National Airways Corporation

National Airways Corporation
National Airways Corporation (NAC)
National/New Zealand
Founded 1947
Focus cities Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland
Frequent-flyer program NAC Flightcard
Alliance Air New Zealand, Qantas, British Airways, Pan American Airways.
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 Issit, founding CEO. Doug Patterson, CEO 1978.

National Airways Corporation 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. Today it exists as a 'paper' airline "Air New Zealand National" to manage that airline's domestic jet fleet.[1]

National Airways Corporation was itself an amalgamation of 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, it was equipped with de Havilland Dragon Rapides, de Havilland Fox Moths, Douglas DC-3s, Lockheed Electras and Lockheed Lodestars which initially operated inside New Zealand. However in the late 1940s NAC also provided international services to some nearby South Pacific countries, using converted ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Short Sunderlands. 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 Harewood (Christchurch), Whenuapai (Auckland), Gisborne and Nelson.



Initial services

The NAC network started with twentytwo destinations and four international Pacific island destinations.

The destinations that initially formed the NAC Domestic Network (including West Coast Airways) were:

Kaitaia, Kaikohe, Whangarei, Auckland, Tauranga, Gisborne, Napier, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenheim, Nelson, Christchurch, Westport, Greymouth, Hokitika, Whataroa, Waiho (Franz Josef), Haast, Dunedin and Invercargill.

The destinations that formed the NAC Pacific Island Network were:

Norfolk Island, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and The Cook Islands.

Pacific Island services

A former World War II RNZAF transport, Lockheed Lodestar ZK-AJM, was inherited from Union Airways in 1947 and named "Kotare" - it was sold to the US in 1952.

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.

In June 1975, Air New Zealand commenced Norfolk Island services with a chartered NAC Fokker F27-500 Friendship.

NAC wanted to return to the Pacific area in the late 1970s and had begun to lobby the NZ Government for a return of its international licence as it had planned to equip with the larger Boeing 737-200. 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.

Domestic services

The first change to the NAC domestic network occurred in April 1948 with the addition of Rotorua. Between then and the airline's merger with Air New Zealand, NZNAC added five more destinations to its network:

In November 1956 the NAC air 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.

In the 1950s NAC acquired de Havilland Herons, Vickers Viscounts and in the 1960s Fokker F27 Friendships and Boeing 737s.

The Herons were operated between 1952 and 1957, from Wellington Rongotai Airport; mainline services continued using DC-3s from Wellington Paraparaumu Airport.

Turbine power

The Vickers Viscount 807s were introduced in 1958, initially operating from Christchurch to Auckland, and Christchurch. Services to Wellington began the following year, after the dramatic reconstruction of Wellington Rongotai Airport, and the return of NAC to the city centre. Viscount service to Dunedin began late in 1962, after the closure of Dunedin Taieri to airliners; and the opening of Dunedin Momona Airport further down the Taieri valley. The famous 'Viscount Jump' effect saw passenger numbers swell however, unlike most airline competitors who weren't equipped with the type and suffered, in this case it was the railways. Even when it was time to find a successor (Boeing 737), in 1966 NAC brought a second-hand aircraft, bringing the fleet to five, and opened Viscount services to Palmerston North and Invercargill.

It was a Dutch-built 30-seat airliner that would be the true successor to the venerable DC-3. The Fokker F27-100 short-haul airliner suited the NAC provincial network perfectly and being Rolls Royce Dart turbo prop-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, which was belatedly changed to twin Rolls Royce Dart power from four Alvis-Leonidas piston engines. A Herald was flown out to New Zealand and participated in the opening of Wellington's rebuilt airport, putting on an incredible short field and extreme manouvering air display. 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 so the Dutch airliner won the day and a large order over time.

The Friendships began service with the first arriving in late 1960, and another seven arriving during 1961. They operated to the regional airports with sealed runways; and also on the main trunk route alongside the Viscounts. They operated the first services to Dunedin Momona Airport until traffic built up enough to use the Viscounts there. As more regional airports were sealed during the 1960s, four Fokker F27 Friendship Mk500s were bought.

The Viscounts soldiered on until the last was withdrawn in 1975; by then the unique to the Australasian region '807' type had started to develop wing spar fatigue and the airline sold them on instead of repairing them. It would be another twenty years before the Viscount's natural successor, the ATR 72-200, would take over the major provincial services.

Jet Power, "Battle for the Boeing"

The decision to equip with jet aircraft was greeted with great enthusiasm by the NAC board of directors in 1965, but soon had the airline mired in political controversy.

Three aircraft were shortlisted, the BAC 1-11, Douglas DC-9, and still on the drawing board, Boeing's smallest jetliner the 737-200. The main criteria for the candidate aircraft was the ability to safely fly in and out of Wellington Airport's unique right hand inner harbour circuit. The Douglas DC-9 was trialed, found lacking and soon faded from the race. However the British built BAC 1-11 managed to prove itself well and was believed to be the winner for the Viscount replacement. As Boeing didn't have a 737, the company sent out a trijet 727-100 as its flap configuration would be the same as the new model. The BAC 1-11 did have one shortcoming, its capacity of only 90 seats compared to the Boeing 737's seating of 100 in a conservative five abreast layout. It was expected that the ordering of the BAC 1-11 was assured after due dilligence of testing the competing candidates. So when NAC management chose the new Boeing aircraft over the already proven BAC 1-11, the pro-British 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 B737 was the best fit for the growing network. The government agreed and was about to allow NAC to purchase the Boeing when the UK Board Of Trade arrived with a delegation of high powered politicians who then tried to persuade the NZ Government to drop the Boeing in favour of the BAC 1-11. Using the two country's long trade association and the dependency of New Zealand's primary agricultural industry and the possible threat to it if NAC chose elsewhere. The delegation also reminded the government of the decision to purchase the proven Fokker F27 over the unproven turboprop powered Handley Page Herald a decade earlier. They also said that BAC were willing to hurry development on a larger 100-110 seat 1-11 if NAC placed an order. All to no avail. NAC finally won the NZ Government over with simple economics, three B737's could do the job of four BAC 1-11s. The approval was given in late 1966 for the purchase of three B737s, much to the disdain of the British delegation who said the passenger numbers would be optimistic. NAC's numbers soon proved to be anything but.

