Air Nelson
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Air Nelson

Air Nelson
Air Nelson Logo.png
IATA ICAO Callsign
Ceased operations19 November 2019
HubsAuckland Airport
Christchurch Airport
Wellington Airport
Frequent-flyer programAirpoints
AllianceStar Alliance (affiliate)
Fleet size23
Parent companyAir New Zealand
HeadquartersNelson, New Zealand
Key peopleKelvin Duff (GM Regional Airlines)

Air Nelson was a regional airline based in Nelson, New Zealand. It was founded as an independent airline in 1979. Air New Zealand took a 50% shareholding in 1988 and 100% ownership in 1995. Air Nelson operated services on provincial routes under the Air New Zealand Link brand.

The airline operated one type of aircraft, the 50-seat Bombardier Q300, which provided an intensive regional air service that cannot be sustained with regional jet types of this size. Until 2008, it operated the 33-seat Saab 340, which took over provincial Fokker F27 services by Air New Zealand in 1990.

Air Nelson Q300s wore the Air New Zealand livery and operated from Kerikeri in the far north of the North Island to Invercargill in the far south of the South Island.[1] The airline had 517 employees (at March 2015).[1]

On 31 March 2019, it was announced that Air New Zealand was considering merging both Air Nelson and fellow Link subsidiary Mount Cook Airline into the mainline fleet.[2]


Early history

Air Nelson was established and started operations in 1979. It was founded by Robert Inglis and Nicki Smith, who later sold it to Air New Zealand.

It initially operated as a small commuter airline in the top half of the South Island, linking Nelson and Wellington with up to half-hourly services. It also provided isolated towns such as Takaka and Motueka with a convenient safe service to the outside world. At this time aircraft included Piper PA-31 Navajo, Fairchild Metro, and Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante.

In 1986, Air New Zealand announced it would start to scale back its Fokker F27 Friendship operations and smaller regional centres were the first affected. Air Nelson services immediately replaced the F27 on those routes. Air Nelson grew their network at the same time and started operating non-stop service to Auckland, complementing F27 services.

Air New Zealand purchased a 50% stake in Air Nelson (and a 50% stake in Eagle Airways) in 1988 to secure the airline's support when deregulation saw the arrival of Ansett New Zealand.

Air Nelson Saab 340A at Auckland International Airport in November 2005
Air Nelson DeHavilland Canada Dash 8-300 on the tarmac at Hawke's Bay Airport in November 2005

Air New Zealand suspended all F27 services in August 1990 and Air Nelson responded by introducing the Saab 340. Initially the Saab 340 wore Air Nelson colours, before all Air Nelson's fleet were repainted in Air New Zealand's 'Link' livery. The Saab fleet soon grew to one of the largest in the world at that time and Air Nelson divested itself of its smaller aircraft, operating only the Saab. This was in line with Air New Zealand's policy of rationalising the overall cost of fleet maintenance. Eagle Airways soon operated a fleet of Beechcraft 1900Ds, while Mount Cook Airlines operated the ATR 72-500.

Full Air New Zealand ownership

Air New Zealand took 100% ownership of Air Nelson in 1995.[3]

During October 2004 the airline announced that it was replacing its fleet of seventeen Saab 340As with seventeen Bombardier Dash 8 Q300 aircraft, with options for another ten Dash 8 Q300 and thirteen Dash 8 Q400 aircraft, although the latter aircraft options have since been dropped.[4] The last Saab 340A aircraft had been withdrawn from service by the end of 2007. The company had 23 Dash 8 Q300 aircraft. Air Nelson was the largest singular operator of the Q300 outside Canada. Although Air Nelson looked towards ATR for the smaller ATR 42, Bombardier offered a better discount for a bulk purchase.[5]

The increase in fleet size allowed Air New Zealand to start pioneering longer provincial routes that were considered sustainable with 50-seat aircraft, such as Wellington to Invercargill, New Plymouth and Tauranga to Christchurch. Air New Zealand has also used the Q300 to ramp up a more intensive high-frequency regional service allowing more departure choices. A new Paraparaumu to Auckland route was started in 2011. A second route from the Kapiti Coast was opened in 2013, Paraparaumu to Christchurch, but it could not be sustained and the short-lived service ceased in 2015.

The Hokitika–Christchurch route joined the Air Nelson network as a result of the Pike River coal mine disaster in November 2010 when Air New Zealand added capacity to the Westland town. This became permanent in February 2011 when subsidiary operator Air National was grounded by the NZCAA due to irregularities with operating practises. The larger aircraft proved popular on peak services to the West Coast airport, which also serves the town of Greymouth.

