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Air Travel in Australia: Domestic Air Travel

Post World War II Domestic Air Travel
Domestic civil aviation expanded rapidly after World War II due to the large number of trained military pilots. Military aircraft were converted for use as passenger craft, such as the popular DC3, and the two-airline policy was formed by the government. Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) commenced in 1946 and was one of the two major Australian domestic airlines that operated. Trans-Australia Airlines was the dominant operator until 1957, covering the major interstate and intercapital routes, as well as routes to Papua-New Guinea. It was renamed Australian Airlines in 1986 and was sold to Qantas in 1992.

The remains of C-47 Skytrain registed as VVH-DAS at Kuranda, Qld

When Trans Australian Airlines (now the domestic arm of Qantas) began operations in mid-1946, its first aircraft aquisition was two Douglas DC-3s. The shell of one of these aircraft - a C-47 Skytrain registed as VVH-DAS, and the first of TAA's fleet - is on display in the Queensland town of Kuranda. The shell is a left-over of its role in the movie "Sky Pirates" in 1984, at which time it was given its USAF markings as "6903077/B5". The remains of DC-3 VH-DAS was assembled into a crash diorama at Kuranda in July 1984. Originally named "Geronimo" by the US Air Force when it began service in Novembver 1942, it was based at Mareeba during World War II. The aircraft was re-named "Cunningham" when it entered service with Trans-Australia Airlines in July 1946.

The C-47 Skytrain was a military transport aircraft developed from the civilian Douglas DC-3 airliner. A dozen more DC-3s would be added to TAA's fleet, all ex-RAAF aircraft originally bought by the Australian Government under lend-lease, which were converted back to carrying passengers. The DC3 was originally designed in America in1935 by the Douglas Aircraft Company for a long range passenger aircraft for American Airlines.

Ansett was the first Australian airline to move into airfreight services in 1956 and it then dominated over TAA. In 1964, Ansett began flying with jet aircraft and it quickly became the country's leading domestic airline. By the 1950s, with ever-expanding airmail and passenger routes to other parts of Australia, as well as linking with international routes, initially through Imperial Airways, Qantas grew into Australia's largest airline.

Australia's Two Airline Policy

Australia's Two Airlines Policy (or Two Airlines Agreement) was an Australian federal government initiastive and operated from the late 1940s to the 1990s. Under the policy, only two airlines were allowed to operate flights between state capital cities and major regional city airports. The Two Airlines Policy was in fact a legal barrier to new entrants to the Australian aviation market. It restricted intercapital services to the two major domestic carriers. This anti-competitive arrangement ensured that they carried approximately the same number of passengers, charged the same fares and had similar fleet sizes and equipment. For most of the period of the policy, the "two airlines" were the privately owned Ansett Airlines and the government-owned Trans Australia Airlines. Though persisting for some decades, the policy finally fell into abeyance with airline deregulation in Australia in 1990.

The First and Second Chifley (Labor) ministries established Trans Australia Airlines in 1946, after passing legislation establishing TAA in 1945. TAA was initially intended to be a monopoly national carrier, subsuming all the routes flown by Australian National Airways and any other non-government airlines. This was successfully challenged in two High Court cases. The Two Airlines Policy was formally established in 1952 by the Fifth Menzies Ministry. The policy took practical effect when Ansett purchased the failing Australian National Airways in 1957, resulting in it being the only competitor for the government-owned TAA.

While smaller regional airlines were free to operate flights between regional airports and between cities and regional centres, the policy allowed only two airlines to operate flights between major cities in Australia. This led to some bizarre measures by other airlines to get around the rules, for example East-West Airlines briefly operated between Sydney and Melbourne by performing a touch-and-go landing at Albury en route before the practice was banned.[citation needed] Another aspect of the policy was that scheduled flights on the same routes would take off about five minutes apart, with Ansett taking off before TAA.

