Air Nelson

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Air Nelson
Air Nelson Logo.png
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 1979
Hubs Auckland Airport
Christchurch Airport
Wellington Airport
Frequent-flyer program Airpoints
Alliance Star Alliance (affiliate)
Fleet size 23
Destinations 20
Parent company Air New Zealand
Headquarters Nelson, New Zealand
Key people Kelvin Duff (GM Air Nelson)
Christopher Luxon (CEO Air New Zealand)

Air Nelson, a subsidiary of Air New Zealand, is a regional airline based in Nelson, New Zealand. It operates services on provincial routes under the Air New Zealand Link brand.

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

Air Nelson Q300s wear the Air New Zealand livery and operate from Kerikeri in the far north of the North Island to Invercargill in the far south of the South Island.[1]


The airline was established and started operations in 1979. It was founded by Robert Inglis and Nicki Smith who later sold the airline to Air New Zealand. It has 517 employees (at March 2015).[1]

As a small commuter airline, Air Nelson operated in the top half of the South Island linking Nelson and Wellington with up to half-hourly services. Also providing isolated towns such as Takaka and Motueka with a convenient safe service to the outside world. During this time aircraft ranged in type from - 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 operations and smaller regional centres were the first affected. Air Nelson aircraft 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 also purchased a stake in Air Nelson (along with Eagle Airways) to secure the airline's support when deregulation saw the arrival of Ansett New Zealand.


Air Nelson serve the following routes:

Former destinations[edit]

Air Nelson used to serve these towns:[3] Kapiti Coast, Motueka, Oamaru, Takaka, Westport and Whanganui

New era[edit]

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

Saab 340[edit]

1990 was a significant year for Air Nelson as in August that year, Air New Zealand suspended all F27 services. Air Nelson responded by introducing the Saab 340. Up until 1992, the Saab 340 wore Air Nelson colours, but when Air New Zealand bought the airline outright 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 the policy of parent company Air New Zealand's desire to 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.

Larger aircraft[edit]

Bombardier Q300[edit]

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 been dropped.[4] The last Saab 340A aircraft had been withdrawn from service by the end of 2007. The company now has 23 Dash 8 Q300 aircraft. Air Nelson is 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]

New services and expansion[edit]

The increase in fleet size allowed Air New Zealand to start pioneering longer distance provincial routes which 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 route, Paraparaumu to Auckland started in 2011.

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 has proved popular on peak services to the West Coast airport which also serves the town of Greymouth.

As of November 2014, Air Nelson is to take over services which fellow subsidiary Eagle Airways operated as parent company Air New Zealand had announced to close down Eagle Airways by August 2016, which means the routes Auckland – Taupo, Auckland – Wanganui, Hamilton – Palmerston North, Wellington – Gisborne, Wellington – Timaru, Wellington – Palmerston North and Christchurch – Blenheim would end up joining the Air Nelson network as a result of Eagle Airways' closure.

The future[edit]

Bombardier has ceased building turboprop aircraft apart from the larger Q400, choosing to focus on its Regional Jet family and upcoming C-Series twinjets. This has left Air Nelson with the only option of purchasing the Q400 or low-houred secondhand Q300 types. In March 2010, Air New Zealand suspended the option for Air Nelson to take up purchase rights of the higher speed 70-seat Q400, fearing an interservice rivalry with the slower but more economical ATR 72s of Mount Cook Airline. Air Nelson had hoped to pioneer a long distance turboprop service connecting Invercargill - Auckland or Rotorua - Queenstown nonstop as the economical high-speed Q400 would have allowed.[citation needed]

The transfer of heavy maintenance for Mount Cook Airline's ATR 72 fleet from Christchurch to Air Nelson's new facilities at Nelson Airport has been seen as a prelude to this policy.[6]


Current fleet[edit]

The Air Nelson fleet consists of the following aircraft (as of August 2017):[7]

Air Nelson Fleet
Aircraft Total Orders Passengers
Bombardier DHC-8-Q300 23 0 50

Former fleet[edit]


  • 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.[8] It was later determined that the pilots failed to release the uplock lever with the necessary pressure for the landing gear to release.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Directory: World Airlines". Flight International. 2007-03-27. pp. 63–64. 
  2. ^ a b "Air New Zealand Domestic Network Changes from July 2016". airlineroute. Retrieved 26 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Lowe, Steve. "Air Nelson - Part 2 - Farewelling the Friendship - A Time of Meteoric Growth". 3rd Level NZ. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  4. ^ Pacific Wings Magazine, April 2010
  5. ^ NZ CAA list of Air Nelson DHC-8 Q300 aircraft. Retrieved: 11 December 2009
  6. ^ Waikato Times May 2010
  7. ^ "Global Airline Guide 2017 (Part One)". Airliner World (October 2017): 22. 
  8. ^ "Plane makes emergency landing in Blenheim". TV3 News. 9 February 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  9. ^ Bayer, Kurt (7 February 2013). "Crash landing could have been avoided - report". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 

External links[edit]