircraft. In 1963 NAC hired a de Havilland Comet 4 from Christchurch to Auckland covering the distance in 1 hour and 20 minutes. The decision to equip with jet aircraft was finally made by the NAC board of directors in 1965.
After a global tender was let, three twinjet aircraft were shortlisted, the BAC 1-11, Douglas DC-9 and the Boeing 737. The main criterion for the candidate aircraft was the ability to safely fly in and out of Wellington Airport's unique right-hand inner harbour circuit. When NAC management chose the new Boeing aircraft over the already proven BAC 1-11, the pro-British-leaning National Government promptly turned down the request for precious funds and told NAC to redo their sums again. NAC rebuffed the government's order and argued that the Boeing 737 was the best fit for the growing network. So confident was the airline that Boeing secured early delivery slots on the production line for NAC.
NAC won the Government over with the logic of simple economics: three 737-200s could do the job of four BAC 1-11s. The approval was given in late 1966 for the purchase of three 737-200s.
The first Boeing 737, ZK-NAC, arrived from Seattle via Hawaii and Fiji into Wellington airport in the new livery of "National Airways" all white body, blue titles, with a red cheatline and striking red 'Godwit' roundel on the tail. With the arrival of ZK-NAD and ZK-NAE, full services were introduced in 1968 on the "main trunk" (Auckland–Wellington–Christchurch–Dunedin). Later this extended to Invercargill, Palmerston North and Hamilton in 1975 as more aircraft were added, including ZK-NAM which had been the Boeing 737-200 prototype, N1359B. Viscounts were retired as demand for jet services grew and two more 737s joined the fleet as replacements.
NAC was one of Boeing's earliest 737 customers, the first outside the United States and West Germany. Some minor engineering tweaks to the 737 occurred during the first few years as the type developed. This included the changing of its engine's clamshell reverse thrusters over the exhaust pipes to the more familiar 'bucket' style that stayed with the 737-200 type to the end. This also helped with reducing soot emissions of the earlier model. Boeing changed the hydraulic and flap configuration of the 737 in 1973 and sold to the airline at a bargain price the last 737-200 in original format, becoming ZK-NAJ.
Regional jet trials
The Boeing 737 had settled into routine service when NAC launched a small regional jet study to replace the Viscount. This included the Russian Yakolev Yak 40, Fokker F28 'Fellowship' and the still experimental Hawker Siddeley HS146. Unfortunately the country fell into an economic slump caused by the 1973 oil crisis and the United Kingdom joining the EEC causing a drop in passenger numbers with NAC selling one of its brand new 737s after only six months in service. NAC quietly dropped the regional jet proposal and more F27-500s were purchased.
In 1975 the airline introduced a new "NAC Wings Of The Nation" livery - a two toned orange colour scheme with the 'Godwit' roundel on an orange tailfin. Air New Zealand DC-10s or DC-8s were often hired in to move burgeoning holidaymaker numbers which brought about the idea of purchasing the larger Boeing 727-200. This would've also allowed the airline to challenge Air New Zealand on Trans Tasman and Pacific Island routes. Boeing offered to buy back NAC's three original 737 models as trade-ins to help purchase costs and approached NAC with the then proposed B757/767 family, opening up new markets. McDonnell Douglas also joined in with a DC-10 offer to NAC, re-igniting the merger debate within the New Zealand Government.
In the end it was Air New Zealand that was threatened by the domestic market airline and the government acted.
On 1 April 1978, after thirty-one years in operation, NAC merged with Air New Zealand to form the domestic arm of the airline. The highly unpopular decision to join the airline with Air New Zealand was inevitable however full deregulation of the commercial aviation industry in New Zealand was still eight years away. Political and the country's leading corporate exectutives at the time agreed that the sudden merger of both airlines was ill-conceived and no clear direction for growth given. To the general public, the merger was seen as a 'takeover' by the international airline with highly political motivation.
The "new" Air New Zealand airline immediately suffered from low staff morale, a divided operating fleet and incompatible management systems. The ensuing years saw slow growth, recession, and a major aircraft accident.
A fever of "last flights" activities as well as reunions and farewell dinners occurred throughout March 1978.
