Union Airways of N.Z. Ltd

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Union Airways of New Zealand Limited
Union Airways' airliner Karoro at Milson.jpg
Union Airways' Karoro at Milson c. 4 November 1936
FoundedApril 1935
Commenced operations15 January 1936
Ceased operations31 March 1947
Operating basesMangere, Milson, Rongotai, Taieri
Secondary hubsPalmerston North
Focus citiesAuckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin
SubsidiariesCook Strait Airways, Air Travel (NZ), East Coast Airways, TEAL (associates)
Parent companyP & O
Key peopleF Maurice Clarke, Norris Falla

Union Airways of New Zealand Limited was New Zealand's first major airline. It was founded in 1935 by local shipping giant Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. Its services reached main centres from Auckland to Dunedin and extended to Gisborne and the West Coast of the South Island. Union Airways was instrumental in the establishment of Australian National Airways and TEAL.

After the Second World War New Zealand's government nationalised Union Airways forming New Zealand National Airways Corporation taking over on 31 March 1947 all Union Airways operations assets and facilities and adding them to those taken from other local airlines.


In March 1935 Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand, subsidiary of P & O, applied to New Zealand's Transport Coordination Board for a licence[note 1] to operate a national trunk airline service together with three other companies: New Zealand Airlines of New Plymouth; Dominion Airways of Auckland (together they were Great Pacific Airways); and New Zealand Airways of Dunedin.[1] The facilities at Rongotai being inadequate it was proposed the service would operate between Auckland, Milson (Palmerston North), Blenheim, Christchurch and Dunedin. In May having won a first licence to fly between Palmerston North and Dunedin (calling at Blenheim and Christchurch) Union Steam formed Union Airways Limited keeping for itself 600 of the planned issue of 1000 shares.[2] The new Great Pacific Airways covered the rest of the North Island though, again, not Wellington and shared the South Island calls. There were strong protests from the Wellington resident Coordination Board member. Licence applications for other routes from other sponsors were firmly opposed by Union Steam.

Government subsidy[edit]

The general public seemed unaware that no other country had commercial flying services without government subsidy. Only in United States were military and civil aviation clearly separated though civil was still subsidised. For their Brisbane-Darwin-Singapore service operating the same DH86 aircraft QANTAS Empire Airways received a greater subsidy per mile than proposed for the trunk route. The board had been directed to take into account the value of the usefulness of all the proposed airways facilities for auxiliary defence purposes. [3]

De Havilland DH86 Express Karoro


It was widely reported Union Airways had purchased three four-engined De Havilland DH86 airliners which could carry from ten to fourteen passengers together with ample mail and baggage space.[4] Delivery would take place in September and October and they would enter service in December 1935[5] cruising at 145 to 150 miles per hour.

A Miles Falcon single engined monoplane designed to carry a pilot and two passengers was bought in Reading, Berkshire in August for service or, in emergency, air taxi work. It was to be fitted with the larger 6-cylinder 200 h.p. Gipsy engine used in the new DH86 aircraft.[6]

In November and December 1935 the new aircraft were assembled in a new hangar at Wigram Aerodrome. Their names were reported to be Karoro, Kotuku and Korimako


At the same time Union Airways let it be known they planned a further service to Australia which they considered a natural development for a shipping company.[7]

Battle of Routes[edit]

Meanwhile, through the Transport Coordination Board, Union Airways with its commercially strong backing blocked and continued to block the other airline, Great Pacific, from landing at Palmerston North leaving the Gisborne-Hawkes Bay feeder airlines with a restricted service. Their passengers would have to travel north by rail. Union Airways under their postal contract collected mail from the overnight Limited Express train at Palmerston and took it to the South Island and required no air link to Auckland.[8] The board "caused perturbation" in the North Island by noting the most important trunk route would be between Palmerston North and Dunedin.[9] Later newspapers produced articles about the working time saved by an Auckland businessman heading for Christchurch and travelling to Palmerston North by overnight train when compared with a flight originating in Auckland the following morning which would land him in Christchurch much later that day.[10]

