Mount Cook Airline

Mount Cook Airline
Mount Cook Airline
Founded 1969
Focus cities Rotorua, Queenstown
Frequent-flyer program Airpoints
Airport lounge Koru Club
Alliance Star Alliance
Fleet size 11
Destinations 10
Parent company Air New Zealand (100%)
Headquarters Christchurch, New Zealand
Key people

Mount Cook Airline is an airline based in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is wholly owned by Air New Zealand and operates scheduled services throughout the country under the Air New Zealand Link brand. Its main base is Christchurch International Airport.[1]



The airline was established and started operations in 1920 as New Zealand Aero Transport Company, at Timaru by Rodolph Lysaght Wigley. Wigley, who in 1906 had driven the first motor car to Mount Cook, used six ex-RAF Avro 504 and three Airco DH.9s for sightseeing flights and any other work available.

In 1921, Wigley pioneered flights to Mount Cook and from Invercargill to Auckland. The NZ Aero Transport Company had less than three successful years before winding up its activities due to declining public interest in aviation.

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 Southern Lakes, Milford Sound and Mount Cook regions, until it was suspended by World War II. Flying resumed in 1952 using an Auster J1-A Autocrat, registration ZK-BDX (now preserved inside the terminal of Queenstown Airport).[2]

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 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 Ski Planes now operates a fleet of Cessna 185s and Pilatus Porters, and is the only company to land scenic flights on the Tasman Glacier to this day.[3]

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, Queenstown and Te Anau with a 26-seater Douglas DC-3.

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. 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.[4]

In June 2001, Air New Zealand Group added extra capacity on domestic routes by introducing four 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 six extra Boeing 737-300s were added to the mainline fleet.[5]

The airline's symbol is the Mount Cook Lily, which prior to the integration with the Air New Zealand link brand was displayed on the tails of its aeroplanes.

Air New Zealand purchased part of the Mount Cook Group in the 1980s after Sir Henry's death,[6] 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.[7][8]

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


Mount Cook Airline serve the following routes in New Zealand:[9]

Auckland Napier, Palmerston North
Christchurch Dunedin, Hamilton, Invercargill, Mount Cook[10](Begins 23 December 2012), Palmerston North, Rotorua, Queenstown, Wellington
Wellington Hamilton, Queenstown, Dunedin, Christchurch
Hamilton Palmerston North


A versatile aircraft, the ATR 72-500 is used to operate from main cities to larger provincial towns during peak times and operate on main trunk routes off peak times. Complementing fellow subsidiary, Air Nelsons smaller capacity Q-300 airliners.

Previously operated

The airline previously operated:

A fleet of Hawker Siddeley HS 748s was operated from 1970 to 1996. The last commercial flight was on 9 February 1996, from Wellington to Christchurch. The aging HS 748 fleet was replaced by seven ATR 72-200s from 1995 after an evaluation process that included the Fokker F50, Bae APT, and Saab 2000.[8]

8 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 four 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 twelve years of domestic service in New Zealand.[8]

Also operated:

ATR Fleet changes

The original ATR 72-200 fleet was swapped one for one with 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. The ATR 72-500 has proven itself well on Air New Zealand's provincial routes, offering economies on services unsustaniable with larger jet equipment.

In October 2011 Air New Zealand announced a doubling of the ATR fleet by purchasing 12 new ATR 72-600 models. The upgraded fleet was 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.

Mount Cook Airline will be operating it's third generation of the type when the -600 starts service in 2012. Proving it's continued reliability operating in New Zealand's often harsh flying conditions.

ATR has announced that they were preparing to launch the development of a 90 seat turbo-prop airliner as a step up from the -72 model. Air New Zealand has taken interest in this development as a fuel efficient 90–100 seat airliner for provincial routes has been proven to be needed within the next ten years.

Change in heavy maintenance

In April 2010, parent airline Air New Zealand announced that it was moving the ATR 72-500 and now ATR 72-600 heavy maintenance work away from Mount Cook Airline's home of Christchurch Airport. Air Nelson's maintenance base would take over all ATR 72-500/600 heavy maintenance work from November 2010. Later in 2011 Eagle Airways will subcontract some ATR maintenance, to be performed at its Hamilton engineering base.[11]

Incidents and accidents

On 9 July 2010, Mount Cook Flight 5067, an ATR 72-500 flying from Christchurch to Invercargill, was forced to divert to Dunedin due to a burning smell on board the aircraft.[12] The flight landed safely and the 53 passengers were bussed to Invercargill.[13]


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