Tony Hay­cock

Twenty-some­thing years ago, Frank Ren­wick had a prob­lem. He had been run­ning the NAC ground main­te­nance base at Christchurch’s Hare­wood air­port. With the merger be­tween the do­mes­tic car­rier NAC and Air New Zealand, who flew the in­ter­na­tional routes, Frank found him­self in the same role with the new Na­tional Car­rier. Then, in a pat­tern of events that keeps re­peat­ing to this day, the com­pany had one of its pe­ri­od­i­cal re­struc­ture/purges and Frank’s depart­ment was no more.

An as­tute fel­low for sure, Frank knew that the work he had be­ing do­ing would still need to be done, so he set up Air­port Ground Sup­port Ser­vices (AGSS), specif­i­cally to main­tain and man­u­fac­ture GSE (Ground Sup­port Equip­ment) for the air­port and the air­lines which ser­viced it.

Twenty one years later Frank still owns the busi­ness in part­ner­ship with Gen­eral Man­ager Greg Ter­ras, who has spent all 30 plus years of his work­ing life in the mo­tor trade. While they still do the work for which the com­pany was orig­i­nally founded, they also do me­chan­i­cal and ser­vic­ing work for pri­vate ve­hi­cles as well as 30 WoF in­spec­tions each week.

The GSE ser­vice side of the oper­a­tion still pro­vides around 50% of their busi­ness. It does seem strange to see an air­line cater­ing truck parked along­side the more nor­mal ve­hi­cles one would usu­ally be ex­pect­ing to see in a work­shop and out to the side in the fab­ri­ca­tion depart­ment, bag­gage trol­lies and belt-load­ers are still built and main­tained.

They have a huge ad­van­tage over any would-be com­peti­tor for this sort of work in that they are lo­cated on the ac­tual air­field and their work­shop has di­rect air­side ac­cess to the tar­mac. This may not sound all that im­por­tant but… many of the air­port ve­hi­cles and ground equip­ment are not road-le­gal. Be­ing able to drive an air­craft tug need­ing an oil change straight into an in­de­pen­dent work­shop with a main­te­nance con­tract is a far more prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion than hav­ing to hire a low-loader to take it to an of­fair­port garage.

They even list the U.S. Air Force among their clients. The U.S. Antarc­tic Pro­gram is based at Christchurch air­port so while plane-spot­ters (and yes, there are such people) are en­ter­tained by enor­mous Amer­i­can Galaxy cargo planes com­ing and go­ing as well as a reg­u­lar ski-equipped C130 Her­cules, the ground equip­ment is also dif­fer­ent to the norm. It is not un­usual to see the olive drab of Un­cle Sam’s mil­i­tary run­ning around the air­port, or in Greg’s work­shop for re­pair.

There is an­other area that AGSS spe­cialises in which adds char­ac­ter to the work­shop. Frank has long been con­nected with the world of vin­tage mo­tor­ing and Ju­lian, one of the me­chan­ics, has spent many years work­ing for a clas­sic car re­storer. So own­ers of (much) older cars have some­where to go for a WoF where the staff not only un­der­stand the cars (and the own­ers!), they also un­der­stand the small nu­ances in the WoF reg­u­la­tions and how they ap­ply to some­one’s an­ti­quated and cher­ished 1930 Grey Por­ridge.

And should the car need work, there are people on hand who un­der­stand such an­cient things as brake ca­bles, pushrods and even (heaven for­bid) side-valve en­gines. Which is why when I vis­ited, a 1920s Fiat 509 was sit­ting in axle stands, rather dwarfed by the nearby cater­ing truck. It makes a change from a Toy­ota Surf with a blown head-gas­ket.

Be­ing on the western side of Christchurch, the land and build­ings around the air­port did not suf­fer to the same ex­tent as the east or cen­tral city dur­ing the earthquakes and this has seen the en­vi­ron­ment change com­pletely in this area. New in­dus­trial and busi­ness parks have sprung up, the air­port it­self had been up­graded and en­larged just be­fore the quakes and it is es­ti­mated that that more than 5000 people now work in or around the air­port.

Now, in­stead of be­ing stuck on the out­skirts of town, Air­port Ground Sup­port Ser­vices have found them­selves ideally lo­cated right in the mid­dle of one of the fastest-grow­ing parts of the city and there is no sign of the in­flux of businesses and people slow­ing any time soon.

Work­ers can drive to AGSS, leave their cars there for the day for a WoF or ser­vic­ing and walk the short dis­tance to wher­ever it is they are em­ployed and then re­turn at the end of the day with their car ready to go.

In­ter­est­ingly, Greg says that so far the new WoF fre­quency changes have yet to make their ef­fects felt, al­though that may change in the next few months as cars which were in six months ago now don’t need to come back for a year. Ei­ther that or most of their clients are poor like me and they don’t own any­thing new enough to qual­ify for a twelve month WoF. It is quick and con­ve­nient for the cus­tomers while for Greg and his team of eight, a ready-made pool of new cus­tomers has lit­er­ally turned up on their doorstep!

De­vel­op­ment in the air­port area continues. The nearby Sudima ho­tel is in the mid­dle of a rebuild which will re­sult in a huge in­crease in the num­ber of rooms it cur­rently has. Con­struc­tion is soon to start on a su­per­mar­ket and all of this means more people work­ing in the area and more rea­son for oth­ers to visit. The businesses al­ready es­tab­lished, like AGSS are ideally placed to take full ad­van­tage of all of this.

As I left, Greg’s part­ing words? “The fu­ture is look­ing bright”.

Gen­eral Man­ager Greg Ter­ras tend­ing to some of the less oily sides of the busi­ness.

Fiat and Bent­ley share work­shop space.

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