The National Airways Corporation (NAC) ushered in the age of mass air travel. And during the life of NAC, aircraft went from pre-war types to the jet age.
Early NAC aircraft
Initially NAC had to make do with a mixed fleet, including pre-war de Havillands (Dominie, Rapide, Express, Fox and Gypsy Moth), and Lockheed 10A Electras. To these it added ex-service Lockheed Lodestars and Douglas DC3s, converted to civilian use.
The DC3 rapidly became the backbone of the airline. The aircraft were readily available, reliable, and versatile (able to land on provincial grass as well as main trunk tarmac). For economy, the airline aimed to reduce the variety of aircraft, but restrictions on the use of Wellington’s Rongotai airport forced it to add four de Havilland Herons between 1952 and 1957.
The Vickers Viscount
In 1954, strongly influenced by the ‘buy British’ mood of the early 1950s, NAC settled on the Vickers Viscount aircraft. Introduced to the main trunk in 1958, it was popular with travellers. A pressurised, turbo-prop plane that flew above most turbulence, it reduced the flight time from Auckland to Christchurch from over three hours to under two.
The Fokker Friendship
To replace the ageing DC3s on the provincial routes, NAC preferred the Dutch Fokker F27 Friendship. However, this was opposed by politicians and others, who preferred the British Handley Page Herald. The Fokker proved a wise choice: the F27 series was a success internationally as well as in New Zealand, where from 1961 it supplemented the Viscounts on the main trunk services, and replaced DC3s as fast as the provincial grass airstrips were sealed.
The Boeing 737
The airline fought an even fiercer political battle in the mid-1960s over the choice of a jet aircraft for the main trunk route. Issues of access to the British market for primary produce cut across the airline’s firm preference for the American Boeing 737. Confident in its judgement after the success of the Fokker Friendship, the airline held its ground against pressure for the British BAC 1-11. The jet age in domestic services began in 1968 with the delivery of the first Boeing. The airline’s choice was again confirmed by the spectacular longevity of the Boeing 737 series.