In November 2014, Air Nelson started to take over services from fellow subsidiary Eagle Airways after parent company Air New Zealand had announced the close-down of the airline by August 2016. Routes including Auckland–Taupo, Auckland–Whanganui, Hamilton – Palmerston North, Wellington–Gisborne, Wellington–Timaru, Wellington – Palmerston North and Christchurch–Blenheim joined the Air Nelson network as a result of Eagle Airways' closure. Air New Zealand immediately reviewed and closed down the Auckland–Hamilton, Auckland–Whanganui and Christchurch–Blenheim routes. Some routes were picked up by second-tier operators.

In 2018 Air New Zealand announced that the Auckland–Paraparaumu route was to close due to aircraft scheduling issues. After intense lobbying by local authorities, Air Chathams took over the route with a Saab 340 airliner in September 2018, with Air New Zealand leaving behind ground servicing equipment for the airline to use.

The future

As of 2018 the Q300 fleet is considered old in Air New Zealand's fleet-age policy. Bombardier has sold its turboprop Q400 production facilities to Viking Aviation, choosing to focus on its Regional Jet family and Airbus Industries 220 twinjets. This has left Air Nelson with the only option of purchasing the ATR 42 or low-houred secondhand Q300 types. The Q300 airliners operate a very intensive service on busy regional routes and supplement Mount Cook Airline's ATR fleet to larger city centres.

The transfer of heavy maintenance for Mount Cook Airline's ATR 72 fleet from Christchurch to Air Nelson's new facilities at Nelson Airport in 2013 has been seen[who?] as a prelude to further fleet rationalisation with the option of purchasing the ATR 42 as an option for Q300 replacement.[]

End of operation and merger

On 19 November 2019, the merger of Air Nelson took place, with their fleet moving to the Air New Zealand air operators certificate and the airline ceasing to operate,[6] these aircraft are now also operating under the Air New Zealand callsigns (NZxxxx), furthermore removing the old RLK ICAO code.


Air Nelson served the following routes at its closure:

Air Nelson used to serve the towns of[8]Kapiti Coast, Motueka, Oamaru, Takaka, Westport and Whanganui.


The Air Nelson fleet consisted of the following aircraft (as of August 2019):[9]

Aircraft formerly in the fleet were:

Aircraft Introduced Retired Notes
Cessna 152 1986 1997 One aircraft
Cessna 650 Citation III 1995 1998 One aircraft
Fairchild Swearingen SA.227 Metro 1987 2002 12 aircraft
Piper PA-23-250E Aztec 1984 1992 Three aircraft
Piper PA-31-310 Navajo 1986 1997 Two aircraft
Piper PA-31-350 Chieftain 1986 1995 Five aircraft
Saab 340A 1990 2008 Seventeen aircraft


  • On 30 September 2010, Air New Zealand subsidiary Air Nelson Flight 8841 was flying from Wellington International Airport to Nelson Airport but was diverted to Blenheim due to bad weather in Nelson. On landing, the front landing gear on the Dash 8 Series 300 collapsed. The aircraft stopped successfully on the forward section of its fuselage and all 46 passengers and 3 crew members left the aircraft uninjured. The aircraft registration was ZK-NEB.
  • A similar incident on 9 February 2011 saw an Air Nelson Q300 flying from Hamilton to Wellington diverted to Blenheim when the nose wheel failed to deploy. The plane made a successful nose down landing with none of the 44 passengers injured.[10] It was later determined that the pilots failed to release the uplock lever with the necessary pressure for the landing gear to release.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Directory: World Airlines". Flight International. 27 March 2007. pp. 63-64.
  2. ^ Anthony, John (31 March 2019). "Air New Zealand considering merging Air Nelson and Mount Cook with jet business". Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ Dann, Liam (9 June 2006). "Origin is found in the regions". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ Pacific Wings Magazine, April 2010
  5. ^ NZ CAA list of Air Nelson DHC-8 Q300 aircraft. Archived 29 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 11 December 2009
  6. ^ "LINK off the air waves - UPDATED". 3rd Level New Zealand. Retrieved 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Air New Zealand Domestic Network Changes from July 2016". airlineroute. Retrieved 2016.
  8. ^ Lowe, Steve. "Air Nelson - Part 2 - Farewelling the Friendship - A Time of Meteoric Growth". 3rd Level NZ. Retrieved 2017.
  9. ^ "Global Airline Guide 2019 (Part One)". Airliner World (October 2019): 22.
  10. ^ "Plane makes emergency landing in Blenheim". TV3 News. 9 February 2011. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  11. ^ Bayer, Kurt (7 February 2013). "Crash landing could have been avoided - report". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2015.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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