New Zealand Airways, operators of a scheduled service from Wellington to Blenheim, lost their licence to the route to Cook Strait Airways and were reduced to taxi work. In response to questions put by Mr Walter Nash in parliament the Minister responded that while New Zealand Airways had talked of raising a large sum of new capital and replacing obsolete aircraft "the backing of Union Airways was very substantial". The decision had been made by the board said Mr Coates.[11]

Cook Strait Airways[edit]

Wellington Blenheim Nelson Two De Havilland DH89

Scheduled services[edit]

The first scheduled flight was from Dunedin to Christchurch on Wednesday 15 January 1936 and on it were: the mayor of Dunedin, Union Company's Dunedin manager, New Zealand Shipping Company's Dunedin manager, two officials of the Dunedin Aero Club and two other representatives of commercially interested parties. The pilot was A G Gerrard assisted by A V Jury who was also wireless operator.[12]

Union Airways support locations in 1945[edit]

Christmas 1945 and nationalisation[edit]

By the end of 1945 the government's intention to create a national airways corporation to monopolise civil aviation services had become The New Zealand National Airways Act. [14][15]

Seven days out from Christmas the Auckland Star reported there were between 1300 and 1400 New Zealanders in Australia awaiting transport home, most of them servicemen and dependents. Between 700 and 800 people are registered in Auckland with Tasman Empire Airways as passengers for Australia. These people have obtained permits for this travel so they will have valid reasons for their bookings. Shipping companies held similar waiting lists. The mail service across the Pacific had ended so letters now went through the Middle East. Trains are booked out and Union Airways reported it was unlikely to be able to provide a seat out of Auckland until early February.

On the other hand, RNZAF held flying boats, large and small, Lodestar and Dakota transports and the pilots to fly all of them and the necessary ground crews.[16]


New Zealand National Airways Corporation began business on 1 April 1947. The general manager of Union Airways took the same role in the new NAC. The aircraft, timetables and support services and most personnel were simply moved to the new operation.[17]

All aircraft below are in National Airways Corporation livery
De Havilland DH89 Dominie Luggate
Lockheed Electra in MOTAT
Lockheed Lodestar

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Transport Coordination Board was formed in 1933 under 1931's Transport Licensing Act. It was intended to limit entry to the transport industry to protect the heavy but unprofitable investment in the nation's railways then owned by its taxpayers. The board was closed in 1936. (Transport Coordination, The 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand)


  1. ^ Air Transport, National Service Auckland Star, page 8, 21 March 1935
  2. ^ Company Registered Northern Advocate 3 May 1935, page 10
  3. ^ Commercial Flying Subsidies Necessary Evening Post 22 August 1935 page 10
  4. ^ Airliners for Trunk Service Evening Post 22 July 1935, page 7
  5. ^ Planes Bought Auckland Star 22 July 1935, page 8
  6. ^ Another Aeroplane Evening Post 7 August 1935, page 9
  7. ^ Certain to Come, Evening Post 25 July 1935, page 9
  8. ^ Trunk Air Services, free development Evening Post, 8 August 1935, page 10
  9. ^ Air Service the Trunk Route Evening Post 19 August 1935
  10. ^ Most Important Air Line Christchurch Press 19 September 1935, page 6 (supplement)
  11. ^ Air Services Licenceses Christchurch Press, 12 October 1935, page 16
  12. ^ Karoro's Passengers Guests and Officials Evening Post 15 January 1936, page 10
  13. ^ Airways Factories Auckland Star 8 March 19445, page 8
  14. ^ The Airways Act Christchurch Press, 30 November 1945
  15. ^ Civil Aviation Policy The New Zealand Herald, 30 November 1945 page 6
  16. ^ Thousands Wait Auckland Star, 18 December 1945, page 7
  17. ^ Government Intervention Te Ara, The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand