History : Kenneth Bond Page > Sir Norman Brearley Oration
|The following is an address given by Kenneth Bond OAM at the Civil Aviation Historical Society of Western Australia in Perth on 28th August 2002. It is a most interesting story on the history of Sir Reginald Myles Ansett. It is very sad to see all the groundwork Sir Reginald Myles Ansett put into his great airline destroyed by the greed and mismanagement of others.
At the outset I must say that for me to receive an invitation to address you on the occasion of this, the 2002 Sir Norman Brearley Oration, came as a very great surprise.
And so without hesitation I would like you all to know that it was with quite some pride that I readily accepted, particularly as my subject was suggested by Ellis Keil to be Sir Reginald Myles Ansett.
Notwithstanding the fact that my experience with Sir Reginald himself started out in 1936 when I was ten years of age and ended at the time of his death in December 1981, it will not be possible for me to cover all that could be told in the space of 45 minutes or so. I will therefore try to give you my impressions of earlier days, some milestones in between and then some of the events in the few years prior to his untimely death at the age of 72.
I do not intend to include as part of my address any of my knowledge and personal views regarding the September 2001 collapse of Ansett or the short-lived attempt to revive part of it. If I were to start on this subject I am afraid that (as usual) I would soon be agitated and quite vocal giving out with my views on the whole of this disgusting and tragic affair.
So, for this occasion the subject is best left alone. In conversation after my address, no doubt, the subject will come up.
When Sir Norman Brearley started Western Australian Airways in 1921 Reg Ansett was 10 years of age. There can be no doubt that the great adventures of Norman Brearley, Charles Kingsford Smith, Horrie Miller and other aviation pioneers attracted the interest of young Reg Ansett. There is also no doubt that many of us here today were infected with the same bug at a similar early age and then went on to spend a life time dedicated to the exciting and rewarding world of commercial aviation.
Whilst speaking of Norman Brearley and Western Australian Airways, it is interesting to note that almost every commercial airline operation which started up in the following years ended up as part of the Ansett organisation.
And now, today, which is just on nearly one year since the Ansett organisation collapsed, no one person's name stands out more in Australian commercial aviation than Ansett. This is not to say that we have forgotten those who paved the way before, but in the minds of the public of today it is true.
The man who gave his name to many and varied enterprises in Australia was Reginald Myles Ansett.
Reg, as he was affectionately known by the Australian public, was born in Inglewood, Victoria on February 13, 1909. His father owned and operated a bicycle repair shop in this small town just 50 km's from Bendigo.
As the motor car became more popular, Mr. Ansett's bicycle shop gradually became engaged in motor car repairs. In 1915 Mr. Ansett joined the A.I.F. and was sent overseas on war duty. Mrs. Ansett closed the garage and moved the family to Melbourne where Reg attended school at Essendon and Camberwell.
When Mr. Ansett (senior) returned from the war he did not continue in the motor garage business but started a small woollen garment knitting business in Camberwell. Young Reg had a taste for mechanical things and left school at 14 years of age to work in his father's business. He attended night classes at Swinburne Technical College and later qualified as a knitting machine mechanic.
Despite now having a trade which would allow him to follow in his father's footsteps, he was determined that aviation was for him and that he would one day learn to fly. He achieved this ambition in 1929 by cashing in on a small insurance policy to pay for his flying lessons. He obtained his air pilots' licence, No. 419. But the problem was that no jobs were available at that time.
He then decided to see more of Australia and bought a passage on a coastal ship to Darwin. He felt that by finding work up north he could save enough money to start his own business. As a result he signed on as an axeman with a government funded survey team working in the Northern Territory. At one stage of his time in these unfriendly parts during those days, he did entertain the idea of getting some land and growing peanuts. But as time went by he realised that the lonely life would be difficult for him to bear.
With the great depression well advanced, the government cut its support for survey work and so Reg was out of a job, and a long way from home. He returned south with the little money he had saved and then decided to have a go at road transport. Virtually the only passenger transport operating in Victoria was the Government owned railways.
He bought a second hand Studebaker sedan for 70 pounds and started a passenger, small freight, service between Maryborough and Ballarat. It didn't take long for him to realise that he needed to find a base which was the centre of a large district with no other means of passenger transport.
He chose Hamilton, a fair size town which was the centre to many smaller towns in Victoria's vast Western District. At the age of 22 he had started out on his first real business venture and was determined that it would not fail. He shifted to Hamilton and obtained board and lodging at a family operated hotel – which incidentally still to this day has his photograph proudly displayed in the dining room.
And so with the old Studebaker and a rented corner for a booking office in the National Café, he commenced his car passenger service from Hamilton to Ballarat on December 7, 1931. Just on 71 years ago.
The service was an instant success and so he bought a second car for 50 pounds and took on his first employee, a young fellow of his same age, named Colin MacDonald. Col's father (a Scot) had his own workshop in Hamilton, with a huge metal turning lathe.
Col also had started out to carry passengers in his own old car and this is how he met Reg Ansett in the first place. They travelled the same route between Hamilton and Ballarat. If either Reg or Col were close to each other on the road they would speed up and race to get to the waiting passengers first. Tough competition.
Col soon realised that there was no room on this one road for two of them so he joined forces with Reg Ansett. Reg and Col each drove one car and went on to expand the service to other towns in the Western District. One advantage was that the railway service from Melbourne to Hamilton was via Ararat and Ansett's cars did not encroach on that particular rail route. The daily train service from Melbourne terminated in Hamilton at 4 p.m. each day. Nearly all passengers on board were destined for towns and places beyond Hamilton so Reg Ansett's cars/buses were waiting to carry them on to their ultimate destination.
Although he was not making much money, his services were extremely popular and in fact were now becoming necessary for the development of the Western District. Ansett Motors was formed as a repair workshop and petrol station – later becoming a Ford dealership with agricultural machinery as well.
By 1935 he was planning further expansion with a service from Hamilton to Melbourne via Ballarat. Although Ansett services were pleasing the public and playing a big part in the development of Western Victoria, the Victorian Railways administrators were far from pleased. So much so was their displeasure that they went to no end to convince the governing United Australia Party that Ansett must be stopped from progressing any further.
The Victorian State Attorney-General, Robert Gordon Menzies, introduced a Bill into Parliament to strictly regulate the issue of road services licences. The Bill was passed and then ensured that licences would not be issued to operators providing services on the same routes as the railways.
Unfortunately by this time in 1935 some of Ansett's routes did fall into this category. He overcame this hurdle and continued to operate those few routes which were affected but history does not tell us just exactly how he got away with it. But legend claims that he obtained a fruit sellers' licence, bought up boxes of oranges and sold them to his passengers for a price equivalent to the fare. So, the bus ride was for free.
R.M. always said that it was in these days of driving long distances along lonely dusty roads that he had lots of time to think. Hamilton to Ballarat and return in one day was 225 miles over rough roads and so the many bright ideas he had got plenty of thought.
Still determined to start a Hamilton-Melbourne service he came to the conclusion that the Victorian State Government could not possibly have jurisdiction over air services. So he started to look out for a cheap suitable aeroplane with which he could start up an air service. He soon learned that a Harry Purvis had such a plane for sale in Sydney.
Some inquiries found Harry Purvis and Reg called him up and did the whole deal on the phone. At about this same time he had just bought a Gypsy Moth.
In due course Col Macdonald had gone "up the ladder" a little and was stationed in Horsham. Reg got on the phone to Col and asked if he would like to go to Sydney with him to buy this Fokker Universal. On Christmas morning 1935 they set off together from Hamilton in the Gypsy Moth for Sydney.
On the way, for old time's sake, they made a stop at Reg's home town of Inglewood. Their only navigation aid was a Shell road map and a sense of direction. They checked out their locations by flying low enough to read signs particularly railway stations with the town name. At one place a wheat silo had the town name "The Rock" on it but the Shell map showed no such place.
Eventually they got to Sydney and on arrival, found that the Fokker was not there but inquiries lead them to some mechanics who told them that it was doing barnstorming at Coolangatta. Next day they flew on, located Harry Purvis, handed over the 1,000 pounds and took possession of Reg Ansett's first passenger carrying aeroplane, a single engined, high wing monoplane, capable of carrying six passengers in a cabin with the pilot in an open cockpit.
Vern Cerche, a pilot, was available and Reg engaged him on the spot. With Reg and Col in the Moth and Vern in the Fokker, they flew from Coolangatta to Hamilton via Bendigo where they stayed the night. At Bendigo Aerodrome which was a long way out of town, no one could be found to provide them with petrol. They did find a locked tin shed which had a telephone in it. So they removed the door hinges and eventually called up the local post office. The girl telephone operator got such a shock as no one had used that telephone for years. Anyway she put them through to the district Shell distributor who organised some petrol.
|With the Fokker, VH-UTO back in Hamilton it did not take Reg long to get organised. He had already Vern Cerche as pilot and then hired J.J. Davies as Chief Engineer. J.J. then engaged two local lads who he trained to be his maintenance mechanics.|
Vern went on to fly all aircraft in the airline fleet until his retirement about 1960. The two local lads of about 15 years of age went on to work in Ansett Maintenance until their retirement at 65 years of age. J.J. Davies many years later was knocked down and killed by a motor car in Collins Street, Melbourne.
At this stage it is of interest to note that the Fokker was built in 1925 by the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation for a Mrs. Maia Carberry of Nairobi, Kenya. It was flown to Croydon, England in May 1928 by Sir Piers Mostyn. Harry Purvis bought it and transported it to Australia in June 1935. It was destroyed in a hangar fire at Essendon in February 1939.
On February 17, 1936 at 12.30 p.m., Ansett Airways was born when the Fokker took off for Melbourne with six passengers on board. The fare was two pounds one way and the schedule was five days per week.
Of course the above tight schedule was only possible with "all things equal", including the weather, one way journeys sometimes took up to three hours and not to mention on many occasions a forced landing in some paddock along the way.
To supplement revenue, both the Fokker and Gypsy Moth were used for barnstorming near towns all over the Western District and Wimmera. A joy flight in the Fokker was 10 shillings and six pence and the ultimate experience, a loop in the Moth was 30 shillings.
The Moth was also used in his newly established flying school and was soon joined by a new single engined Porterfield.
The Porterfield was purchased from the Kansas City Company and on arrival in Australia was registered VH-UVH on December 8, 1936. Prior to its arrival in Australia, Reg Ansett had already entered it in the Brisbane to Adelaide Air Race which was put on to celebrate the Centenary of South Australia. With his brother Jack as co-pilot, they won the race and collected 500 pounds in prize money. This particular aircraft was badly damaged in the 1939 fire which nearly put an end to Ansett's ambition. It was re-built and now after several owners, still flies today with a Continental in-line engine in the place of its original 5 cylinder radial Le Blond.
By this time in late 1936 he had become to gain great faith in what he was doing, where he was going and also he had gained quite significant public support and some worthwhile financial backing from a few local wealthy graziers. However as this was not enough to make his organisation a success eventually he had to go to the Melbourne financial establishment.
Ansett Airways was floated with 250,000 one pound shares on April 14, 1937. As a part of re-structuring his company, Ansett Airways established its headquarters at Melbourne's Essendon Aerodrome where a new hangar with administrative offices and a passenger lounge were built.
To further his endeavours for expansion in commercial aviation he bought the Airspeed Envoy from Lord Nuffield who had this beautiful machine built for the 1934 London to Johannesburg Air Race which it won. As a matter of interest, Neville Shute had a hand in the design of this aircraft. It was registered G-ACVI in England on October 10, 1934 and named "Miss Wolseley". Its two engines were Wolseley Aries. Later a similar aircraft, the Airspeed Oxford, became the backbone of the Empire Training Scheme.
But Reg Ansett still desperately needed more modern and reliable aircraft if he was to succeed with his plans for expansion. Shares in Ansett Airways were not being taken up at any great pace so he had to go out trying to sell the shares himself. This proved very hard going as interest in investing in commercial aviation was not popular at all. Several fatal crashes involving aircraft carrying passengers had hardened attitudes against flying.
Financiers and underwriters pulled out leaving R.M. to do all the selling. But he pressed on regardless.
Late 1937 he decided on the new all metal Lockheed 10A Electra and placed an order for three. In between placing the order with Lockheed the fortunes of Ansett Airways had slumped. The company posted a loss of 30,000 pounds which sent the one pound shares down to 10 shillings.
The three Lockheed's arrived in crates by ship and Reg Ansett was faced with not only a bill of 50,000 pounds for the three aircraft but also a 14,000 pound bill for import duty. This punitive levy applied on aircraft which were not of British origin. And as a consequence the banks refused to come up with any money particularly as this 14,000 pound levy applied. The aircraft remained in their crates on the wharf for weeks.
Reg Ansett lobbied Mr. T.W. White the Minister for Customs in the Lyons' lead Federal Government. He pointed out that a couple of airlines in Britain had been allowed to import Lockheed 10's, it should therefore be obvious to the Government that Britain did not produce an equivalent type. Mr. White eventually agreed and waived the 14,000 pound import duty. The banks then "softened up" and finally agreed to pay Lockheed for the three aircraft on condition that the wealthy graziers who originally backed Reg Ansett guaranteed it.
With nowhere else to turn he found himself caught in a web between the banks and those backers. They forced him to hand over a large slice of his personal shareholding in Ansett Airways in return for their guarantee. At least with the crisis over so far as possession of the Lockheed's was concerned, they were then assembled in September 1937 at Essendon Aerodrome and went into service on the new routes he had previously planned.
