Trans-Australia Airlines - TAA



Known As: TAA

Full Name: TAA - Trans Australia

Country: Australia

Call sign: Transair

Objects in Collection

Brief History

Trans Australia Airlines or TAA.

The Australian National Airways Commission came into existence in February 1946. The commissioners themselves were prominent high-achievers, including the director-general of civil aviation, the deputy director, a Labor party luminary and former member of the Commonwealth Bank board, the director-general of posts and telegraphs, and the assistant secretary of the Treasury. The commission was to be chaired by Arthur Coles.

The Commission decided on the name "Trans-Australia Airlines", applied to the Treasury for a preliminary advance of £10,000 and set about making plans, recruiting staff, and purchasing equipment. Reginald Ansett, proprietor of the small Victorian company Ansett Airways was quick to offer to get the new airline off to a flying start by selling his entire operation to the ANAC as a going concern, including (if desired) his own services as managing agent. The asking price, the Commission decided, was optimistic, and Ansett declined a more modest counter offer.

There was considerable correspondence between the Commission and Ivan Holyman, the Chairman of ANA, with a view to recruiting Holyman as General Manager of TAA at the princely salary of £10,000 pa, and, when that offer was declined, of buying the near-monopoly airline outright. Holyman was not willing to sell, nor to work for a government-owned body, but was interested in setting up a "composite company", the details of which proposal remained unclear.

Eventually the ANAC proceeded with the original plan, to build an airline from scratch. One of the first people hired was Lester Brain, then operations manager at Qantas. Brain had 22 years of pioneering aviation experience behind him and was regarded as the man behind Qantas' reputation for technical excellence. He applied for the advertised position of TAA Operations Manager, but to his surprise and delight, was instead offered an appointment as General Manager — though at £3,000 pa, not the £10,000 that had been offered to Holyman.

TAA acquired its first two aircraft in mid-June 1946, both Douglas DC-3s. A dozen more DC-3s would be added over the next few months, all ex-Royal Australian Air Force aircraft originally bought by the Australian Government under lend-lease. In July, the Treasury released £350,000 to allow TAA to order four larger, more modern DC-4s from Douglas in the United States, and Brain appointed Aubrey Koch (from Qantas) as Senior Pilot DC4 Skymaster and John Watkins as Chief Technical Officer. Watkins would become one of the key figures in TAA success. His first task was to travel to the United States to accept delivery of the DC-4s. He later wrote:

To my utter astonishment Arthur Coles, after the expected pep-talk about the DC-4 assignment, said he was relying on me to find out what new equipment was being developed that would enable us to offer our passengers a better product than our established rival, at a competitive price.

It was typical of Coles, who knew nothing about aircraft, to reason that quality equipment would be vital, and then select the best man for the job of finding it and be prepared to back his judgement.

At this point, political considerations came to the fore again. TAA planned to start regular services on 7 October, but there was a federal election set for 28 September. Britain's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been enormously popular during the darkest hours, but was voted out at the first post-war opportunity. There was no certainty that the Chifley Government would not be treated likewise, and the opposition was opposed to government ownership. Coles addressed the Commission at a meeting on 2 September 1946.

“Gentlemen, the Government wants us to start services as soon as possible. There is a Federal election on 28 September. If we don't have an airline up and running by then and Labor loses the election there'll be no airline. We'll be out of a job. Any suggestions?”

After some discussion it was agreed that the airline was not ready. It had a name, some excellent pilots, and some aircraft, but no ground facilities, no sales staff, no documentation, not even tickets. With a great deal of effort, it should be possible to make the planned start date of 7 October. With the discussion complete, Coles said :

“I have news for you. We start next Monday.”

After a week of frantic effort hiring staff, borrowing a tin shed at the RAAF base at Laverton because Essendon Airport had been turned into mud by heavy rain, creating operations manuals, passenger manifests, tickets, and load sheets — even making passenger steps and baggage carts because there was no time to buy them in the ordinary way — Captains Hepburn and Nickels took off from Laverton at 5:45 am bound for Sydney. TAA's first scheduled flight carried a full load of VIPs and just one paying passenger.

