27 Apr 2017

When NZ aviation went national

From Nights, 7:10 pm on 27 April 2017

Seventy years ago, New Zealand’s various small airlines were amalgamated and nationalised into the National Airways Corporation (NAC).

By 1947, we were already aviation pioneers.   

The "lollipop" uniform in 1971.

The "lollipop" uniform in 1971. Photo: Archives New Zealand

Richard Waugh is an aviation historian whose late father, Brian Waugh, was a prominent pilot for several small domestic airlines in the post-war years.

He says this country's rugged ‘tiger country’ terrain demanded aviators with a plucky attitude – many were ex-airforce WWII pilots –  and their efforts made a significant contribution to the development of the nation.

“New Zealand is a long, skinny, mountainous country with the Cook Strait in the middle –  it was really tailor-made for the benefits of aviation.”

Even before the outbreak of WWII, we had a record of safe reliable air travel, he says.

“By the 1930s, aircraft were more economic and reliable, whether British De Havillands or Lockheed Electras, so the technology had advanced, although navigation was still pretty rudimentary.”

Air travel in those early days was still a glamorous affair.

NAC staff in 1959.

NAC staff in 1959. Photo: Archives New Zealand

“In those days it was expensive to fly, business people or wealthy people. And you certainly didn’t fly in T-shirts and jandals!”

The NAC soon became a national icon.

Waugh says 30 million Kiwis flew with it from the 1940s to the 1970s, and for those who worked there, it was a family.

“There was a pride in creating this nation-wide airline that was helping New Zealand advance in the post-war years.”

NAC was amalgamated with the overseas carrier Air New Zealand in 1978.

“By 1978, NAC had 3,500 staff and a remarkable safety record. It was an iconic brand and Air New Zealand needs to understand that half of its legacy is NAC.”

Fokker F27 at Wellington airport 1971.

Fokker F27 at Wellington airport 1971. Photo: Archives New Zealand