Ansett Airways shares did not rally and dropped to 8 shillings. All of this was despite ever increasing public acceptance, due mainly to competitive fares and reliability of schedules. Australian National Airways were growing and becoming a very stiff competitor. Chairman of Ansett Airways Board was a banker, Mr. Ernest O'Sullivan. He like bankers of the day, really had no interest or knowledge of anything other than hard cold cash. O'Sullivan was bent on selling out Ansett Airways to Australian National Airways (A.N.A.).
For A.N.A. the time should have been right, with Ansett shares down to 8 shillings. But even so Sir Ivan Holyman was not all that interested as he was not taking Reg Ansett too seriously. Ansett had up to this time, fought and won many battles, overcoming obstacles put in his way and so by now he had gained his (now famous) reputation for determination and resolve to solve problems and overcome obstacles which got in his way.
He reacted to O'Sullivan's desire to sell out to A.N.A. by calling an extraordinary meeting of shareholders to debate the issue. His passion for aviation and the company he had founded infected the shareholders no end and he carried the day. O'Sullivan was absolutely outraged at this defeat and resigned on the spot.
R.M. became both Chairman and Managing Director and remained in this dual role until 1980 when T.N.T. and News gained control of Ansett Transport Industries.
The Hamilton-Melbourne service was still operated by the Airspeed Envoy with a little help from the old Fokker. The Lockheed 10's were operating Melbourne-Mildura-Renmark-Adelaide, Sydney-Mildura, Broken Hill and Melbourne, Narrandera-Sydney.
By this time in 1939 the airline services were subsidised by the federal government to the value of about 30,000 pounds per year. Payment of these monies was made by the government as the threat of war in Europe made it wise to cultivate airline operations in case their support for the R.A.A.F. was required in the event of war.
But then one night in February 1939 a fire started in Ansett Airways hangar at Essendon, the entire premises were destroyed as were the original Fokker Universal, one Lockheed 10A, the Airspeed Courier and a couple of small aircraft. The Airspeed Courier had recently been purchased, but never flew for Ansett. This was the same aircraft flown by D.E. Stodart and K.G. Stodart which came sixth in the 1934 London to Melbourne centenary air race. This aircraft was very much similar to the Envoy but with a single Armstrong Siddley Cheetah engine also a very beautiful machine.
The strongest theory as to the cause of the fire was that it started in the rear fuselage of the Lockheed, VH-UZN.
With such massive loss at this time, many immediately thought that this was the end of Ansett Airways. When the sun came up on this tragic day Reg Ansett surveyed this terrible mess and the mournful faces of his staff. He stunned everyone by announcing to all those around him that he would press on and in fact order replacement aircraft and more to expand the fleet. This reaction by him was typical of the Ansett resolve which eventually went onto inspire many thousands of people who devoted their loyalty to the Ansett organisation.
But then came the war. On September 3, 1939 Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies announced to Australia that we were at war with Germany. Australian National Airways were the first to have some of its aircraft impressed into the R.A.A.F. It's DC3's were required for the urgent transportation of military personnel. Ansett was not immediately required to give the Lockheed 10's over for such work. However as the Japanese began their Asian invasion in 1941 the presence in Australia of American personnel increased and Ansett's Lockheed's were required for work with the U.S.A.F. in northern parts of Australia, including the evacuation of civilians following the Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1942.
Not long after the war started I got to be 14 years of age and according to the laws of this land I could leave school. Over the years prior to my 14th birthday I had continued to hang about the Hamilton Aerodrome and had already learnt a lot from the Chief Engineer, J.J. Davies, and other good men like Charlie Ohlson. Every now and then Mr. Ansett would say "How old are you now boy?" and I would bring him right up to date.
Low and behold, exactly on my 14th birthday, April 1, 1940, he asked me and when I told him he offered me a job to start first thing the following day. So with my father's blessing I started on April 2, 1940 at 10 shilling per week. I might add at this point that many a pay day went by without any of us receiving the "cash in hand". But R.M. always told us. So we helped each other and just kept on working.
By the end of 1940 and not quite15, Mr. Ansett transferred me to work at Essendon Aerodrome where my board was arranged to be with a good Methodist lady (another story could start right now).
I remained in commercial aviation with the Ansett organisation until September 26, 1994. A total of 54 years.
Sir Reginald called me "boy" until the day he died. This fact was well known among Ansett people. Of course he did not do so in the presence of "outsiders" with whom he was doing business. I recall that at one stage when I was rising up through the ranks that I wished that he would not call me "boy". But fortunately it did not go past that. As a matter of fact it is with great pride that I look back to those wonderful days when we all had such great relationships with each other.
I must let it be known, at this time in case you think that R.M. handed out any favours to "his boy", or any one else for that matter, that no one got anything unless they worked for it – and then it never amounted to much anyway. But, on with the story.
All routes operated by the Lockheeds were suspended but the Airspeed Envoy continued to serve Hamilton daily. Australian airlines because of their remoteness to the aircraft manufacturing factories in America and Europe had found it necessary to build up technical and maintenance facilities which were capable of standing alone. This ready-made expertise and capability, proved to be an enormous boon to the Australian and American forces. Ansett Airways hangar at Essendon had been re-built and its size was doubled by a second half and at the same time the Department of Aircraft Production built a large hangar with workshops next door. Across the road a large facility for manufacturing parts was built, also a canteen.
Also at the southern end of Essendon Aerodrome another workshop was built for the purpose of engine overhaul. The staff numbers of Ansett Airways swelled to over 2,000. Hundreds of military aircraft and engines were repaired and overhauled and essential component parts manufactured.
At the end of the war Ansett Airways emerged as a transformed organisation. The years of performing work for the R.A.A.F. and U.S.A.F. had considerably improved its financial situation and so created an airline which was more than ready to enter the post war era with great confidence.
As an attachment I provide copy of an interesting letter which I have recently unearthed. This letter dated February 14, 1944 is from R.M. Ansett to the Premier of Western Australia, J.C. Wilcock, tells of his plans to set up air services between the Eastern States and Perth.
Also by the end of the war the Labor Government was already well advanced with plans to nationalise the Australian commercial aviation industry. The failure of this ambition by the Chifley Government is a long story in itself, but suffice to say that as an alternative, the National Airlines Commission was established in 1946 to set up the government-owned Trans Australia Airlines, The first flight of T.A.A. being on September 9, 1946.
For Reg Ansett the most pressing problem was to at least regain the routes he had established prior to the war. This had to be done before further expansion could even be contemplated. Furthermore the acquisition of additional larger aircraft was a very urgent requirement.
Bear in mind that right at the end of the war, Ansett Airways had not only hangars, workshops and equipment available to it but a very large staff of highly skilled tradesmen who had come to get aviation and Ansett into their blood. Many of them wanted to stay with Ansett in aviation and Reg Ansett certainly did not want to lose their skills.
On May 31, 1946 Ansett Airways now with a capital of one million pounds, was re-named Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. (A.T.I.).
Once again we run into another long story in itself. Far too long to tell at this time.
