Wednesday, 12 August 2015

TAA - "The Friendly Way"

In May 1952, a record was set when the Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) DC-4 Skymaster John Eyre took off from Townsville with all of its 50 seats occupied. Though it was the biggest airlift of passengers in north Queensland at the time, it barely rated a mention in the local press.

Passengers board TAA’s first DC-4 Skymaster, the John Eyre, at Garbutt Airport, Townsville, 1952.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In the post-war years there were only two major domestic airlines in Australia. Australian National Airways (ANA) was a privately owned airline run by a shipping conglomerate, and had been operating since 1936. TAA was set up in 1946 by the Australian government and began its operations in Melbourne.

The first of four DC-4 Skymasters ordered by TAA from the USA arrived in Australia in early October 1946 and undertook its maiden flight from Melbourne to Perth in November. This aircraft was named the John Eyre, after the explorer who pioneered the crossing of the continent from east to west.

TAA’s next three Skymasters also bore the names of explorers and were christened Thomas Mitchell, John Forrest and McDougall Stuart. TAA continued to name its subsequent aircraft after Australian explorers, with one exception. The Skymaster John Gould was named in October 1951, after the Australian ornithologist of the same name. Gould is widely known as the “father” of bird study in Australia thanks to his book The Birds of Australia, first published in 1840.
TAA's DC-4 Skymaster, the McDougall Stuart at Townsville, 1950s.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In May 1952, TAA commenced operating a Skymaster service to north Queensland. A passenger could depart Brisbane at 2.20pm and after stopping at Rockhampton and Mackay, be in Townsville just five hours later at 7.20pm. The service then continued on to Cairns where it stopped overnight before returning to Townsville the following morning at 8.30am.

The travelling public welcomed the new service to north Queensland, as the larger aircraft could accommodate more passengers than its predecessors. This was particularly important during the tourist season, when an influx of visitors descended on the north.

In the late 1940s TAA advertising encouraged people to “Fly TAA to the sun with the luxury Skymaster ‘Sunshine Special’ to Northern Queensland,” with a promise that the TAA service was “as luxurious at it is inexpensive”.

“A holiday in Northern Queensland means escape from rain and cold to sea and sunshine!”
An advertisement for TAA's north Queensland flights from the Melbourne Argus in June 1947.
Source: Trove

When Ansett Airways entered the north Queensland market in May 1954, a flight from Brisbane to Cairns on TAA or ANA cost £18/19 shillings. Ansett undercut the big players by about ten per cent, setting its fare at £17/1 shilling, in a bid to get a share of the lucrative northern tourist market. Neither TAA or ANA felt particularly threatened by Ansett at this time, as they felt that people would still prefer to fly north on their larger, four-engined Skymasters, while Ansett was operating with smaller DC-3s.

In 1960, TAA found itself at the centre of Australia’s worst civil aviation disaster when one of its aircraft, a Fokker Friendship, crashed into the sea off Mackay, killing all 29 passengers and crew on board. Mackay’s airport was fog-bound so the plane circled for an hour and twenty minutes before it was cleared to land. At 10.30pm the Captain advised that he was beginning to make the approach to the runway, but the plane failed to make the landing.

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