Straits Air Freight Express

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Logo of Safe Air Limited
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 its Cook Strait focus and connecting the North Island and South Islands of New Zealand's railway systems from the 1950s to the 1970s. The company, was renamed Safe Air Limited in 1966, and 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. In 2015 it was bought by the Australian arm of Airbus Group.[1]

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.[2] 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 6 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.[3]

The company also operated two larger Armstrong Whitworth AW.650 Argosy four-engined turbine propellor freighter aircraft from the 1970s.[4]

Chatham Islands Passenger Services[edit]

New Zealand's most eastern home islands, the Chatham Islands were linked with the main islands of New Zealand with a combined air freight and passenger service using a unique removable passenger pod that was placed into the hold of their Bristol Freighter aircraft. Extra sound insulation was used to drown out the Bristol's Hercules engines and earplugs were provided. Windows in the pod lined up with those in the fuselage. The flight time was approximately three hours.

In 1982 when the paved runway at Tu-uta Point was built, Argosy aircraft were placed into the Chathams' route with a more comfortable passenger pod based on the cabin of a Boeing 737. The pod still exists today, placed in the hold of ZK-SAE on static display at Blenheim. When flying operations ceased in 1990 Air New Zealand continued operations with other aircraft, Air Chathams was founded to keep the air route open when Air New Zealand pulled out in 1992.


  • 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. ^ van den Bergh, Roeland (22 June 2015). "Air New Zealand sells Blenheim's Safe Air to Airbus". Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Davis and Piercy, 1977, p. 4
  3. ^ Davis and Piercy, 1977, p. 4
  4. ^ Roach and Eastwood, 1998, p. 32

External links[edit]