The Boeing 737, ZK-NAC, arrived from Seattle directly (via Hawaii and Fiji) into Wellington airport cheering up that city that had just endured the tragic Wahine disaster. Full services were introduced in 1968 on the "main trunk" (Auckland/Wellington/Christchurch/Dunedin), and extended to Invercargill, Palmerston North and Hamilton during the 1970s. The swift and high speed jet era created an even bigger jump than was had with the Viscount and the Railways suffered as a result with many long range services cut as the displaced Viscounts started to appear at secondary provincial airports.

During the 737 era, passenger numbers fluctuated during this time however it soon became apparent that the little twinjet couldn't cope with holiday and peak time passenger 'surges'. New aircraft were progressively added to the fleet but it was not unusual for NAC passengers to suddenly find themselves on board an Air New Zealand DC-10 or DC-8 as downtimed aircraft were rushed in to move holiday makers. This in turn brought about the idea of purchasing the larger Boeing 727-200.

Boeing even approached NAC with the proposed B757/767 family, opening up new markets. This caught the attention of the board of directors at Air New Zealand who re-ignited the merger debate. In the end it was Air New Zealand that was threatened by the domestic market airline and the government acted.

The last taildragger

NAC continued using DC-3s from its birth until two months before the merger; although only passengers services to Timaru and Oamaru were operated with DC-3s in the mid 1970s. (Kaikohe being dropped in 1972). One Skyliner DC-3 renamed Waitaki was kept on for this service, until the last of those airports, Timaru, was sealed in 1976.

S.A.F.E. Air

Ex-SAFE Air Argosy ZK-SAE Merchant Enterprise in Blenheim, New Zealand.
Boeing 737s in hybrid Air New Zealand and NAC livery at Wellington Airport in 1980

In August 1972, NAC Acquired 100% ownership of freight company S.A.F.E. Air, which operated Bristol Freighter and Armstrong Whitworth Argosy aircraft.


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 Godwit tail livery was soon painted out with a hybrid Air New Zealand 'Koru' scheme. Small Godwit symbols were placed beneath the cockpit side windows as a link to the past. These survived into the 'Teal Blue' era, but by the 1990s they had been painted out.

Re-born, Air New Zealand 'National'

After The New Zealand Government sold Air New Zealand in 1989, the airline began restructuring in 1990. This included the removal of all the former NAC Fokker F27 services. Air New Zealand then split up its fleet (and air routes)into management groups. Acquiring Mount Cook Airlines, Eagle Airways, and Air Nelson to fly provincial services vacated by the Fokker F27 demise.

However in 1991 Air New Zealand resurrected NAC as a 'paper' company to manage its now large fleet of Boeing 737-200 jets on domestic services. Although to many this was a welcome surprise, disappointment soon followed when requests to have NAC's Godwit symbol affixed to the sides of aircraft doorway entrances (as per Air Nelson etc...) were turned down.

The subsidiary exists with today's Boeing 737-300 fleet alongside the long range fleet as part of the 'Mainline' business arm of Air New Zealand. Separated from stand alone subsidiaries, Eagle Airways, Air Nelson, Mount Cook Airline and Zeal320(the airline's Airbus A320 operator). In October 2009, parent company, Air New Zealand announced the end of Boeing 737-300 operations with the mass purchase of modernised and uprated Airbus A320 airliners as a replacement on domestic routes. Air New Zealand National will operate the type.


The fleet at that time of merger consisted of twenty-five aircraft:

Aircraft Total Orders/
Boeing 737-200 8 1
Fokker F27-100 13
Fokker F27-500 5

At the time of merger, three Boeing 727-200 tri-jets were about to be ordered to expand domestic and Pacific services. These were later cancelled.

Accidents and incidents

Kaimai disaster

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 twenty-three people on board were killed.

Electra crash

On 23 October 1948, a NAC Lockheed Electra, ZK-AGK Kaka, crashed on Mt Ruapehu in the centre of New Zealand's North Island while flying in clouds. The aircraft was flying from Palmerston North to Hamilton. After passing over Wanganui, the aircraft drifted right of track 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.

Surviving aircraft

Ex-NAC Dragon Rapides, Fox Moths, and DC-3s still fly in private hands. Examples of all three types, as well as two ex-NAC Lockheed Electras, are preserved at the Museum of Transport and Technology, Auckland. A Vickers Viscount is preserved at Ferrymead in Christchurch. One of the converted RNZAF Sunderlands is in Kermit Weeks' aircraft collection.

Some of the ex-NAC F27 Friendships also survive, two airworthy with Airwork, based at Auckland International Airport. Another is being restored to display at Ashburton Airport, in NAC's livery introduced in 1968. Of the Boeing 737-200 fleet, moves are afoot to try repatriate the former ZK-NAD to New Zealand for static preservation. This aircraft is particularly historically significant, the sole survivor of the initial batch which revolutionised domestic travel in New Zealand.

See also


  1. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. 20 March 1975. "495.

Further reading

  • Peter Aimer, Wings of the Nation: A History of the New Zealand National Airways Corporation 1947–1978, published 2000.

External links

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