Vintage aircraft to star at airline pioneers reunion

Scanned photos SSAS 1963 1

A grand old lady of Queenstown’s aviation history will return to the skies this April as part of a 70-year airline pioneers reunion.

With support from Queenstown Airport, the 1943 de Havilland DH89 Dominie ZK-AKY biplane, known as ‘Tui’, is being brought in from Mandeville to guest star at the reunion, which runs 7-9 April.

From the mid-50s to the early 70s, Dominies were the dominant aircraft used for scenic, scheduled and charter work at Queenstown Airport.

The 8-seater ‘Tui’ was built for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and was the last of its type to be based in Queenstown.  Now fully restored for commercial operation, the plane is owned by the Croydon Aviation Trust in Mandeville and will offer public flights for $75 a head during the reunion.

Who’s coming?

Over 120 people from around NZ are planning to attend the reunion, including former staff and family members from the original post-war airlines of Southern Scenic Air Services (SSAS), Ritchie Air Services, West Coast Airways, Tourist Air Travel (TAT), and the early Queenstown operations of Mount Cook Airline.

One local attendee will be Hank Sproull, long-time owner of Air Milford, who has been closely involved with the organisation of the reunion.  With over 45 years’ aviation experience, Hank is one of the longest serving members of the local general aviation community, starting his career in the ‘70s as an apprentice engineer for Mt Cook Airline and going on to become a pilot.

At 62 years young, Hank still has fond memories of his “old days” as a young flyboy at the airport.

“It’s been 70 years since Queenstown’s first airline, SSAS, was founded and 60 years since the company introduced a scheduled Queenstown to Invercargill service, flying the Dominies. 

“I was 18 when I first started working at Queenstown Airport and I was really lucky to get exposure to a variety of aircraft, from float planes to ski planes.  It was great hanging out with the older more experienced pilots – they loved sharing their stories and really looked out for us young ‘uns.  There are quite a few coming to the reunion so I’m looking forward to catching up on old times,” he said.

The programme

The reunion includes a Friday night get-together at the Air Milford hangar, public flights on Saturday/Sunday, and a Palm Sunday service at Frankton Presbyterian Church focussing on Queenstown aviation pioneers and paying tribute to those who died in early operations.  More info here.

Don’t miss…

Weather permitting, the Dominie and 4 Cessnas, originally operated by the early airlines, will do a tribute fly-past over the Church and then over Queenstown on Sunday 9 April at around 10:30am.