The inaugural service from Auckland to Sydney on 30 April 1940 was flown by Aotearoa, one of its two Short S30 flying boats. There was a connection at Sydney with the Qantas/BOAC route to Great Britain which meant that there was, for the first time, a regular through air service between New Zealand and Britain. This lasted less than six weeks as, when Italy entered World War II in June 1940, it was no longer possible to fly through the Mediterranean. The TEAL service then provided a connection with the Horseshoe route.
The first four months of operation saw a weekly return service between Auckland and Sydney. This was expanded to thrice fortnightly with connections to San Francisco using Pan Am flights from Auckland (Pan Am was not flying into Australia). The connection to San Francisco ended in December 1941 when Japan entered the war.
In the first year, the annual report revealed that 130 trans-Tasman flights had been completed carrying 1461 passengers for a profit, prior to tax and dividends, of NZ£31,479.
By 1944, the trans-Tasman frequency had increased to three weekly return flights.
After World War II shareholding passed to equal ownership by the governments of New Zealand and Australia. Four Short Sandringhams and later Short Solents were acquired, as well as an ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force PBY Catalina for survey flights.
The Coral Route is one of the most famous routes flown by TEAL. The New Zealand National Airways Corporation had initiated Pacific Island flights flying Douglas DC3 aircraft, from Auckland to Nadi (Fiji), Faleolo (Samoa), Aitutaki and Rarotonga (Cook Islands). These routes were later taken over by TEAL, which wanted to fly to Tahiti, but there was no airstrip at Papeete, so a flying boat was necessary. After completion of a survey flight by a TEAL-operated ex-RNZAF Catalina ZK-AMP in 1951, the Coral Route flight from Auckland to Papeete, Tahiti, via Laucala Bay at Suva, Fiji, Satapuala at Apia, Samoa, and Akaiamai at Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, was inaugurated by TEAL on December 27, 1951, using the Short Solent flying boats long used between Auckland and Sydney. In Samoa, the plane landed on the sea and a small motor boat operated by Fred Fairman would carry the passengers to shore. They would alight and go through customs in a small shed. The Faleolo airport was still a grass strip.
The Coral Route was born. It became the only air route into Tahiti, with Americans and others from Northern Hemisphere flying by land planes into Nadi in Fiji, making the short hop across to Suva to join the flying boat at Laucala Bay, for its fortnighly flight along the Coral Route, leaving on a Thursday morning for Samoa, alighting on the Satapuala lagoon about 2 p.m. Passengers were driven by cab through Samoan coastal villages to Apia, where they enjoyed respite and dinner at Aggie Grey's hotel until 2 a.m. when they were driven back out to Satapuala for a pre-dawn take-off to the Akaiami lagoon at Aitutaki where they went ashore for breakfast and an optional swim until mid-morning takeoff for Papeete, timed to ensure that arrival was after the end of the siesta period at 2 p.m. After launching ashore and completing Customs, passengers had to wait a further hour while their luggage was sprayed against horticultural pests, a time usually spent by the majority across the road from the Customshouse at Quinn's Bar. In all, a 30-hour leisurely introduction to life in the South Seas which made the Coral Route a legendary travel experience.
On Thursday, September 15, 1960 the final Coral Route flight by the Solent Aranui returned to Auckland. It was one of the world's last long-range scheduled international flying boat services.
Short Sandringham ZK-AMH RMA Auckland. A conversion of a Short Sunderland III, RAF serial JM715. Operated with TEAL from 1947 to 1950. Preserved and displayed in Southampton at Solent Sky Museum. Latterly Ansett Flying Boat Services VH-BRC Beachcomber, retired in 1981.
From 1940–1950, TEAL operated a single route, from Auckland to Sydney with its Short flying boats; and from 1948–54 contracted an ANA DC-4 to serve Melbourne—Christchurch. From 1950–54 Wellington was also served by flying boat to Sydney.
From 1954 with the introduction of the DC-6s, Christchurch—Sydney and Auckland—Sydney were started, with TEAL now operating its own Christchurch—Melbourne and Auckland—Melbourne services.
