Learn how and why civil aviation has been regulated in New Zealand from 1918 to today.

1918 to 1933

During World War One, it was private enterprise that trained pilots for the allied air forces, while the government took a back seat.

But after the war, responding to development in wartime aviation and to lobbying by aviation pioneers, the government passed the Aviation Act 1918.

The government called in a British expert, Colonel A V ‘Zulu’ Bettington (RAF) to give his assessment of the future of aviation in New Zealand. Col Bettington focused on the size and shape of a future air force, but he also recommended the government subsidise the operations of the flying schools in Auckland and Christchurch. He also suggested an airmail service be experimented with.

Bettington’s recommendations fell on stony ground, but the government set up an advisory committee of its own, an ‘Air Board’, in 1920.

The government required this board to “act as an Advisory Body to the Government on: Matters of Defence; Commercial Undertakings; and Aviation Generally”.

In the area of commercial operations, the government wanted advice on:

  • companies or individuals that could be subsidised for delivering mail, or transporting passengers, and so on
  • the inspection of privately owned aircraft
  • reserving the rights of particular companies or individuals to fly for hire within certain prescribed areas.

The board comprised representatives of the Defence, Post and Telegraph, Public Works, and Lands and Survey Departments. None, however, had any knowledge of flying so an experienced aviator, Captain Thomas Wilkes, was appointed board secretary. Nevertheless, the board was disestablished in 1922.

The previous year, 1921, the regulations set out in the Aviation Act were issued. They included things like flying schools needing a licence to be established, and it being an offence for someone without a ‘flying certificate’ to have control of an aircraft.

The formation of its own air force, in 1923, was a significant step for New Zealand. A position was created in the Defence Department, ‘Staff Officer Air Services’ (later ‘Director of Air Services’), to which Thomas Wilkes was appointed.

In 1928 the government invited Air Marshal John Salmond (RAF) to advise on aviation in New Zealand. His recommendations focused on military aviation but they had little effect because of the Depression. Salmond also recommended the establishment of 41 emergency landing grounds.

Growing awareness of aviation, however, followed events such as the import of De Havilland Moths from 1927, and attempts to fly the Tasman in 1928. There were seven aero clubs by the end of 1928, and another five the following year. The first New Zealand registered aircraft to bear the mark “ZK” appeared in 1929.

The same year, parliament passed the ‘Local Authorities Empowering (Aviation Encouragement) Act 1929’. It gave county councils, harbour boards, and other authorities the power to establish and maintain aerodromes.

In August 1929 Thomas Wilkes went to Britain, changing places with Wing Commander Stuart Grant-Dalton of the RAF, who arrived to fill the Director of Air Services post. At the end of their exchange in October 1931, Captain Wilkes returned to his post here.

The following month, the Air Navigation Act 1931 came into force, generating regulations surrounding air navigation, which came into effect mid-1933.

1933 to 1947

The 1933 regulations also led to the appointment of a ‘Controller of Civil Aviation’. Retaining his role as Director of Air Services, the now Wing Commander Wilkes was appointed to the new role as well, overseeing civil aviation in New Zealand.

It was a small beginning, but civil aviation regulation now had its own chief.

The following year, the Transport Licensing (Commercial Aircraft Services) Act 1934 came into force, heralding the beginning of regulated airline passenger services. A little over a year later, four airlines were operating scheduled services.

In 1936, with it becoming more obvious that a war with Germany was likely, if not imminent, the government invited another British expert, Wing Commander Ralph Cochrane, RAF, to advise. His report in December 1936 recommended setting aviation aside from the Defence Department to form a new body, the Air Department, to cover both military and civil aviation.

Cochrane recommended that “civil air transport … continue to be encouraged with the object of enabling it to take its place in the transport system of the country, and thus provide a valuable backing to the regular (air) force. The aero-club movement shall also be supported …”

The Controller of Civil Aviation now headed the Civil Aviation Branch within the Air Department.

civil aviation ensign

New Zealand Civil Air Ensign

In 1938, a New Zealand Civil Air Ensign was approved for the nation.

The ensign can be flown only:

  • by the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand on its buildings and aircraft
  • on any New Zealand registered aircraft
  • at any aerodrome
  • by an airline owning a New Zealand registered aircraft upon or in proximity to any building occupied by the airline as its principal office or place of business
  • by any person to whom permission in writing is granted for the purpose by the Director of Civil Aviation, at such places and subject to such conditions as may be specified.

The position was filled by the tireless Wing Commander Wilkes, who finally left New Zealand to work overseas in 1940 – after 20 years of service to the development of civil aviation in this county.

He was succeeded by Jack Buckeridge, who was appointed Acting Controller of Civil Aviation through and beyond the war years, until March 1947.

