Our History


How Time Flies


Garden City Helicopters was established in New Zealand by John Currie in 1983 at New Brighton Beach, East of Christchurch City. The main functions of the company at that time were as a coastal helicopter rescue service and operator of scenic flights around the Banks Peninsula and Christchurch city.

The expansion of tourism opportunities in Christchurch increased the demand for scenic flights, and the formalisation of a dedicated and expanded air rescue operation resulted in a 2018 relocation to a $23 million purpose-built base adjacent to Christchurch International Airport.

Garden City Helicopters is still widely respected as one of New Zealand's premier helicopter operators, servicing all aspects of tourism and charter flights, air ambulance and rescue operations, and commercial flying services, as well as further expansion into fixed-wing aircraft charter operations. In addition to the Christchurch headquarters, the Group now has operational bases in Kaikoura, Greymouth, Nelson, Wellington, Fiji and Vanuatu.

The addition of an executive Jet Centre and UAV imaging division required a new brand for the Group, and GCH Aviation was born.

Our Story


1983

John Currie starts Garden City Helicopters from New Brighton Beach, with Chief Pilot Roger Corbin.

The first helicopter in the GCH fleet is a B-Model, (registration ZK-HGC).

The business initially offers scenic flights around Banks Peninsula and Christchurch city.

1984

John Currie finds land on Memorial Avenue, Christchurch and begins to build a new base for Garden City Helicopters.

In late 1984, Garden City Helicopters is officially opened by Mike Moore.

The new Christchurch base has its first flight in the Hughes 500 registration ZK-HZB flown by Roger Corbin.

Flight training begins in April with instructors Colin Kelly and Bill Atkinson.

1985

Garden City Helicopters begins contributing their services to rescues in ZK-HZB alongside St John (pictured: Graham McDonald and Bernie Power).

Jodel plane crash - the pilot was seriously hurt. Garden City Helicopters pilot Roger Corbin flew him to Christchurch hospital.

The first-ever rescue performed by a civilian helicopter based in Christchurch was nominated for the Westpac “Rescue of the Year”. From Left: Russell Birss (St John), Simon Duncan (Surf Rescue) and Roger Corbin (Pilot).

1987

Garden City Helicopters buys their first Squirrel sponsored by Trust Bank Canterbury (now on the West Coast) registration ZK-HGH.

Pictured: Millie Ford and Gail Adams, our long-serving flight coordinators extraordinaire, preparing for Christmas.

1989

Christchurch Air Rescue Trust starts, formed by John Currie and Dr. Keith Drayton, who raised funds for the rescue service.

Neil Scott starts as Chief Pilot.

1992

Garden City Helicopters attends a mid-air collision in Fox Glacier.

In August, Cantabrians awoke to find the region blanketed in snow. The ‘Big Snow’ was the region’s heaviest for 30 years. It took days for power line gangs to reach some rural areas. Snow closed Christchurch Airport and many inland roads.

1995

Garden City Helicopters receives its first twin-engine helicopter, the BK117, registration ZK-HJC.

In April, the Cave Creek Disaster kills 14 people and severely injures four others on the West Coast. Neil Scott (Pilot), Simon Duncan (Winch Operator) with Paramedics Tony Beaumont and Evan Roper rescues victims from the bottom of the cavern in rescue helicopter ZK-HGH.

The West Coast base starts in the aftermath of the Cave Creek tragedy. Located in Greymouth at the airfield adjacent to the hospital, the base runs with helicopter ZK-HGH, sponsored by Tranzrail. Pilots: Simon Fraser (Lead Pilot), Steve Gibb (Relief) and Mark Read.

In Christchurch, the Wings of Hope/AirNet starts (now New Zealand Flying Doctor Service).

1996

The Nelson base is started with Quentin Hulse (Lead Pilot) and Steve Gibb (Pilot).

Garden City Helicopters buys ZK-HQT from Japan and this helicopter is sent to Nelson for rescue services.

1999

Garden City Helicopters partners with Camp Quality, a camp for children living with cancer.

2000

St John and Garden City Helicopters crew. Pictured, left to right: Terry Richardson (Medical Director), Barry Brunton, Frank Heggarty, Glen Coburn, Chris Wilding, Jenny Little, Malcolm Coker, Rob Stokes, Shane Johnson, Neil Scott, James Watkins, Tim Douglas-Clifford.

2002

A Robinson Raven 44 helicopter, registration ZK-IGC, is purchased for scenic flights around Christchurch.