The subsequent few years led to massive growth for the new airline. As post-war austerity gave way to a more affluent era, Australians were able to travel by air in ever increasing numbers.

Much of the growth in domestic aviation in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was dominated by the rivalry between the privately owned Ansett-ANA and the government-supported TAA. A major factor in the success of the government airline was the wise choice of aircraft. After initially utilising the venerable and readily available Douglas DC-3, TAA was able to acquire the revolutionary pressurised Convair 240. Popular with the travelling public because of its ability to fly above much of the weather, it was really this aircraft that established the airline's reputation for excellence and service reliability.

East-coast services were continually expanded and TAA soon earned its title as a true 'trans Australian' airline with services to Perth on the west coast of the continent, using Douglas DC-4 aircraft. Vickers Viscount turboprop aircraft were introduced in the 1950s and again proved immensely popular as a result of their smooth, vibration-free ride.

Although government-owned, the Liberal conservative government of the 1950s had a philosophical leaning towards the needs of the privately owned Ansett and the requirements of TAA suffered as a result. The controversial Two Airlines Policy was introduced and effectively seriously limited growth and expansion opportunities for the airlines without government approval.

Flight numbers and schedules were strictly controlled, and TAA and Ansett-ANA invariably had flights departing airports for the same destination at exactly the same time with exactly the same equipment. The policy was so strict that even newly purchased identical aircraft (one from each airline) were required on their delivery flights to enter Australian airspace at exactly the same time.

The conservative government's benevolent attitude towards Ansett was epitomised in the 1950s when it forced TAA to swap a number of its popular turbo-prop Viscount aircraft with Ansett-ANA in return for slower and older, piston-engined Douglas DC-6Bs. In another instance, TAA had planned to re-equip with the revolutionary Sud Aviation Caravelle pure-jet but as Ansett felt this was too advanced at that stage for their own needs, both airlines were required to purchase the Ansett preference; the less advanced turbo-prop Lockheed L-188 Electra.

Nonetheless the Electra proved a reliable aircraft and TAA continuously grew and prospered. In the 1960s it introduced Boeing 727-100 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 Whispering T-Jets on primary routes as well as Fokker F27 Friendship Jetliner turboprops on regional routes.

By the late 1960s it had a massive network criss-crossing the continent, as well as an internal network within Papua New Guinea and flights from Darwin to Baucau in Portuguese Timor. At this time the airline's livery was the famous white T on a blue tail, referred to as The Look of the ‘70s and one of the more memorable television advertisements of the period was the jingle "Up, Up and away, with TAA, the Friendly Friendly Way". , whose lyrics and music were a variation on the 1967 song Up, Up and Away, written by Jimmy Webb and also used by the US airline TWA.

Further expansion occurred in the 1970s and larger 727-276s, (simultaneously with Ansett) were acquired. Once again the terms of the introduction were restricted by the two-airline policy.

The policy was marginally relaxed in the early 1980s when TAA was able to introduce the Airbus A300B4, whilst Ansett chose to purchase the Boeing 767. The A300 was a revolutionary aircraft at the time for the domestic airline industry, in that it was a wide-body (twin aisle) aircraft and provided significant extra capacity on the trunk east coast network and to Perth. In 1986, Trans-Australia Airlines was rebranded as 'Australian Airlines' and marked the return of the kangaroo to the livery. Its new image coincided with a very successful and popular television campaign, "You Should See Us Now", "Face To Face" and "The Way We Do The Things We Do" became the carrier's new theme songs.

In 1986, after a change of airline management, the name Trans-Australia Airlines was controversially dropped, in favour of Australian Airlines. Associated with this image change was a new livery for the airlines' aircraft, which wore the title Australian.

Australian Airlines was the travel sponsor for the television shows Neighbours, Wheel of Fortune and Sale of the Century between late 1987 and 1994.

