Whakatane welcomes new operator
The most congested the Whakatane apron has looked in recent history.
Sunday 26 April saw Whakatane Airport open its gates to the public to celebrate the arrival of Air Chathams to the Eastern Bay of Plenty. As has been widely reported in mainstream media, the airline took over the scheduled daily route between Auckland and Whakatane from 29 April, starting operations the morning following Eagle Airways’ last Beechcraft 1900D departure.
The open day was arranged as an informal way for the community to get acquainted with the new operator, with examples of its Fair-child Metroliner III, Convair 580 and Douglas DC-3 all in attendance, along with a large contingent of both flight and ground crew, happy to answer any questions and explain the operation to those with an interest in aviation.
A tremendous turnout eventuated despite showery conditions, with a good variety of out-of-town aircraft arriving to display for the crowd. Brett Emeny, brother of Air Chathams CEO Craig, brought his Vampire ZK-RVM over from New Plymouth, along with two Yak-52 stablemates from the Taranaki warbird hangar. Another example, ZK-KGB down from Pauanui, completed the trio and together they performed an impressive formation aerobatic display over the crowd around midday as the skies cleared momentarily.
Bruce Brownlie flew up from Feilding in the sleek silver Cirrus SR22 GTS demonstrator ZK-CNZ and conducted several demonstration flights, and a fleet of gyrocopters made the trip along the coast from Tauranga for the same purpose.
Sunair had its Piper Aztec ZK-PIX on display, with line pilot Ryan Bergman and owners Dan and Bev Power promoting the recent inclusion of Whakatane into the provincial route structure that they hope will complement the Air Chathams mainline service.
Marcus Goile from East Bay Aviation was kept busy running C182 ZK-OFC on sightseeing flights, as was Frontier Helicopters with its rotary wing fleet.
Air Chathams had ZK-AWP allocated for scenic duties and managed to fill an impressive nine 20min flights out over the city and Ohope Beach during the course of the day.
Charter manager Duane Emeny was happy to show this Aviation News reporter inside the well-known DC-3 during a refuelling break. It looked very smart after a recent interior refurbishment, with the large bright Viewmaster style windows and modern B737 seating giving the classic airliner a very tidy finish and offering a great platform for many locals to spot their own homes from the sky.
A line stretching from the apron airside access gate, all the way through the terminal and into the carpark proved testament to the interest level from the Bay of Plenty residents when given the opportunity to climb aboard Convair ZK-CIE. The 50-seat airliner remained on static display for the day to show potential passengers the level of comfort they can expect. The cockpit was also manned by several pilots throughout, happy to share related facts and figures with the continuous flow of enthusiasts who stepped in to pose for flight deck photos.
Duane explained that the Convair would be used for the first week of operations to get the local travellers familiar with the type, and from then on the flying will be split with the 19-seat Metroliner, depending on passenger numbers. He also mentioned that he hoped the DC-3 might be able to become incorporated in the schedule when the warmer weather returns, in conjunction with prearranged tour groups looking for a novel weekend holiday.
Air Chathams wished to express a massive thanks to the Whakatane District Council who had project managed the day, along with the Sunrise Rotary Club for their support. Cadets of 35 (Whakatane) Squadron ATC provided excellent traffic management, while local radio station 1XX hosted a variety of musical performances on a stage set up outside the playfully designed airport terminal.
Numerous vintage cars and caravans were parked alongside the popular catering area, with the main hot dog stand actually running out of tomato sauce by the time I started looking for my lunch around 2.30pm. (On a side note, it was great to see the proceeds from my hunger being put towards sending off food parcels for victims of Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.)
The event was a clear success with many commenting on their surprise at just how well patronised the day had been. The atmosphere was laid back, those in attendance grateful for the attention their town is receiving with a genuinely positive feeling to the commitment Air Chathams is making to their community.
Thanks to Laurence Pope for flying Aviation News to Whakatane from North Shore in his Seneca, making a very enjoyable day all round.
- Report & Photographs by Andrew Underwood.
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