A new hangar is purchased in Nelson and the base moves into it's new facility.

2007

Garden City Helicopters welcomes night vision goggles, allowing pilots to carry out night rescues with ease.

2008

Garden City Helicopters provides their first Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) course, run by Simon Duncan.

2009

Garden City Helicopters purchases their first Beechcraft King Air 200C, registration ZK-FDR. The company also takes over Nelson's Flying Doctors Service from Flight Corp.

2010

Pike River Mine Disaster – Nelson, Greymouth, and Christchurch bases transfer medics and personnel to the West Coast to assist, as well as providing operational support.

2011

Christchurch is hit with a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Garden City Helicopters is straight to the scene in ZK-IHL with a fire bucket flown by Mark Read. Prince William later visits the city to show his support. Pictured with Quentin Hulse and Stu Farquhar.

The Nelson base receives a BK117 helicopter, registration ZK-IMN, to be used for air rescue services.

2012

The New Zealand Flying Doctor Service commissions a Beechcraft King Air C90B, registration ZK-FDN.

2013

Garden City Helicopters buys Pacific Island Air and Vanuatu Helicopters. Both companies specialise in island transfers and scenic flights.

Pacific Island Air now has seaplanes, airplanes, and helicopters catering for any transfer. Vanuatu Helicopters now has a Robinson 66 helicopter (registration YJ-VHL) and aRobinson 44 (registration YJ-VHR).

2014

The Wellington Helicopters base starts operations at Queens Wharf. An AS350 B3 Squirrel, registration ZK-IHL (pictured) starts services in Wellington and is later replaced with a Eurocopter EC130 B4, registration ZK-IWN.

Dai Daniel and Dan McPherson are now our main pilots at the Wellington base.

2015

The second BK117 helicopter (registration ZK-HGU) arrives at Garden City Helicopters, to be used for the police, search and rescue, and fire fighting.

Garden City Helicopters attends the Otira Gorge bus crash on Boxing Day.

Live line commercial helicopter services commence in Nelson and in Wellington.

2016

Construction of a brand new state-of-the-art operations facility for Garden City Helicopters gets underway at Christchurch Airport. 

In November, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake near Kaikoura causes massive landslips and cuts off the main State Highway, the Inland Kaikoura Road, and the Main North Line railway, effectively cutting off all land routes into Kaikoura. An incident management team is taken from our Wellington base to Kaikoura, and the BK 117-B2 rescue helicopter (registration ZK-HJC) transfers patients from Kaikoura to Christchurch.

2017

To cover the many bases and divisions that have evolved over the years, Garden City Helicopters rebrands to GCH Aviation Ltd.

The company moves into it's $23 million facility on Grays Road in Christchurch. The facility has direct access onto the tarmac allowing the NZ Flying Doctor Service to operate from the main base. A new private Jet Centre opens, allowing private jet guests a discreet entry into Christchurch. A drone division branded GCH UAV also launches, providing aerial photography and videography services.

GCH Aviation receives The New Zealand Helicopters Association Diamond Safety Award for 33+ years of incident and accident free operations. GCH is the only helicopter company in New Zealand to proudly hold this prestigious award.

Qualmark also awards the business a Qualmark Gold Sustainable Tourism Business Award, affirming the group's status as a quality travel experience.

A new Eurocopter EC130 luxury helicopter begins operations in Christchurch, enabling scenic flights to carry up to 6 passengers.

2018

GCH Aviation celebrates 25 years of Westpac sponsorship.

A new aircraft, registration ZK-FDS, is purchased for the NZ Flying Doctors Service.

Gerry Brownlee officially opens the new GCH Aviation facility in Christchurch.

2019

GCH Aviation Group purchases Kaikoura Helicopters, expanding the group’s scenic and commercial aviation services.

GCH Aviation also unveils a new Airbus H145 rescue helicopter for Canterbury  the first of its type for emergency medical services in New Zealand, expanding the region's rescue helicopter service to two aircraft.

Proudly Representing

  • Garden City Helicopters Logo
  • Kaikoura Helicopters Logo Black
  • GCH Nelson Logo
  • Wellington Helicopters Logo
  • Pacific Island Air Logo
  • Vanuatu Helicopters Logo
  • Westpac Rescue Logo Black
  • Nelson Marlborough Rescue Logo Black
  • NZ Flying Doctors Logo
  • GCH Jet Centre Logo
  • GCH UAV Logo