1956 Melbourne Olympic Games

At the time of preparation for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, Melbourne's Essendon Airport had a modest international terminal which comprised the original 1926 Aero Club building with a Nissan hut attached at the rear. It was certainly not a suitable international gateway, even in those days. In order to provide suitable facilities for the expected influx of competitors and visitors to the Olympics, DCA decided to speed up construction of a spacious new igloo hangar, which was being built at Essendon for Ansett-ANA, and make that into a temporary International Terminal. The hangar was fitted out with temporary partitions and - of course - a set of plywood Olympic Rings! Customs, Immigration and Health clearance desks were capable of handling 270 passengers at a time.

Telephones and teleprinters were installed for the world's press, while such luxuries as postal facilities and a snack bar finished off the appointments. Roads, taxiways, road signs and gardens were all added to cope with the traffic and improve the appearance of the airport. The Olympic Terminal was officially opened on 31 October at 6.10 am with the arrival of 72 Romanian athletes and one official. The national teams arriving at the airport were greeted by thousands of Melburnians. Most teams arrived in their national dress, with the more regimented contingents marching from their aircraft to the Terminal.

1989 Airline Piliot's Dispute
It was in an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future of their industry and their employer, around the time of the de-regulation of the Australian airline industry came into force which the unions had opposed, that the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots lodged a wage increase claim of 29.47%. It was a time of severe restraint; the Labor government under Bob Hawke, had struck a deal (known as 'the Accord') with the ACTU, to limit salary increases to 8%. In response to the knockback, AFAP Pilots imposed on their employers (Ansett, East West, Ipec and Australian Airlines) a limitation on the hours they were prepared to work in the form of only making themselves available for flying duties within the normal office working hours of 9am to 5pm.

The two major domestic airlines, Ansett and Australian, were either out of action or had their wings severely clipped for some time. The tourism industry and other business associated with civil aviation suffered and the government sent in the RAAF to relieve the pressure on stranded passengers. Foreign pilots were also brought in to fly domestic routes. This bitter dispute set precedents for workplace relations which have undoubtedly influenced today's industrial climate. The dispute, which was the worst and most expensive industrial dispute in Australia's history, has been conservatively estimated to have cost the Australian economy well over a billion dollars and resulted in the loss of many thousands of jobs associated with the demise of the many businesses indirectly affected. It was a significant factor causing Australia to plunge into recession nearly two years earlier than its trading partners. The dispute has never been resolved. The Australian pilots who took part in it paid dearly for their stance, both personally and professionally. They lost their Industrial Award. Marriage breakdowns and suicides were not uncommon and thousands of professional careers went on hold or never resumed.

Flying Empire Class On The Kangaroo Route
Qantas flying boats ushered in an era of stately and pleasurable flying – and they were built for comfort and safety rather than speed. Only 16 passengers could be accommodated during flights with overnight legs, but they enjoyed "the most luxurious saloons ever prepared in an aircraft" spread over a series of tiered cabins including a smoking room and bunk-like sleeping berths.

Hudson Fysh, one of the founding members of Qantas and managing director at the time, recalled: "Getting up out of his chair, a passenger could walk about and, if he had been seated in the main cabin, stroll along to the smoking cabin for a smoke, stopping on the way at the promenade deck with its high handrail and windows at eye level to gaze at the world of cloud and sky outside."

There's plenty of romance in that vision, but it came at a price: a Sydney-Singapore return trip was slightly more than the average annual wage of the time, which in today's terms would mean handing over some $72,800. That included three overnight stops en route to Singapore - at Townsville, Darwin and Surabaya - spent at sumptuous hotels while the aircraft lay at moorings in a nearby lake or seaport. The second leg of what had already been tagged as Kangaroo Route, from Singapore to London, took a further six days.

It was a brief shining moment for the flying boats before the start of World War II saw the aircraft stripped of those wide seats and sleeping bunks, to be replaced by guns and bomb racks. The short-range Empire Class was replaced in 1943 by the longer range Catalißna flying boats, which were retired in the early 1960s but gave their name to the five-star Catalina restaurant adjacent to the site of the old Rose Bay terminal.