That is the birth of his entry into the tourist, hotel and road freight business all started out because he had tradesmen and managers who could quickly turn to (for example), manufacturing tourist coaches. He purchased the name Pioneer Tours from the Withers Brothers (no coaches existed) and established Ansair Pty. Ltd. in the Essendon manufacturing facility.
This company went on to manufacture hundreds upon hundreds of high-quality modern tourist coaches, buses for suburban transport, freight carrying vehicles and so on. And eventually including also, domestic and industrial oil burning heaters and aircraft passenger chairs. In its first two years, Ansair manufactured 200 motor coaches. Production rate had reached three per week.
Three C47 aircraft were purchased in Manilla from U.S.A.F disposals, flown to Australia and converted to passenger carrying configuration. Having these aircraft in raw military type configuration provided the opportunity for some smart thinking. For example, a standard DC3 was configured with 7 rows of 3 abreast seating. With a refined light-weight seat of steel tubular construction it was possible to configure the new aircraft with 7 rows, 4 abreast seating – with none the less comfort.
Later on as more surplus C47's were purchased for conversion, another smart move was to leave the existing large double doors in place, mount a removable galley on these doors and install the passenger seats on an extruded aluminium alloy track from which the seats could be quickly removed. This also allowed the pitch between seats to be altered.
Guess why? – passengers by day, cargo at night. And it worked very well, particularly as by then Ansett was well advanced into the road freight business. In fact some services were operated with half passengers, half cargo – with a moveable bulkhead in between.
These kind of innovations brought about Ansett's ability to lower the fares. Both T.A.A. and A.N.A. were not tempted to follow and did not see that their business would suffer. It also gave Ansett people the opportunity to be "free thinkers". R.M. always listened to a good idea. In fact if you convinced him that it would work he would "set you free".
By this time in the late 1940's, Pioneer Tours was established, operating new Ansair built buses with tourists staying in new Ansett owned hotels. T.A.A. and A.N.A. remained the two major interstate operators, whereas for the time being Ansett was comfortable with being No.3, allowed to operate with lower fares because his services were in fact intra-state, having stops on the other side of borders for example: Melbourne-Albury-Sydney, Sydney-Wagga-Melbourne. These operations with lower fares were particularly at the expense of A.N.A.
In 1947, A.T.I. decided to develop the Whitsunday's and took over the perpetual leases for Hayman and Daydream Islands. Ansett Hotels was established and went on buying and building hotels and motels all over Australia to serve the accommodation needs of Pioneer Tours, and of course the airline was "feeding" Pioneer.
A.T.I. went on to became the largest hotel operator in Australia.
Also in 1947 A.T.I. set up a relationship with Captain Stewart Middlemiss who had founded Barrier Reef Airways to operate two converted Catalina flying boats from the Brisbane River around the islands – Heron, Daydream, Linderman and South Molle, and the Royal Hayman, etc. The Royal Hayman Hotel opened in1950 and A.T.I. bought 60% of Barrier Reef Airways which in that year had put into service two converted Shorts S23 Sunderland (re-named Sandringham) flying boats.
In addition to the islands, they went on to serve Southport, Rose Bay (Sydney), Hobart, Lord Howe Island and so on.
In 1953 A.T.I. bought Trans-Oceanic Airways and in merging it with Barrier Reef Airways re-named it Ansett Flying Boat Services and shifted its base from Brisbane to Rose Bay, Sydney.
Whilst Australian National Airways continued to grow and Trans Australia moved in to the most prominent position, rumours were about, (even then), that some people within A.N.A. had lost their enthusiasm for the aviation business. Although nibbling away at the passenger shares of T.A.A. and A.N.A., Ansett was still flying DC3's with an average load factor of only about 54%.
By 1954 Ansett and A.N.A. were facing much stiffer competition from T.A.A. particularly following their introduction of the new modern pressurised Convair 240, and the revolutionary Rolls-Royce turbine powered Vickers Viscount was not far off service with T.A.A. A.N.A. was operating DC3's, DC4's and DC6's which were rapidly losing favour with passengers.
Reg Ansett decided to buy a new Convair 340 which was surplus to the needs of U.S.A. airline operator, Braniff International. This aircraft which was larger and slightly superior to T.A.A.'s 240 arrived at Essendon on August 16, 1954. Around the same time the first of T.A.A.'s Viscount 700's had arrived and both airlines were faced with pilot, hostess and engineering training. Lots to be done to meet the October date set for introduction into service.
Ansett just "pipped" T.A.A. at the post and its CV340 VH-BZD took off for Sydney at 0800 hours on October 10, 1954.
I recall quite vividly watching our Convair 340 take off and minutes later T.A.A.'s first Viscount which was on its way to Mangalore for its final sessions of pilot training. How smooth and quiet were these four Rolls-Royce Dart engines.
Our crew had worked all night to get the Convair ready for this on-time inaugural flight.
We were all so tired out but waited a few hours until our new Convair returned from its first flight to Sydney. On arrival, the crew told us of a huge black pall of smoke they observed in the vicinity of Mangalore Aerodrome. Only minutes later we learned from the control tower that the Viscount, VH-TAA had crashed and burned on takeoff killing all on board. A tragic day for T.A.A., Australian aviation and the all new Vickers Viscount.
Ansett Airways went on to operate three CV340's and five CV440's. These aircraft were very successful, producing good load factors, particularly after Ansett Engineering devised a means of converting the CV340's from 48 to 52 passenger capacity.
By the end of 1955 with three CV340's, Ansett realised that these new modern machines required a little more in the way of maintenance and technical knowledge if reliable schedules were to be maintained. And so in January 1956 Bob Pannel, an E. & I. Man and myself were sent off to the U.S.A. where we worked for just on six months at gaining experience with Braniff (Dallas), Delta (Atlanta) and Hawaiian (Hawaii). "We were really in the big league". A wonderful experience which really set me on course for the rest of my days in commercial aviation with Ansett.
By the beginning of 1957 Australian National Airways was showing very noticeable signs of strain. It was still operating increasingly unpopular DC3's, DC4's and DC6B's. Also in January its founder and Managing Director, Sir Ivan Holyman passed away in Honolulu, Hawaii. Shortly after his death A.N.A. became insolvent but continued to operate for a few months until the Australian government encouraged Ansett to buy A.N.A.
On October 4, A.T.I. bought A.N.A. for 3,307,000 pounds and re-named the combined airlines Ansett-A.N.A.
The purchase of A.N.A. brought with it interests (wholly and in part) in several of its subsidiaries - Butler Air Transport, Queensland Airlines, a 16% interest in Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary, H.A.E.C.O. Also total ownership of the National Instrument Company.
At the time of this merger, the total fleet combined, consisted of 103 aircraft of 20 different types. From DC6B's to one Djinn helicopter. In the next year or so there came the huge task of marrying these two airlines into one. Of course there were problems, none the least being the US v THEM (natural) situation. But Reg Ansett with his great wisdom, showed no favouritism and won the loyalty of the very best people from both camps.
By now there was no doubt in the minds of all people that to get anywhere with R.M. you had to work for it. He gave nothing away for free. In these times situations existed which were solved by many means. But it was his resolve which lead the way.
