It has been 40 years since the last flight of the former domestic airline National Airways Corporation and former staff gathered to mark the occasion at Classic Flyers yesterday.

Organiser Graham Lister said about 250 ex-staff came from all over New Zealand and Australia to attend the celebrations.

One former staff member even came from as far away as Canada - former National Airways Corporation (NAC) air hostess Janet Haberfield.

Lister said the 40th reunion was to commemorate the last NAC Boeing 737 flight on March 31, 1978, before it merged into Air New Zealand as the national domestic carrier.


The celebrations included displays of classic aircraft used by NAC, including the de Havilland Dominie and a de Havilland Heron based at Classic Flyers.

Yesterday's reunion followed on from a "wonderful" 60th-anniversary reunion in 2007 of NAC's launch in 1947, and annual reunions had been held ever since, Lister said.

He said there was a record turnout this time with 250 ex-staff in attendance, which included pilots, air hostesses, engineers, ground and sales staff, and sales staff.

Retired Captain Bill Kirk, 94, who was at the controls on the last flight from Wellington to Auckland, travelled from Auckland with his daughter, television producer Jude Dobson.

Kirk said he had many fond memories of his 26 years flying with NAC, saying it was how he met his late wife Naomi, a former NAC air hostess.

The last flight went "very smoothly" and the plane flew like a dream, he said.

Kirk said among the 70 passengers onboard was the late Sir Edmund Hillary.

"We had an open cockpit that day so I really enjoyed pointing out to him that we were flying at an altitude of 29,000 feet, about the same height as Everest," he said.

"It's been fantastic catching up with so many people I worked with during my flying days, and talking about all the special memories we shared," he said.

The first officer on that flight, Paul Kelly from Whitianga, was also at the event, as were hostesses Margie Don and Jan Sheerin from Auckland, and Winona McFarlane from Cambridge.

Don, 75, said she joined NAC at age 21 in February 1964 and continued to fly after the merger with Air New Zealand until 1984.

"I just love seeing all the people I flew with all those years ago, and many of whom have become firm friends. It may sound a bit trite, but NAC staff were truly one big family."

Lister, who was the former NAC sales manager for North America based in Los Angeles, said he would keep organising these reunions until "no one turns up," he said.