The Godwit tail livery was hurriedly covered over with a hybrid 'Air New Zealand' title and Koru tail scheme still using the two tone orange NAC final colours. Small Godwit symbols were placed beneath the cockpit side windows as a link to the past. These survived into the full repainted 'Teal Blue' era, but by the 1990s they had been painted out.
The fleet at the time of merger consisted of 26 aircraft:
Bay of Plenty Airways
NAC made a rare foray into the small airline business with the purchase in September 1961 of a one third shareholding in Tauranga based Bay of Plenty Airways. This was the only occasion NAC invested in another passenger airline but ironically it was two months before the airline's tragic loss of their Aero Commander on Mt Ruapehu. This directly led to Bay of Plenty Airways' demise. NAC took over the Wellington - Tauranga route outright shortly after.
Mount Cook Airlines
- see main article Mount Cook Airline
NAC entered an agreement in 1961 with the tourist route oriented Mount Cook Airlines, offering some of its light routes in both North and South Islands to Mount Cook with the latter airline staying away from the main trunk and larger provincial center routes. One such route was the Christchurch to Timaru and Oamaru DC-3 service in 1966. NAC also provided Mount Cook with a 'guarantor' back up when the airline purchased its first Hawker Siddeley HS 748 airliner and later a de Havilland Twin Otter. In 1973 NAC took a minor shareholding in the Mount Cook Group, the parent company of Mount Cook Airlines; Air New Zealand would later absorb this share when merger amalgamated the airlines.
- see main article Straits Air Freight Express
Accidents and incidents
NAC Freight Air crash
NAC suffered its first fatal air crash on 9 August 1948 when DC-3 Freighter ZK-AOE Parera crashed above Port Underwood claiming the lives of Commanders Murdo McLeod and RJRH "Dicky" Makgill. The DC-3 had taken off from Woodbourne Airport near Blenheim on a routine freight flight bound for Paraparaumu and entered cloud, crashing into Scraggy Ridge. A lack of radio navigation equipment was highlighted in the crash report. Some wreckage remains on the ridge.
On 23 October 1948, NAC Lockheed Model 10 Electra ZK-AGK Kaka crashed on the south-western slopes of Mt Ruapehu in the centre of New Zealand's North Island while flying in clouds. The aircraft was flying from Palmerston North to Hamilton, but drifted right off track after passing over Whanganui and collided with the mountain killing all thirteen people on board. The wreckage was located a week later near the summit. The accident highlighted the lack of air navigation radio beacons in New Zealand at the time.
On 18 March 1949, NAC Lockheed Lodestar ZK-AKX Keruru, crashed in the Tararua Ranges near Waikanae while approaching Paraparaumu Airport at the end of a flight from Auckland killing all 15 on board. The pilot was deemed to become disoriented in low cloud. Once again blame was given to a lack of navigational radio beacons in New Zealand. This crash was the worst aviation disaster in New Zealand until the Kaimai Range crash in 1963. The wreckage still remains at the crash site, with the exception of the tail section which was recovered intact in 1988 and taken to the Air Force Museum at Wigram Air Force Base in Christchurch, New Zealand to complete the restoration of Lockheed Hudson NZ2013 for static display.
Raumati Beach crash landing
On 22 May 1954, NAC DC-3, ZK-AQT Piere operating as Flight 152 from Christchurch crash landed and burst into flames on Kohutuhutu Rd in the beachside settlement of Raumati when approaching Paraparaumu Airport on short finals. Of the 26 people on board, 23 survived after the pilot, Captain Bill Pettet, managed to get the passenger door open in time. The three deceased victims were unaccompanied infant children. The cause of the crash was fuel starvation after the wrong fuel line cutover switch was activated. When the problem was noticed an attempt to restart the engines failed as the aircraft hit macrocarpa trees and plunged onto the road below Dr. Stevenson-Wright's weekend residence, where miraculously the fuselage rested right in the middle of the road without further collision. The doctor and his visitors ran to the passengers' aid, and fortunately most of them were able to walk out relatively unharmed. The doctor and visitors had been enjoying a coffee break while looking out to the sea when they saw the plane heading straight for their house, which it would have hit if not for the tree. As a result of the death of the three children, NAC was ordered to have a stewardess on board all DC-3s with a ban on unaccompanied children under 12 years of age until then.