At the end of 1957 Ansett-ANA had reduced the number of aircraft and types in its fleet and set about on a new equipment programme. R.M. Ansett by now was not interested in purchasing or operating British aircraft and decided to buy the 78 passenger Lockheed L188 Electra powered by four huge 4000 H.P. G.M. Allison turbo prop engines. He placed a Letter of Intent on Lockheed for six with delivery commencing early 1959.
The new Fokker F27 had been introduced into service earlier. The Ansett Group of Airlines came to be the largest operators of this type in the world. I recall the total number to be 35.
T.A.A. at that time were operating Viscounts and had more on order. But Ansett-ANA with DC6B's and soon to come, L188 Electras, T.A.A. could see that they would be seriously disadvantaged particularly on the Perth run where long range aircraft were needed for a non-stop service from Melbourne and Sydney. To the government this in-balance of equipment would be solved by forcing Ansett-ANA to give up DC6B's in exchange for Viscounts and then later Ansett-ANA were forced to give up three Electras to T.A.A. These arrangements were titled "cross charters".
No one was happy, particularly R.M., but nevertheless both T.A.A. and Ansett-ANA had to obey the rules. In fact all of this was part of the two-airline policy which among other things decreed that any new aircraft introduced into Australia must be of the same type ordered at the same time, and enter service on the same routes on the same day.
The foregoing is really only a brief sketch of those very, very complex matters. The first Ansett L188A Electra, VH-RMA went into service on March 18, 1959. It was not too long after the Electra went into service that quite significant modifications were required to raise the engine/prop thrust line by three degrees. Prop vibration induced into the cabin was unacceptably noisy, and damaging to the fuselage structure in the propeller plane area. The Alison 501-D13 engines also developed quite serious reliability problems all of which were later solved, but not without a lot of hard work.
By April 1961 investigation into three Electra accidents in the U.S.A. finally showed up significant design problems which in nett result, caused major structural failure at the wing root. Lockheed modified all 104 Electras built in their plant at Burbank. Each aircraft took 28 days to modify. I represented Ansett at Lockheed during the modification program – more great experience.
On November 30, 1961 an original T.A.A. Viscount 700 series which was on cross charter and operated by Ansett-ANA crashed into Botany Bay during a heavy rainstorm after take-off from Mascot. All on board were lost.
In 1966 another Ansett-ANA Viscount (this time an 832) disappeared en route from Mount Isa to Longreach. Wreckage of this aircraft was found near Winton in Queensland. A fourth Viscount (a 700 series) on loan from Ansett to MMA crashed only 10 minutes from its destination, Port Hedland. There were no survivors in either accident.
Except for the 1954 TAA training accident, the causes of these Viscount accidents were resolved to be of a technical nature.
In 1961 Ansett-ANA responded to T.A.A.'s entry into Papua and New Guinea by buying Mandated Airlines from W.R. Carpenter. It was re-named Ansett-M.A.L. and eventually Ansett Airlines of Papua and New Guinea. In that same year Ansett made a short-lived attempt to enter the New Zealand market by backing two ex Air New Zealand pilots with their South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand (S.P.A.N.Z.). The two DC3's given over to SPANZ were modified into a "View Master" (large windows) configuration in Ansett-ANA workshops.
SPANZ failed following a very aggressive non-cooperative stand by Air New Zealand which was at this time obliged by government direction, not to provide their passengers with comfort or services which disadvantaged the railways.
Although Reg Ansett started his road service in 1931 and air service in 1936, Ansett Airways was not incorporated until April 14, 1937 and so on November 27, 1962 the 25th Annual General Meeting of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. was held in Melbourne. It is worth reporting a few brief facts as presented to the shareholders by Chairman and Managing Director, Reginald Myles Ansett.
Profit After Tax
Number of Employees
Airline Companies :
Total operating aircraft fleet
Passenger and Freight Vehicles
Road Passenger :
Tourist Coach Vehicles
Road Freight Services:
Company Owned Vehicles
Sub-contractor Owned Vehicles
Hotels and Motels :
Of the 7,139 employees, 4,503 were in the airline, 1,081 in road operations and 1,555 in other enterprises.
Passengers carried by the airlines totalled 1,492,339, load factor was 62.3% and the number of ports served was 207.
In April 1963 Ansett Transport Industries purchased a 70% interest in the long established Perth based MacRobertson-Miller Airlines (M.M.A.). Once again the history of MMA up until this time is a story in itself.
Most of you present would certainly know of this history in far more detail than I could describe. My understanding is that MMA were receiving considerable government subsidies but were hamstrung by a government requirement that it restrict its dividends to no more than 7 ½%. This was a barrier to any fundraising for further development which was at that time, becoming extremely urgent.
MacRobertson, the confectionary manufacturer also needed cash for its own expansion and wanted to sell its stake in MMA to TAA. They did not want Ansett involved. However as TAA was precluded from operating intrastate services it could not take up the offer.
MacRobertson then approached R.M. Ansett who insisted on control and with the addition of a portion of Horrie Miller's shares, Ansett bought 70%. Five years later, in 1968, the remaining shares were bought by Ansett Transport Industries, bringing about total ownership of MMA.
At this point it is interesting to note that Ansett did not change the name of MMA as had been the case with other airlines which had been absorbed into the ATI group. Reg Ansett wisely left the name which after all was older than Ansett and highly respected in Western Australia. It was changed to Airlines of Western Australia and later again to Ansett W.A. only after T.N.T. and News took control of A.T.I.
In 1964 and the following years up to 1972 were very exciting years for Ansett. R.M. and all those around him were in "overdrive". On October 16, 1964 the first Boeing pure jet 727-100 aircraft landed in Australia.
The order of landing was determined by the "toss of a coin" and R.M. won over John Ryland of T.A.A. I remember this day so well. R.M. had gone out to Nadi, Fiji to meet this, his first pure jet. As he walked down the passenger stairs on arrival in Melbourne, the look of pride on his face was an inspiration for us all to see. He was so thrilled with this magnificent new machine which was about to revolutionise passenger travel in Australia.
He mingled with the hundreds of his people and just could not help himself showing his excitement to them all. Of course we were all so proud as well.
This was the start of a long and very successful relationship with Boeing and its great family of aircraft, for many years to come. A total of more than 50 Boeing aircraft went on to operate in the Ansett fleet.
In 1965 he ordered the Douglas DC9-31 jet aircraft. Over the next five years twelve of this aircraft type were introduced into service. The DC9 proved to be an extremely reliable aircraft but did not generally impress passengers.
1966 brought about the phasing out of the DC6B's and Viscounts and the first of many F27-QC aircraft were introduced.
In 1967 T.V. Channel 0 made the first colour transmission in Australia. Lord Howe Island was added to the destinations served by Ansett Flying Boat Services.
