Air New Zealand 75 Years

Air New Zealand 75 Years

The arrival of Air New Zealand’s new 787-9 Dreamliner in 2014, complete with innovations like the Spaceseat™ and Skycouch™, is a timely addition because the airline is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The new aircraft, designed to make long-haul travel as comfortable as possible, provides a good point of comparison to reflect on the past, a great deal of which is explored in Air New Zealand 75 years.

One of the big changes in air travel is speed. Today a nine-hour flight in the Dreamliner will get you almost halfway across the globe, but when New Zealand’s first international air service took place on 30 April 1940, the Short S.30 Empire-class flying boat took over nine hours to fly from Auckland to Sydney. The plane was incredibly small by today’s standards – it could carry 19 passengers, although that number altered depending on how much the mail weighed. Back then, the all-important mail took priority. The inaugural flight included a small group of officials and other passengers, including two women who were thought to be ‘frightfully daring’.

The inflight experience was quite different then too. Flying boats travelled at a low altitude, so it was very bumpy and often cold. With no temperature control, blankets were used to keep warm. Male stewards, most of whom had been on passenger liners at sea, were employed to take care of passengers. The first flight hostesses were employed in 1946. Food was initially transported in large vacuum-sealed flasks, but by the time the Solent flying-boats came in 1949, fresh meals were prepared on board in the plane’s galley.

The exhibition includes a replica 1950s Solent cabin. Here you get a feel for what flying in the past was like. This plane flew TEAL’s glamorous Coral Route to the Pacific. The Solent cabin, like the Dreamliner’s, was considered to be a luxurious sophisticated flight experience.

Whenever your first flight experience was, this exhibition with its selection of quirky memorabilia and objects with nostalgic appeal, is sure to spark a memory of a special journey. A beautiful set of tableware made by Crown Lynn in 1965 especially for Air New Zealand’s new DC-8 is a personal favourite. The set not only showcases the skill of Crown Lynn’s designers, but also reflects the way the airline has incorporated elements of Māori culture and design into their corporate identity. One of the most prominent, of course, is the Koru logo which was first introduced in 1973 with the new DC-10. Another less-known example is a uniform designed by Vinka Lucas in 1973. The uniform included a yellow blouse with puffed sleeves with a distinctive Māori-style print.

Posters designed for NAC and TEAL provide another opportunity to explore the way the airline’s material culture showcases the work of some of New Zealand’s best designers. Several examples from the Haythornthwaite Agency have been selected, including a bold playful poster designed by Nobby Clark for NAC in 1958. This poster featuring a witch sitting on an aircraft seat and the slogan ‘Nearly everyone flies NAC these days’ shows the airline’s bent for humorous advertising, a tradition that continues today with the latest Hobbit-inspired safety videos and advertising.

The exhibition begins with a walk down the Bridge back through time, a space that focuses on a range of the airline’s most prominent and memorable uniforms. Starting with the most recent Trelise Cooper-designed ensemble, the bridge ends with the first military-style uniforms used in the 1940s and 50s. A large scale projection, featuring New Zealand’s earliest recorded flight, punctuates the space and leads into an area that explores the beginning of aviation in New Zealand – a time when spectacular daredevil flyers and backyard inventors led the way towards commercial flight. Here the motor and propeller from Richard Pearse’s invention is a highlight and, further on, an exposed Boeing 737 jet engine will pique the interest of the technologically minded.

The exhibition ends with Design Lab. Here a virtual reality cabin experience gives a taste of the future of flight, you can design your own plane livery and you can also find out how Air New Zealand create their famous safety videos. A kids’ area is packed with activities for young children and is a fitting end to an exhibition that explores the past and probes the future of our national carrier – Air New Zealand.


Lynette Townsend
Curator, Communities and Diversity

Feature image: Detail from: Aotearoa, ZK-AMA, Short S.30 Empire Class aircraft, landing in Auckland during the 1940s. Tasman Empire Airways Ltd – TEAL’s first plane. TEAL became Air New Zealand in 1955. Photographer Whites Aviation, Air New Zealand Ltd Archive, 2014.