Between 1980 and the merger with Qantas selected teams participating in the Australian Touring Car Championship bore both Trans Australian Airlines (TAA) and Australian Airlines insignia, and from 1985 to 1990 the Seven Network commentary team used the airline to travel between the states to attend the various racing venues.

By the end of the 1980s, the government began to move towards deregulation of domestic aviation. (Deregulation took effect in October 1990.) A by-product of this impending change was the 1989 Australian pilots' dispute. As the result of a prolonged wage-suppression, this saw the resignation of the majority of Australian Airlines' aircrew and the basic structure of the airline was changed forever. The Hawke cabinet not only encouraged the airline companies to employ overseas "strike breakers" but went even further, opting to pay the newly employed pilots from the public purse.

The early 1990s changed the face of Australian domestic air travel. The Federal Government, although technically having deregulated the domestic aviation sector, made it effectively impossible for a new entrant Compass Airlines to succeed. In 1987, the Hawke Government announced that the then government-owned domestic air terminals would be effectively privatised and leased to the two domestic airlines. Compass, a threat to the TAA/Ansett duopoly, was granted severely limited access to terminal facilities. At Sydney Airport both airlines had effectively been given freehold ownership of their two separate terminals. The Federal Airports Corporation later purchased the Ansett terminal when it went broke in 2002. Any third airline operating there had to make do with the regional airline facilities. At other airports the two airlines had leased mostly empty terminals and installed all operational furnishings themselves. The airport authorities eagerly accepted lease money from Compass while providing almost no space in their terminals.

The ambitious new airline was allocated, by the government what were clearly the worst gates, in the least desirable sections of domestic terminals across the country (in some cases, Atco huts were used) and had to operate from the international terminal at Perth Airport. As the result of liens placed over the Compass aircraft (due to alleged non-payment of airways expenses), the government's Civil Aviation Authority effectively caused the shutting down of Compass on 20 December 1991, 5 days before what would have been the immensely profitable Christmas travel period. A seemingly well-orchestrated plan saw the Compass aircraft quickly flown out of the country and with them, potentially the demise of a truly deregulated domestic aviation sector.

Ansett and TAA/Australian were the sole remaining players, in effect a de facto two-airline policy yet again. Throughout this period of transformation and deregulation, Australian Airlines continued its successful run by posting healthy profits, increasing passenger loads and gained much favour from its catching television commercials. Although the merger with Qantas was seen as inevitable to give the latter a domestic network – and revive its bottom line, many former staff of Australian Airlines (TN) and the general public mourned the loss of this iconic Australian brand.

Although Compass was controversially and perhaps inevitably forced out of business, Australian's days, and those of Ansett were numbered. The decision had been made at Federal Government level to offer both government owned carriers for sale, Australian (which as a government corporation, Qantas being an unlisted public company following its shares being purchased by the Commonwealth in 1947) was offered first but was quickly snapped up by Qantas who offered $400m to purchase the domestic carrier. Qantas then decided to merge the airline into its network and subsequently the government offered the entire merged operation in a public float, after selling a cornerstone stake to British Airways (25%), thus returning 'Qantas' to the stock market after being absent from listing since 1947.

Qantas acquired Australian Airlines on 14 September 1992, in preparation for its closure on 30 April 1994. Subsequent to the merger, TAA/Australian's Boeing Customer Number '76' was replaced by the Qantas Customer Number '38' for all subsequent Boeing aircraft deliveries commencing with the Boeing 737-838.

The majority of the Australian Airlines branding was removed during the merger and replaced with Qantas identities e.g. The Flight Deck Lounge became The Qantas Club, with the sole remaining identity – The Australian Way (inflight) magazine rebranded as The Qantas Magazine in 2016.

In October 2002, Qantas revived the Australian Airlines brand as a full-service carrier, targeting the low-cost leisure market and flying primarily out of Cairns and Bali. This airline was disbanded in 2006 and assets absorbed back into the Qantas group