Historic Queenstown aviation anniversary looms

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Plans are under way to mark a momentous occasion in Queenstown aviation history.

Queenstown aviator Jules Tapper is spearheading a push to recognise 50 years of continuous service in and out of Queenstown by Mount Cook Airline.

Tapper, a former shareholder of the company which is now a fully owned subsidiary of national carrier Air New Zealand, is keen to hear from ex-staff keen to be involved.

The anniversary celebrations are scheduled for February next year at Queenstown Airport. 

Tapper says the very first Mount Cook Airline flights in and out of Queenstown 50 years ago will be the focus.

Mount Cook Airline Captain Geoffrey Williams and his then-co-pilot Alistair McLeod kicked it off making the first scheduled flight into Queenstown in a Douglas DC 3 Airliner on February 3, 1964.

They departed the next day with fare-paying passengers.

“Prior to this, regular flights into the region had landed near Cromwell and passenger transfers were done to and from Queenstown by company coach,” Tapper recalls.

“After realising the potential for this new service into the area, the local Queenstown Borough Council after much debate – and undoubted persuasion by Harry Wigley, the founder of the company – had lengthened and then sealed the main north-east/south-west orientated runway to enable DC3 aircraft to land at the established Frankton aerodrome,” he adds.

Tapper says the plan is to commemorate those pioneering flights on February 14 next year, a Friday, with the unveiling of a plaque on a boulder near the existing airport terminal entrance.

The airline is then hosting a cocktail party in the Air NZ Koru Lounge for invited guests.

A reunion dinner for ex-staff is planned up at the Skyline complex the following night – and already interest in that is proving highly popular, Tapper says.

“Former company employees are looking forward to a big catchup on old times,” he says.