1947 to 1964

New Zealand was among the 52 signatories of the Chicago Convention in December 1944, bringing the International Civil Aviation Organization into being, the following April.

Esmond A Gibson, a WW1 pilot, was appointed to the new post of Director of Civil Aviation in March 1947. The Civil Aviation Act 1948 triggered the ratification of New Zealand’s acceptance of the convention on international civil aviation, and authorised the issue of regulations.

The government now invited a British team to review New Zealand civil aviation.

Headed by Sir Frederick Tymms, an internationally respected specialist in civil aviation, the team spent two months visiting the New Zealand aviation industry. It reported in November 1948.

The report on the organisational structure of civil aviation in New Zealand was couched in diplomatic terms, “the present internal organisation of civil aviation is susceptible of improvement”. (Tymms Report, p155, quoted in A History of Civil Aviation in New Zealand, Maurice McGreal, 2003)

The Civil Aviation Regulations of 1953 took into account many of the Tymms recommendations. Under the new regulations the Director could now issue Civil Aviation Safety Orders and Civil Airworthiness Requirements.

A change of title followed the 1953 regulations. The ‘Civil Aviation Branch’ of the Air Department became the 'Civil Aviation Administration'.

Sir Arthur Nevill (former Chief of Air Staff in New Zealand) succeeded Gibson in 1958, remaining in the role until mid-1964.

1964 to 1968

A new Civil Aviation Act came into force in November 1964. It provided for the “appointment of a Secretary for Civil Aviation as the administrative head of the Department. It also provides for the appointment of a Director of Operations and Technical Services with regulatory powers in respect of air safety”.

For the first time a Minister of Civil Aviation portfolio was created. Before this, ministerial authority had rested with the Minister of Defence.

Wing Commander Lew Taylor served as Director of Operations and Technical Services during this period.

1968 to 1987

The Ministry of Transport Act 1968 provided for the amalgamation of the Departments of Civil Aviation and Transport. Aviation regulation was now carried out by the Civil Aviation Division (CAD).

The statutory position was now styled ‘Director of Civil Aviation Division’, and it retained responsibility to the Minister of Transport rather than to the Secretary. Lew Taylor took up this new position.

Successive appointments were Ivan Walters (RAF) in 1972, Captain E T Kippenberger in 1978, and Stuart McIntyre in 1983.

In 1984 the government replaced quantitative air service licensing (there had to be a ‘need’ for a service before it could be provided, which led to higher prices and reduced services) with a qualitative one (the service had to be safe and the operator had to be able to afford continued compliance). This led to a major expansion in the industry, the number of operators doubling in three years.

1987 onwards

Further drivers for change emerged – government policies of user pays and devolution of service provision activities. Air traffic and other services were devolved from CAD on 1 April 1987 to form a new state-owned enterprise, Airways Corporation.

In 1988, the remainder of the CAD was renamed the Air Transport Division (ATD).

The work of another group of invited experts, the Swedavia-McGregor report, was issued in 1988. It proposed a fundamental change in regulatory philosophy. It advocated for a culture of participant responsibility: the safety authority was required to define standards and responsibility for meeting those standards rested with approved organisations.

Stuart McIntyre saw much of this change through before relinquishing his position in early 1990. He was succeeded in July 1990 by Roger Dalziell.

A new Civil Aviation Act came into force on 1 September 1990, embodying the Swedavia-McGregor principles. The prime purpose of the regulator now was to undertake activities to promote safety in civil aviation at reasonable cost. The Director’s position was restyled Director of Civil Aviation Safety.

The 1990 Act provided for the Minister to make rules, and a programme was begun involving a complete re-write of New Zealand’s aviation regulations.

The Air Transport Division was significantly downsized. Government funding was reduced to about 25 percent of ATD’s budget. Fees, charges and levies on industry were introduced to cover the other 75 percent.

A significant departure from the Swedavia-McGregor report was the government’s unwillingness to form a stand-alone body. The organisation was retained within the Ministry of Transport, and the statutory powers were vested in the Secretary for Transport. Aviation industry opposition was vociferous.

In 1991, however, the government decided to create a stand-alone authority. An ‘Establishment Board’ was created and legislation was drafted. The Civil Aviation Amendment Act 1992 passed into law 10 August 1992, and the stand-alone Civil Aviation Authority came into existence. Three weeks later, the first of the new Directors of Civil Aviation, Kevin Ward, took up his duties. He was succeeded on 2 October 2001 by John Jones.

Directors of Civil Aviation since then have been Russell Kilvington, Steve Douglas, and Graeme Harris.

Read the Swedavia-McGregor Report from April 1998 [PDF 2.3 MB]

See also the appendices to the Swedavia-McGregor Report [PDF 792 KB]