On 31 January 1921, a small Avro 504 biplane took off in stormy weather from Sockburn aerodrome just outside Christchurch. It was bound for Ashburton and Timaru and carried the first scheduled airmail service to commence in New Zealand.
At the controls was Captain Euan Dickson, Chief Pilot of the Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company (CAC). Dickson had already been the first pilot to fly across Cook Strait the previous year. It was hoped the mail service would improve the dire financial position of the Company in the post-war depression.
This was not the first air mail to be carried in New Zealand. George Bolt of the New Zealand Flying School had carried several mail runs to parts of Northland from Auckland in 1919 and 1920. The new service, however, was intended to be regular and permanent.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Even the Lyttelton Times (owned by Henry Wigram, Chairman of the CAC) was lukewarm about the chances of commercial success, stating the service was:
“...merely intended to carry a few mails and passengers at accelerated speeds there may not be much more in the undertaking than a practical illustration of scientific progress and it may be difficult to show a good balance sheet”.
Newsclippings from Captain Euan Dickson's personal scrapbook. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
The financial prediction proved all too correct and on 2 April 1921, the Postmaster of Christchurch announced the service would cease as it was unprofitable. The service did show, however, that aircraft would play a major role in the future to make communications in New Zealand and with the world much faster and easier.