The experience of flying
In the second half of the 20th century New Zealand, like other countries, underwent a transport revolution. Advances in aviation meant that business, politics, sport, family relations, and leisure activities were increasingly conducted with an ease and a disregard for distance that was inconceivable even in 1945. The world became smaller, and within New Zealand, only the backblocks remained isolated. Flying rapidly progressed from novel to normal.
Pressurised cabins, in-flight service, and weather-protected boarding procedures made the experience of flying more comfortable. Business-class luxury catered for those who could afford it, but for those who couldn’t, there were economy fares and economy airlines.
Kiwis take flight
In 1951 the total number of domestic passengers carried by NAC was about one-sixth of New Zealand’s population. By 1998–99 domestic airlines carried approximately one million more passengers than the entire population.
The two state airlines, NAC and Air New Zealand, had established flying as a safe way to travel. Fifty-six passengers and crew died in five separate crashes of NAC aircraft between 1948 and 1963, and none after that. In the entire history of TEAL/Air New Zealand, no passengers died in crashes on scheduled domestic or international services.
The 1979 crash on Mt Erebus of an Air New Zealand Douglas DC10, on a sightseeing flight to the Antarctic, killed 257 passengers and crew. This remains the sole tragic exception for that airline. In 1995 three passengers and a crew member died when an Ansett Dash 8 crashed near Palmerston North. Private ventures, using small fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, have fared less well.
As flying became more common, the aviation scene grew increasingly diverse. Helicopters made their noisy entry in the 1950s. For nearly 40 years from 1951, SAFE Air’s bulbous Bristol and Argosy freighters carried bulky cargoes across Cook Strait and to the Chatham Islands. Private firms, individuals and aero clubs introduced fixed-wing aircraft and versatile helicopters for such varied purposes as scenic flying, air taxi services, aerial mapping, industrial work, commuting, emergency rescue services, sightseeing, spraying and top dressing, hunting and forestry. There are now thousands of aircraft of all kinds on the national register.