And so the whole organisation of Ansett Transport Industries grew at an enormous rate. The diversity of its subsidiary companies was becoming difficult to follow. Airline passenger and cargo operation, road transport freight and tourists, hotels, resorts, television, manufacturing, furniture removal, insurance and so on.
In 1969 A.T.I. purchased the remaining shares in M.M.A. and M.M.A. ordered the Fokker F28 Friendship.
R.M. Ansett was knighted, becoming Sir Reginald Myles Ansett, K.B.E. It came easy for us to address him as Sir Reginald – but he still called me boy.
By 1970 the airline operating fleet numbered 96 aircraft. Total road vehicles stood at just over 650. 11,500 people were employed. The Hayman Island Resort was re-built following extensive damage from cyclone Ada. The first of many Gateway Inns were built, the first being in Perth.
You may have noticed that we have quickly skipped over the last few years. It is not that those years were without great progress but to try and convey all things to you in this limited time is really impossible.
I am particularly keen to tell you of the early days in some detail because by this time, now in 2002, the events of those years are getting a little dim.
We are now getting to the beginning of the end of Sir Reginald's total control of his now massive Ansett Empire.
By 1972 Thomas National Transport (T.N.T.) had bought up 23.5% of shares in A.T.I. and on March 7, attempted to take control. TNT was founded as a road transport company by Ken Thomas but was now under the control of Sir Peter Abeles. Sir Peter saw ATI as a prime target for a take-over. He had already gained a seat on the board.
Although Sir Peter probably saw his thrust to take over ATI as a push-over, there were one or two points that he missed. Sir Reginald at that time had lost none of his drive, his nerve, determination and absolute dedication to his empire and all those within it. By now he (too) had friends in high places. One such friend was the Premier of Victoria, Sir Henry Bolte. But in addition to the power and influence of such people he also had 13,000 other powerful friends. The employees of A.T.I.
Sir Reginald was revered by all, he was so much admired, not only by the employees themselves but their families as well. They were proud to be part of Ansett. This culture in fact never faded right up until the collapse of Ansett in September 2001. The airline people particularly were "branded" with the imprint of Sir Reginald. Throughout all the years he was particularly close to the airline people and showed them by his interest and enthusiasm for their work that he was proud of their loyalty to Ansett and its part in the world of aviation. By this time Ansett had a reputation second-to-none and was known for its excellence in commercial aviation right throughout the worldwide industry.
There was a massive display of objection to this arrogant and aggressive move by Sir Peter who was never particularly popular right from the start. The employees took up a partition which 100% signed and presented to both the Australian and Victorian State Government. But it was in nett result the Victorian State Government under Sir Henry Bolte who came up with means for Sir Peter to be stopped from success with his take over. I still have the original of this petition.
Sir Henry Bolte introduced a Bill into Parliament to provide legislation which would enable the Victorian State Government to block any take over of a Victorian registered company by a company registered in another State. TNT being registered in NSW with its base in Sydney.
TNT had to accept a deal whereby they were given two seats of the Board in return for limiting their voting rights of their shares. TNT's 13.9% shareholding was limited to a voting power equivalent to 10%.
ATI not only owned and controlled airlines and other transport companies but TV stations, coach building, hotel resorts, manufacturing industries, insurance, Diners' Club, Bic-Biro and so on, but also a 30% interest in Australian Securities Ltd. which was purchased from the Royal Bank of Scotland. This was soon increased to 50% and so set the stage for a disaster the likes that Sir Reginald had never experienced before.
In the mid 70's, A.S.L. profits were such that they made A.T.I. oversure of the future. Large tracts of undeveloped land around the major cities were purchased for future development as housing estates.
Notwithstanding this high drama, A.T.I. continued to grow, particularly in the airline division.
Melbourne Airport at Tullamarine, was now completed and the huge task of moving from Essendon was set in motion. This move was completed with no interruption to the airline whatsoever. Of course for a few years prior to the move, all operating divisions worked on the development of new premises (particularly Engineering). A very large workshop complex for engine overhaul and other component work was built off the airport on company owned land.
The 727-100's were replaced with –200's. An air strip was built at Lord Howe Island and the flying boats ceased operation. A.T.I .bought Diners' Club in 1974 and a 50% interest in Bic-Biro. 1977 Ansair shifted its manufacturing facility to a new factory at Tullamarine. The F27-500 was introduced into service with Airlines of N.S.W.
1978 brought total ownership of Avis Rent-a-Car system. M.M.A. started an F28 service from Darwin to Denpassar.
When housing development slumped dramatically towards the late 70's, ASL found itself in severe trouble. Those troubles multiplied and despite every effort to save ASL it was placed into liquidation in February 1979. ATI wrote off 20 million dollars in losses. Despite this enormous set-back, Sir Reginald remained in firm control of ATI ruling from the new headquarters at 501 Swanston Street, Melbourne. Sir Reginald was at the age for retirement but he had no intention of going until he was sure that ATI and all he had built was secure.
Early in 1979 the stock markets became aware that a buyer had amassed around 15% of ATI stock. This buyer was identified as Robert Holmes a Court, Head of the Bell Group in Western Australia. Sir Reginald met with Holmes a Court who assured him that he had no intention of buying any more than 20% of the stock. Sir Reginald was impressed with Holmes a Court and he gradually came to see the West Australian as an ideal successor.
As Holmes a Court gradually increased his buying it was obvious that TNT was also actively buying more ATI shares. This prompted several other companies to buy ATI shares including Ampol.
ATI neutralised Ampol by buying 20% of its stock and then it all started to get really complicated. Rupert Murdoch appeared on the scene particularly for reason of his interest in ATI's television stations. So now Murdoch's hat was also in the ring.
Under great pressure, Sir Reginald agreed to a very complicated deal whereby Robert Holmes a Court would become Chief Executive of ATI. But Sir Reginald very quickly withdrew his support for this move – he was not able to come to terms with handing over to anybody, no matter who it was. He then found out that Holmes a Court, Abeles and Murdoch had just held a secret meeting at Murdoch's property near Yass. Sensing a conspiracy Sir Reginald was outraged.
At this stage, Holmes a Court obviously decided that his best move was not to be Chief Executive of ATI after all but to rather turn his recently acquired stake into a big profit. It was reported that he sold out to Murdoch for an 11 million dollar profit. Murdoch moved quickly for total control of ATI but so did Abeles.
When the dust settled they had "met in the middle" with 50% each. Abeles and Murdoch became Joint Managing Directors deposing Sir Reginald as Chief Executive and virtually stripping him of any control or influence. He was appointed Chairman and surely saw this as a very insincere platitude. Loss of his beloved organisation, especially the airlines was something Sir Reginald could not bear. He retained his Chairmanship for just on two years before his death aged 72 years on December 8, 1981.
For those thousands of us who shared in his ambition, his struggle, and absolute determination, this was such a tragedy.
I recall that only days after he was deposed by Abeles and Murdoch, his loyal Secretary, Lorna Betts, asked me to come into Head Office, as Sir Reginald wanted to see me.
