This post would not be possible without the awesome 3 part series on Mount Cook Airlines by Steve over at 3rd Level New Zealand. I can highly recommend that site as a treasure trove about the operations of New Zealand's many smaller airlines. Please check it out.
In December 1960 permission was granted for Mount Cook Airlines to begin a Christchurch - Mount Cook route using a DC-3, which the airline had purchased from NAC. Service began on November 6, 1961 connecting Christchurch with Mount Cook, Cromwell and Te Anau. Over the coming seasons the services and schedules were increased and a second DC-3 joined the fleet in November 1964. At the same time Mount Cook tookover operation of NAC's Christchurch to Timaru service, operated in the morning and evening, with the scenic routes crammed in during the day.
By 1966 Mount Cook was operating into Queenstown (rather than Cromwell), as far south as Invercargill and as far east as Dunedin. The closure of SPANZ in February 1966 benefited Mount Cook further, which picked up NAC's Oamaru service as a tag on to the Timaru one and added Alexandra too. The mainline fleet still stood at just a pair of elderly DC-3s and clearly a replacement was needed. Despite the funding challenge the search for a new aircraft was on and the airline's manager Harry Wigley and Captain Geoff Williams visited manufacturers around the world looking at types such as the Fokker F27, Nord 262 and HS 748.
In the end the British product won the race, offering rugged rough field performance and high levels of passenger comfort. The type's low landing speed and high climb rate were especially sought after in the tricky conditions found at such stations as Mt Cook and Queenstown. It was also fitted with integral airstairs and did not require a ground power unit. Plus the HS 748, although not as fast as some other types, still offered impressive savings in journey time over the DC-3s.
Only a single aircraft was ordered but even so the $800,000 price tag was a huge investment for the little airline. In preparation for the arrival of the new type modifications were made at airports on the network like Queenstown, which had its runway sealed.
The first Mount Cook HS 748, ZK-CWJ was delivered to Christchurch on October 5, 1968 after a 58 hour delivery. The aircraft was configured in a high density 52 seat layout, although this was quickly reduced to 48. CWJ entered service on October 14, 1968 flying NM501 to Mount Cook and Queenstown. After ten days the HS 748 also replaced the DC-3s on the NAC owned CHC-Timaru-Oamaru service. Manapouri was added to the HS 748 on December 19. Services with the HS 748 proved popular and in a 6 month period during 1969 the airline carried a third more passengers than it had in the same period the year earlier (18,621:12,431).
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: