A memorable flight as a child has led to a lifelong obsession for one Kiwi aviation buff, who has been collecting Air New Zealand memorabilia for close to 50 years.

Blair Knill said he had just over 4000 items at the last count about two years ago, which have been added to since then – making it what is believed to be the largest collection representing the national airline and associated airlines, including the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC) and Mt Cook Airline.

It all began back in 1973, when Knill and his family were travelling from Auckland to Christchurch.

For the trip south, they had flown on a 737 operated by the NAC – at that time, the national domestic airline, before it was amalgamated with Air New Zealand, which was then the international airline, in 1978.

But the return route was unexpectedly operated by one of Air New Zealand’s brand new DC-10s, which were usually reserved for international routes.

Knill, who was six at the time, ended up keeping plastic headphones, a wet wipe, a plastic cup and tray from that special flight, as well as a tiki handed out as a souvenir to children onboard.

Jason Dorday/Stuff
Blair Knill has an office “crammed to the brim” with his collection, but he keeps about 300 items in a display cabinet.

“I was also allowed to go in the flight cockpit for five or 10 minutes – they invited up a handful of kids, we spoke to the pilot then went back to our seats,” he said.

“That really triggered my love of aviation and my love of flying.

“Then I just started ‘hoarding’, as my wife would call it – until she saw the value in it.”

His collection consists of everything from in-flight menus, swizzle sticks and bathroom soap to business class amenity packs, aircraft models and Air New Zealand-branded beer.

Jason Dorday/Stuff
From souvenir tikis and swizzle sticks to in-flight menus and amenity bags, Knill has it all in his collection.

Some items show just how much the aviation industry has changed – like an Air New Zealand-branded box of matches from the 1960s.

“Matches were sold so you could light your cigarette in-flight,” he said.

“Can you imagine that happening today? You’d be arrested.”

Others serve as a reminder of past marketing campaigns – like soft toys depicting Rico, the controversial mascot from the early 2010s who famously (and bizarrely) collaborated with Snoop Dogg.

If, by the way, anyone knows what happened to the original Jim Henson-created puppets used to film Rico’s adverts, Knill would love to hear from them.

Knill, a frequent flyer, said he’s not only built up his collection through saving items from his own travels, but also often has things sent to him as word has spread through aviation circles of his unique hobby.

While he occasionally lists items on TradeMe – “I have to start selling some of the stuff because I’ve got so much it’s ridiculous” – he would only ever sell items he has more than one of.

But his favourite piece is priceless – an Air New Zealand Junior Jet Club log book from his first-ever international flight, to Fiji, in 1979. It’s signed by the pilot, and contains all the details of the flight.

Jason Dorday/Stuff
Knill’s Junior Jet Club log book – a particularly treasured possession.

Indulging in that sense of nostalgia is the main appeal, he said.

“I think a lot of people who are collecting things want to relive some of those early childhood memories,” he said.

“For myself, personally, it really has evolved into the next level.”

This content was originally published here.