On my way from the Airport I wondered why he would want to talk to me at this most difficult time of his life. Lorna ushered me into his office – he looked up and said "Take a seat boy". For what seemed to me to be many minutes he sat in his chair in silence. I felt so much for him. All of a sudden he looked up with such pain on his face and told me that he was no longer in control of ATI. I knew this of course and wondered why he would want to tell me this in person. I really did not know what to say in reply but do remember that the few words I found to say pleased him no end.
I assured him that his impression on me and so many others would stay with us for the rest of our lives. And so for me to this day my admiration for this great man has not faded in any way. I sincerely believe that the inspiration for my own determination to do things as well as possible comes from Reginald Myles Ansett.
Of course we all realised just how he felt about this loss of the empire he built with his own "bare hands". Over the next couple of years we still saw him often but it was so obvious that he was broken and becoming unwell.
He never gave up his profound interest in all things to do with aircraft and that which went into their maintenance.
For all the years I can recall, never a week would go by that he would not turn up at the Maintenance and Overhaul Base to see for himself what was going on. In fact more often than not we would see him a couple of times a week.
In the latter years particularly after moving into our new Engineering facility at Tullamarine, there could be up to 3 or 4 aircraft in for heavy maintenance, repair, modifications, etc.
He would want to know all about it and would "home in" on particular individual jobs which he found interesting. So we would explain all of these things in detail.
Tools and equipment always interested him. For example, the purchase of any new equipment which was required had to go through various stages of management before the paperwork got to him for approval.
All along the way there were the various managers, accountants and so on who would ask questions like "how come we have got by for twenty years without this so and so gizmo?"
But at the end of the day when it got to Sir Reginald he would call up directly to the originator and ask the right questions. Even though perhaps months would go by following his approval before we finally had the new tool or equipment up and running, he would not forget to ask for it to be shown to him even a demonstration of it in use. Of course who wasn't proud to show the boss.
He would always ask people's names, like a mechanic walking by or within his sight and from thereon never forgot the name. One interesting fact about this knowledge he gained with every visit is that on his return to head office he would impart his knowledge to all those around him. In fact he would often suggest to some (who he thought should know) that they get out and have a look for themselves. And what is more, often would ask on his next visit whether or not "so and so" had come out. At times this could present little problems.
It is by now probably well known that he was not himself extravagant with money – he didn't give too much away. His own lifestyle was modest, he was not a member of the "social set". It was obvious that he spent his leisure days home on his property at Gunyong Valley near Mount Eliza.
I remember one time that a Boeing 727-100 on pilot training at Avalon became bogged when the wheels of one main landing gear just came off the edge of the concrete and sunk to the axle in soft ground. A real difficult job to get it out. Went on for days until we finally achieved success by digging way down and pouring a solid gradual concrete ramp parallel to the taxi way edge.
Sir Reginald kept on ringing up giving me a bad time but not without his best advice which was related to a similar incident with his tractor. Anyway after it was all over I was able to tell him of my newly acquired knowledge of controlled quick-setting concrete. I often heard him impart this knowledge to others.
In my experience with Sir Reginald one of his unique styles was the way in which he would assign you to a task – most of which were very difficult to accomplish particularly within the time set down. He would simply say: "Now boy I will tell you what I want you to do". And leave it with you there and then. It was no good asking questions – he was gone and you were alone with a big job on your plate.
So you were left with no alternative but to get on with the job and accomplish it as well as you could and on time, but in doing so you gained invaluable new experience in all manner of things.
It is my belief this is why all of us became so resourceful and developed such individual skills and initiatives. The important thing being that you had the challenge and licence to accomplish it in your own way. He was only interested in the nett result.
It was also well known that he was not exactly reckless with executive salaries and what's more there were no "perks" – none whatsoever. One particular senior executive who is still around to tell a few good stories recalls the time that he plucked up the courage to talk to Sir Reginald on this subject.
He had the feeling that Sir Reginald was listening and went on to advise him that his executives who were giving 110% should be rewarded accordingly – that increases in their salaries would be beneficial for the company. After a few days went by Sir Reginald called him up and said "You know I have thought a lot about your proposal but I just cannot understand how you can say that more money will inspire them to work more when they are already giving 110%"!
So hard work, pride in achievement and so on is not necessarily governed by monetary reward alone. In contrast Sir Peter Abeles thought it was but he did not gain any loyalty from Ansett people.
There are so many stories which could be told some true to the word, others slightly bent perhaps due to time and others complete fabrications. But never mind, even those fabricated are still about the man and his legend.
My true unmodified story is to me the classic.
Following Ansett placing an order with Boeing for the 727-277, so many buttons were pushed to start the huge task of preparing the specifications for customer options and so forth. One very important subject was interior design, colours, galley configuration, passenger capacity, seats and so on. Sir Reginald summoned us to head office to participate in a meeting set up to consider various proposals to be put forward by Mr. Eugene V. Suttin of Walter Dorwin Teague Inc., the firm who at the time did all such work for Boeing. Mr. Suttin, a very well dressed man, typical of his profession, got on with his presentation aided by view foils, samples of materials/colours, and so on. There were about ten of us from various department present.
Sir Reginald, right from the start did not seem to show much interest. He must have had some great new idea on his mind. He just sat there, chin in hand. Mr. Suttin was showing some signs of uneasiness as he just didn't seem to be making any progress. Sir Reginald never offered one comment and so neither did any of us.
All of a sudden, with great flourish, Mr. Sutton grabbed at the long sample of furnishing fabric which was in his "bag of tricks", held it up high (like a bull fighter) and burst forth with the words "Well Sir Reginald, just what do you want on these seats"? Sir Reginald never altered his chin in hand position and replied "A----oles boy, a----oles, that's what I want on those seats".
Sir Reginald got up, excused himself and announced that we could make the decisions, and we did. And so began the era of "autumn tonings" with banks of three rows of seats in three different colours.
Well, Mr. Sutton was speechless. Obviously he had never heard the likes of this before. Anyway the dust very quickly settled.
I have heard so many versions of that story over the years. But the foregoing is the original from an original participant.
No doubt many of you present will recall the big dispute he had with the hostesses. It was all about conditions, pay and so forth. Right at the height of the dispute he retaliated by calling them "old boilers". The "hosties" were outraged. A real slanging match flared up. In due course the industrial matters were resolved and the dust settled.
It is a fact that today, many, many of those who were hostesses in those days are pleased to introduce themselves as one of Reg's "old boilers".
And then there was the much publicised case of Miss Debbie Wardley who had the ambition and qualifications to become a pilot so she applied for a job as a First Officer. Well, he just couldn't cope with this one and went right off about it all.
The long and short of it all was that Miss Wardley beat him and went on to fly Ansett aircraft for many years. For a long time no one ever dared to mention her name in his presence but then came the time when a few broke the silence – I do recall on one such occasion that he did come up with a slight smile but no comment.
Sir Reginald had a passion for horse racing and in fact founded the Mornington Racing Club of which he was Chairman, for many years. His very close and trusted friend was Tommy Woodcock, the legendary horse trainer.