Services to Brisbane from Auckland and Christchurch followed in 1959; and Wellington resumed international service, at first only to Sydney, in 1960.
Meanwhile, the flying boat service to Suva was replaced by DC-6 to Nadi in 1954; and when the last flying boat service closed in 1960, the flight was extended to Pago Pago and Tahiti. In late 1964, the French cancelled TEAL's licence to Tahiti and the Coral Route service terminated at Pago Pago. Air New Zealand were permitted to return to Tahiti in 1967.
TEAL operated both landplanes and flying boats.
Short S.30 Empire Class
The first services were flown by Short S.30 Empire Class flying boats. Between 1940 and 1947, TEAL operated two of these. A third S.30 was destined for TEAL but war shortages in England led to a delay and eventual cancellation of its delivery.
Short S.25 Sandringham Mk IV 'Tasman Class'
In 1946, TEAL acquired four Short S.25 Sandringham IV 'Tasman Class' flying boats. They were a passenger transport variation of the Short Sunderland. However they were grounded for six months in 1948 due to engine cooling issues and disposed of at the end of 1949.
Short S.45 Solent Mk IV
The replacements for the S.25 were the Short S.45 Solent IV of which TEAL acquired four. They were delivered during 1949 with one setting a new trans-Tasman crossing record of 5 hours 37 minutes. The Solents continued flying until 1954 with the introduction of the Douglas DC-6 landplanes. However, Solent Aranui continued on the Coral Route until 1960.
The Douglas DC-6 was flown by TEAL between 1954 and 1961. Three were transferred to TEAL after the break-up of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines. They were original "short bodied" types fitted out with sleeper beds and long range tanks. The aircraft started replacing the flying boats in May and June and meant the transfer of Auckland's International Airport from Mechanics Bay to Whenuapai, where it was to remain until 1965. In September 1956, work was completed on the skin of the DC-6s to allow a 2000 lb increase in payload. By 1961, they were handed over to the RNZAF to be used as troop transports.
Lockheed L-188 Electra
The last new type to be operated by TEAL was the Lockheed L.188 Electra. Five of this type were operated between 1959 and 1972 by which time TEAL had changed its name to Air New Zealand. The Electras were sold in 1972 to United States interests.
Lockheed Electra L-188 crash
On March 27, 1965, Teal's Lockheed Electra L-188 ZK-TEC Akaroa, crashed during a training flight at Whenuapai. The airline had done the following manoeuvre many times before: the Electra, flying at precisely 140 knots, could be flown over the runway threshold, throttled back to idle to drop almost vertically and land on the runway. As this would never be done on a passenger flight; the reason for the procedure remains a mystery.
On board were a captain, a check captain, a flight engineer, a navigator; the airline's industrial personnel officer and an emergency procedures officer standing behind them.
As Akaroa's speed dropped below 140 knots the aeroplane landed very heavily, collapsing the landing gear; Akaroa shed wings, engines, tailplane and tail as she skidded off the runway and across the grass towards the control tower. Somehow, the two standing officers stayed standing, the fire extinguishers were turned on and everyone was evacuated through the cockpit windows, with one man burning his hand on the escape rope. TEAL salvaged what they could from the wreck and the remains were quickly pushed into a gully behind the NAC hangars before the public saw them. The crash took place in the early hours of the morning. The training procedure was quickly deleted from TEAL's manuals. TEAL purchased a replacement Electra from Qantas after it changed its name to Air New Zealand on 1 April 1965.
In April 1961 the Australian government decided to subsidise the wholly Australian-owned Qantas airline and the New Zealand government bought out the Australian government's shareholding, giving New Zealand 100% ownership. The airline changed to Air New Zealand (its present name) on 1 April 1965 at the same time as Douglas DC-8s entered service. TEAL's TE flight code carried over to Air New Zealand, which continued to use it for its international routes until 1989. Then its international flights began using the NZ code that belonged to NAC and had been used for that carrier's domestic flights.