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New Zealand’s first scheduled air mail service

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. 

An Avro 504K of the Canterbury Aviation Company, similar to the one which made the first mail run in 1921. Image ref WgG2566-78_1, Air Force Museum of 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. 

Chief pilot of the Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company, Euan Dickson, photographed in 1923. Cropped from a larger image (ref WgG6545-70, Air Force Museum of New Zealand).
Page from Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company Chief Pilot Euan Dickson's log book, showing the entry for the first scheduled air mail flight on 31 January 1921. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
Page from Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company Chief Pilot Euan Dickson's log book, showing the entry for the first scheduled air mail flight on 31 January 1921. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
Page from Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company Chief Pilot Euan Dickson's log book, showing the entry for the first scheduled air mail flight on 31 January 1921. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

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”.  

20210128_133501 - Copy
20210128_133334 - Copy

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.  

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