Mount Cook Airline celebration
GRANT BRYANT IN QUEENSTOWN
The Mount Cook Airline, which pioneered scheduled airline flights to Queenstown 50 years ago is marking the occasion with celebrations and a plaque laying ceremony early next year.
Before the company's founder Harry Wigley pushed for direct flights, air travel to Queenstown meant flying into Cromwell and finishing the journey by bus.
Mount Cook Airline, along with Queenstown Airport Corporation will celebrate the first direct flights into the resort on February 14 with a commemorative plaque being laid at the current terminal entrance, and a cocktail party for invited guests in the adjoining Air New Zealand Koru Club Lounge.
Former Mount Cook Group South Island Regional Manager and occasional pilot Jules Tapper, who is the driving force behind the anniversary, said the company's push for direct flights undoubtedly changed air access to Queenstown, opening up the resort to become New Zealand's prime tourist destination, and changing it forever.
''I was born during the war, and used to come to Queenstown as a kid - then it was more of a domestic summer resort, and was very quiet over winter except for a bit of fairly primitive skiing on Coronet Peak,'' he said.
''It wasn't until the late 1940s that people started skiing, and then it took the first chairlift being installed in the early 1960s to really grow skiing as a big winter activity. Mount Cook Airline was really on the cutting edge of opening up Queenstown to national and international tourism, to the extent where Harry Wigley really went at the Queenstown Borough Council to have the runway at what was then the Frankton Aerodrome lengthened and sealed so that DC3s - the main passenger planes of the era - could land there.''
More than 70 former employees and associated guests of the company have already confirmed they would attend the anniversary, ranging from early crew members to engineering staff and pilots, Mr Tapper said.
''It really was the golden age of air travel, and there was tremendous camaraderie amongst the Mount Cook Airlines family. These were the days when the co-pilot and coach drivers would unload then reload the passengers luggage. I look back on my 10 years with the company as the most enjoyable of my business life. Already lots of people have come out of the woodwork to attend, and we're keen to get as many people from the early days of the airline coming to the functions.''
- The Mirror