The duck season in Victoria and New South Wales was something he looked forward to. Many good "duck shooting" stories could be told.
When we think of a great man in a high and important place in our world it would never occur to most of us that at the end of a working day such a man would go home and tell his family about the people he worked with. Well, as I discovered, long after he was gone that he must have talked about his people.
In 1991 when I was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for my Services to Aviation, the very first congratulatory note I received was from Lady Ansett. She simply said – quote: "Ken, Sir Reginald would have been very, very proud of you". Unquote. Those words really made my day and will for ever.
To bring this brief account of my own memories of Sir Reginald and particularly his early achievements, there is probably enough time left to touch on milestone events following Sir Reginald's death.
1981 An order was placed on Boeing for 21 brand new aircraft. With the delivery of these aircraft came a really brilliant new colour scheme and image for Ansett.
1982 The Golden Wing Club was formed for frequent fliers.
1983 The 767-277, one of the new aircraft ordered, went into service.
A.T.I. sold Channel 0 to the News Corp.
1984 Hamilton Island airstrip was built by Ansett.
1985 The BAe146 was introduced and the Airbus A320 was ordered.
Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services was established for the leasing of aircraft and provision of management, technical and training support.
1986 The Boeing 737-300 was introduced.
Ansett set about in a joint venture with Newman's to operate domestic services in New Zealand.
1987 Ansett New Zealand was launched.
TNT and News bought East-West Airlines.
Ansett purchased 20% of America West Airlines of Phoenix, Arizona.
Air N.S.W. introduced the Fokker 50.
1988 Air Transport World magazine awarded Ansett the title of "Best Domestic Airline in the World"
1989 A.T.I. sold its Denny's restaurant chain to Whitbread & Co.
The very damaging pilots' dispute erupted in June with pilots resigning ën masse. This dispute went on until March 1990 (another big story in itself).
1990 October, Ansett Airlines of Australia changed its name to Ansett Australia and unveiled a very, very inferior and unattractive new livery. (It did not last long but cost lots of money. There was only one "winner" in this deal).
Domestic deregulation became effective in October.
1991 Australia's first Frequent Flyer Program was launched.
1992 A very significant event in the history of Ansett. Sir Peter Abeles was forced to stand down as Joint Chairman and Chief Executive. Rupert Murdoch appointed Ken Cowley (his Australian right-hand man) to succeed Sir Peter.
And now we are really on the down hill run.
1993 A.T.I. subsidiary airlines in N.S.W., W.A., including East-West, were rationalised into Ansett Australia.
1994 International services were commenced with the first being to Osaka, Japan. Two Boeing 747 aircraft were leased from Singapore Airlines.
On July 28 Ansett Australia unveiled a new image with a colour scheme/logo which will be identified with Ansett for many years to come – a brilliant classy image.
1995 Once again, Ansett Australia named Domestic Airline of the Year.
Both News and TNT had let it be known that they wished to sell out of Ansett. And in a hurry.
Air NZ set about talks with News for their 50%. TNT were also playing the same game and finally got under the guard of its partner and sold out to Air New Zealand.
1996 Air New Zealand Directors, Jim McCrea (CEO), Bob Mathew and Robert Nazarain, joined the Ansett Board. Early in this year Chief Executive and Managing Director, Graeme McMahon, resigned after 40 year's service with Ansett. For the rest of 1996 Ansett was without any experienced professional leadership.
News Ltd., Ken Cowley, had a go at it and also Lachlan Murdoch seemed to be making some attempt to fill the breech left by Graeme McMahon. It was a hopeless situation.
Also in this year were reports that Singapore Airlines had their eye on Ansett. Not a day went by without media speculation as to the future ownership of Ansett. The entire Ansett workforce were becoming very uneasy. No information was being transmitted to them by the Ansett management. The staff of course were well aware of the lack of management aviation industry knowledge, particularly since Graeme McMahon had been 40 years in the game. Morale was low.
Very rapidly, and by the end of 1996 it was rock bottom. People were very, very worried about the future.
1997 In September 1997 it was announced by News Ltd. that Rod Eddington, former C.E.O. of Cathay Pacific would join Ansett as Executive Chairman and C.E.O. from early new year 1997. Rod Eddington, duly arrived, and within a very short space of time announced to all and sundry that Ansett was a great airline but a poor business. In fact he repeated this saying time and time again. His purpose was (even at the time) most obvious. The staff were very relieved particularly in light of the fact that for almost a year they had no leadership and now (at least) the company was in professional hands. Rod Eddington was popular right from the start. He immediately got around the whole network and made himself known. As time went by consultants started to appear in every "nook and cranny" – hundreds of them from several different firms. Typically this invasion brought about a very unsettling effect, particularly upon senior people who could see what was going on.
1998 Lots of internal changes were made at various levels. Most changes made were based on the consultants' theory that the longer people had been with Ansett
the more bad habits they must have accumulated. Rod Eddington had a business recovery program (BRP) set up which involved many, many committees all of which sat in conference for most of the time. For most of the time, managers and supervisory staff were at meetings with no one left to run the show. Subsidiary companies were sold off and even internal departments were sold off or formed into separate organisations outside the airline itself. For example, In-flight Catering was sold to a Swiss company "Gate Gourmet". Ansett Engineering and Maintenance was separated and in a 50/50 partnership with Air New Zealand, Engineering, an Ansett New Zealand Engineering Services (ANNZES) company was created with its headquarters in Auckland and a non-airline person appointed to head it up. This move really rocked the boat. It proved to be an absolute disaster and the main contributing factor in Ansett's 2001 aircraft maintenance problems. (But by that time Rod Eddington was gone).
2000 A long and complex story but in a nut shell. After a year or so of considering their options, Singapore Airlines finally came to the table with firm intent to buy News Ltd. 50% of Ansett. By this time Rod Eddington had shed all the baggage, leaving the airline Ansett Australia as the only part still standing. Sale of assets had created a relatively minor profit for the first time in a couple of years. Singapore Airlines were about to sign up but the Air New Zealand Board "cried foul", claiming pre-emptive rights gained when they bought TNT's 50% share. So Singapore Airlines went away much to the complete disappointment of all Ansett people. After a couple of months, Air New Zealand gained approval from the Australian government and the deal was done. Air New Zealand gained total ownership of Ansett Australia. Rupert Murdoch and Rod Eddington were happy – no one else was. Within days, Eddington went off to take up his new position with British Airways. Jim McCrae, CEO of Air NZ resigned within the next few weeks. Ansett Australia then went on for the next seven months with no C.E.O. until the arrival of Mr. Gary Toomey.
2001 Gary Toomey arrived.
P.S. I apologise for going too far into this tragic era. But once on the subject of the final days I do get carried away. I have very firm views all based on my own well-informed knowledge of this whole disgusting affair. But I will refrain from going any further.
Reproduced by kind permission of Kenneth Bond OAM