On 3 July 1963, a NAC Douglas DC-3 crashed into the Kaimai Ranges in New Zealand's North Island while flying in clouds and turbulence. The aircraft was flying from Whenuapai, Auckland to Tauranga. The aircraft struck a vertical rock face after encountering a strong downdraft. The aircraft may also have commenced an early descent with the pilots unaware of the true position of the aircraft. All 23 people on board were killed. The wreckage remains on the hillside with a small memorial cairn beside it.
On 19 April 1948, Lockheed Model 10 Electra ZK-AGJ Kahu on a flight from Mangere - Tauranga - Gisborne was caught in a sudden heavy squall moments before landing at Tauranga. The sudden downburst forced the Electra into the lagoon in front of the runway threshold. The passengers were unharmed; ZK-AGJ, however, was written off as uneconomical to repair.
On 24 February 1949 Lockheed Model 10 Electra ZK-ALH Korere belly landed at Hamilton on a through flight from Auckland to Rotorua. The undercarriage collapsed, causing the Electra to slide across the airfield to a halt. Passengers were more bemused than shaken and continued their onward flight via bus.
On 14 January 1950, NAC deHavilland DH89B Dominie ZK-ALC Tiora was preparing to take off from Rotorua Aerodrome when a backfire from the port engine ignited dry grass under the aircraft. The aircraft's pilot, Commander Bill Rainbow, and passengers exited the aircraft leaving the starboard engine running while ground crews attempted to extinguish the fire. However, it was too late and by the time the Rotorua Fire Brigade arrived, they could only dampen down the wreckage. ZK-ALC was completely destroyed, along with the passengers' luggage.
On 12 November 1958, brand new Vickers Viscount ZK-BRD City of Wellington suffered an accidental wheels up landing at Whenuapai when Captain 'Johnny' Walker, co-piloting for Captain Peter Matheson, selected the undercarriage up lever instead of full flaps up. The Viscount slewed off the runway and onto the soft grass. Passengers were shaken and the aircraft suffered moderate superficial damage but was repaired in time for the Christmas season in December.
On 16 October 1961, Fokker F27-100 Friendship ZK-BXB Kotuku, moments from boarding passerngers and crew at Invercargill airport suffered an undercarriage failure when the portside main leg retracted. Ground crew had just removed the safety locking pin when the leg retracted. It was discovered that an undercarriage selector valve had failed.
On 17 February 1963, Viscount ZK-BWO City of Dunedin on a flight from Auckland experienced wind shear just prior to touch down at Wellington. Towards the end of its landing run it veered off the runway embankment at the southern Moa Point Road end, none of the 37 passengers and four crew suffered injury. The aircraft was hauled back up and propellers replaced.
On 13 July 1974, Friendship ZK-NAF Korimako while on a flight from Christchurch to Palmerston North developed a fault in its starboard undercarriage. The captain elected to land at Wellington where the undercarriage collapsed near the end of the landing run. Minor damage to the aircraft was sustained and was soon returned to service. This was the last incident involving aircraft under NAC ownership.
Ex-NAC Dragon Rapides, Fox Moths, and DC-3s still fly in private and charter operator hands. Examples of all three types including Douglas DC-3 Skyliner ZK-AWP still operated by Air Chatham Limited in New Zealand, Douglas DC-3 Skyliner ZK-BQK, as well as the fuselage of one ex-NAC Lockheed 10 Electra, are at the Museum of Transport and Technology, Auckland. Vickers Viscount, ZK-BRF City of Christchurch and Fokker F27-100 Friendship ZK-BXG Kea are preserved at Ferrymead in Christchurch. Two further F27-100 Friendships are preserved, with ZK-BXH, which was, for many years a cabin trainer restored fully intact at Christchurch, went to the Wanaka Transport and Toy Museum in 2012, and ZK-BXI, in less complete order, was shipped to the Aviation Museum on the Chatham Islands.
DC-3 ZK-AQP 'Peho', that was used in a dedicated freight role from 1947 to 1966 (NAC Freightair), today is employed in Lee County, Florida, USA, in the anti-mosquito, chemical spraying role, currently registered as N146RD and converted to turbo-prop configuration.
One 737-200 from the original three ordered for the airline still exists in the United States. The former ZK-NAD is now an abandoned training hulk in Charlotte, North Carolina. Originally thought to have been scrapped in 2016, it was discovered to be still intact in late 2017. There is now a major campaign to secure it for preservation in New Zealand.
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