65th anniversary of West Coast Airways

AuthorRichard Waugh
Publication Date07 December 2021
Publication titleWest Coast Messenger, The
In the 1950s the highway through to Haast was still under busy construction. It would be several more years before the openings - to Otago in November 1960 and from Paringa five years later, in November 1965

In Hokitika, local employment revolved around being an administration and commercial centre for the surrounding district. Sawmilling and general engineering was important along with joinery, clothing, beer and dairy products.

While in 1956 the 'through road' to South Westland stopped at Paringa at that time, the Arthur's Pass route to Canterbury was very demanding for vehicle use. The Lewis Pass highway had only been opened 19 years earlier. In Hokitika, the port had finally closed in 1954.

New Zealand National Airways (NAC) had been flying DC-3 aircraft regularly into Hokitika for three years, but even more people departed Hokitika by rail. With steam trains still common, it was the popular diesel-powered Vulcan railcars that picked up passengers from the Hokitika Railway Station, after it came up from Ross, and took them to Greymouth and Christchurch. Today the Tranz Alpine route is world renowned!

It was into this changing post-war transport environment that Southern Scenic Air Services (SSAS) in Queenstown made a bid to NAC to take over the South Westland air service. The national airline had been operating the service since compulsorily taking over Captain Bert Mercer's pioneer Air Travel (NZ) Ltd airline in 1947.

Air Travel (NZ) Ltd had begun New Zealand's first licensed scheduled air service from Hokitika on December 18, 1934. However the South Westland service with its biplane de Havilland aircraft was quite different in style and operation to all other routes so NAC was ready to sell to the right private buyer.

SSAS with their well-known versatile operation were an ideal purchaser and soon a subsidiary company West Coast Airways Ltd was formed, with foundation directors John Kilian, Fred 'Popeye' Lucas, Barry Topliss (all SSAS directors) and Tom Harris of Hokitika. Harris, with considerable aviation experience, was appointed Hokitika manager and engineer. Bryan McCook was employed as the first pilot with former NAC staff Jean Anderson and Joy Staines undertaking the administration work. West Coast Airways took over the large hangar at the airport, previously used by NAC.

West Coast Airways services commenced on November 19, 1956 with Hokitika to Haast return flights flown by Dominie ZK-AHS and with another Dominie ZK-AKT also based at...

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