Last reunion of Queenstown aviation pioneers

PRESS RELEASE: Dr Richard Waugh

Queenstown aviation pioneers and their families will gather at Queenstown 7-9 April 2017 for a last reunion. This year is the 70th anniversary of Southern Scenic Air Services pioneering aviation work at Queenstown in 1947 – then only an isolated grass airstrip at Frankton.


2017 is also the 60th anniversary of Southern Scenic’s subsidiary, West Coast Airways, the last South Westland airline, and the 50th anniversary since all the private enterprise airlines were amalgamated into Mount Cook Airlines. The airlines being remembered and celebrated are; Southern Scenic Air Services, West Coast Airways, Ritchie Air Services, Tourist Air Travel, and the early years of Mount Cook Airline general aviation at Queenstown up until the mid-1970s.

Challenges through the years

These airlines were versatile, flying Cessnas, Dominies and Widgeons; opening up new scheduled air services, pioneering tourist flying (notably in Fiordland), operating air ambulance and other special charters, developing agricultural work, doing supply dropping (before helicopters), carrying newspapers and the mail.

There were many challenges; raising sufficient capital, working with political regulation and licensing bureaucracy, flying obsolete aircraft, getting enough passengers, dealing with engine failures, overcoming tragic ‘prangs’ and always coping with the mountainous terrain and turbulent weather.

Veteran pilots and engineers attending

Many retired pilots and engineers from the 1950s and 1960s and early 1970s will be gathering for a last reunion. They will include senior retired pilot Russell Troon (aged 84), of Christchurch, who began commercial flying from Queenstown in 1953. Other retired pilots from the 1960s attending will include Rex Dovey, Russell Gutschlag, Dave Cowan, Paddy Moxham, Bill Black, and Gary Cruickshank. A key focus of the weekend will be de Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-AKY, a pioneer 8-seater airliner from the 1940s. The fully-restored Dominie will be returning to Queenstown for the first time in many years and will be available for public ‘joy-rides’. It is fitted with a modern transponder to enable the veteran airliner to fly from busy Queenstown International Airport.

Veteran airworthy Cessnas from the 1950s and 1960s will also be attending the reunion; ZK-BDE, ZK-BJY, ZK-BMS and ZK-CHK.

Reunion programme details

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