68 Year Old New Zealand Passenger Plane Eyes Retirement

New Zealand airline Air Chathams is on the brink of retiring a 68-year-old passenger plane. The Convair 580 typically wings its way between its home on the Chatham Islands and the New Zealand mainland. Lining up to replace the old dame of the skies is an ATR-72 500.

Air Chathams has operated its last Convair 580 passenger flight. Photo: Air Chathams

Air Chathams ATR72-500 lines up to replace the Convair 580

Air Chathams had a fleet of three Convair 580s, with three different configurations. Last October, the airline announced all three would be retired this year. In good times, plane fans from far and wide traveled to New Zealand to hitch a ride on one of Air Chathams Convairs.

On July 23, Air Chathams’ passenger configured Convair 580 (registration ZK-CIE) made its final flight carrying fare-paying passengers. The plane got a water canon salute on its final flight from Wellington (WLG).

The New Zealand Herald reports Air Chathams CEO Craig Emeny saying the well-maintained plane remained safe and serviceable. But updating navigational systems to the New Southern Sky program New Zealand aviation was adopting would prove a costly exercise, and the decision was made to retire the plane.

Air Chathams also has an all-cargo configured Convair 580 and a passenger/cargo combi Convair 580 which reportedly remain in service. Dedicated to flying cargo, their retirement is also imminent.

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Fishy Air Chathams flights

Part of New Zealand since 1842, the Chatham Islands are New Zealand’s most eastern islands and are located 487 miles (783 kilometers) east of southern New Zealand. Home to just 600 people, Air Chathams is based at Chatham Islands Airport (CHT) and provides a vital cargo and passenger link to the New Zealand mainland. In addition to passengers, Air Chathams does brisk business flying fish to mainland markets.

Aside from cargo and charter flights, Air Chathams operates scheduled passenger flights from CHT to Christchurch (CHC), Wellington (WLG), and Auckland (AKL). From Auckland, flights normally operate to Norfolk Island (NLK), Kapiti Coast (PPQ), Whanganui (WAG), and Whakatane (WHK).

These days, the mainstays of Air Chathams passenger services are Saab 340s and ATR72-500s. But in addition to the Convair 580s, a colorful collection of planes parks at CHT. They include Fairchild Metroliners, Cessna 206s, and a still flying Douglas DC-3.

Chatham Islands Airport (CHT), home to Air Chathams. Photo: Muso555 via Wikimedia Commons

Last days for the Convair 580s

But it is the Convair 580s that capture people’s attention. The recently retired all-passenger Convair ZK-CIB was built in 1953 for Philippine Airlines. The plane also later flew around North America and the Caribbean. In 1996, Air Chathams took the plane on. Almost 25 years to the day, the first Air Chathams flight using ZK-CIB carried 13 passengers and three tonnes of freight.

“It’s a very, very difficult aircraft to replace, to be honest,” Craig Emeny told The New Zealand Herald.

“I loved seeing the 580 heading east out of Christchurch and wishing I was on it. What a great aircraft. It will be missed,” said one person online following Friday’s final flight.

“Last ever Convair pax service worldwide, I’d say….,” posted another.

Air Chathams hopes to find a museum to house their now retired Convair 580. But with a 24.6-meter fuselage, a Convair 580 offers plenty of scope for repurposing. The airline has previously sold a Convair via auction, suggesting the planes can find a second life as a coffee bar, AirBnB, or a tiny house. Living in a converted Convair – that would be cool.