Reg Ansett

Reg Ansett

Sir Reginald Myles Ansett KBE (13 February, 1909 - 23 December, 1981) was an Australian businessman and aviator; best known for founding Ansett Airlines one of Australia's two leading domestic airlines between 1957 and 2001. He also established a number of other business enterprises including Ansett Pioneer, Australia's leading coachlines, Ansett Road Freight and the ATV-0 television station in Melbourne which later became part of Network Ten. In late 1979, Ansett lost control of the company to Sir Peter Abeles and Rupert Murdoch with Abeles having responsibility for the transport operations and Murdoch taking over the television stations.

Early career

Reginald Myles Ansett was born in Inglewood, Victoria, on 13 February 1909. His father owned a garage before World War I when he enlisted in the AIF. After the war, Ansett's father established a knitting factory in Camberwell and Ansett gained qualifications as a knitting-machine mechanic at Swinburne Technical College.

However, Ansett went north to work as part of a Northern Territory survey team. On returning to Victoria, Ansett ran a bus service between Ballarat and Maryborough with a second-hand Studebaker.

Ansett Airlines 1936-1946

Ansett obtained a pilot's licence in 1926 (No. 419). However, his ventures into aviation did not start until Victorian Transport Minister Robert Menzies persuaded the Victorian Parliament to pass a bill prohibiting competition with Victoria Railways which meant that the bus service could no longer trade. He started an air service between Hamilton and Melbourne trading under the name of Ansett Airways Pty. Ltd in February 1936. His first aircraft was a six-seat Fokker Universal. Ansett showed good timing as the Federal Government started subsidising airlines. Reg Ansett won the Brisbane to Adelaide air race in 1937.

Reg Ansett listed the company on the Melbourne Stock Exchange in 1937, established his headquarters at Essendon Airport and expanded services to Adelaide and Broken Hill. Ansett brought three Lockheed Electra 10a aircraft causing considerable strain on company finances. Australian National Airways (ANA) made a takeover bid for Ansett which could not afford to pay customs duties on its aircraft and this bid was supported by Ansett's chairman Ernest O'Sullivan. However, Reg Ansett persuaded shareholders to back him and invest more money in the business.

During World War II, Ansett was forced to abandon all of its regular routes except the route between Hamilton and Melbourne. However, he obtained plenty of charter work especially for the US armed forces based in Australia during the Pacific War. This work ensured that Ansett had plenty of cash after the war.

In 1943, the Federal Department of Civil Aviation released a discussion paper "". It led to the passage of the "National Airlines Act" which established a government owned airline Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) competing on major routes with ANA while other airlines such as Ansett flying on regional routes. This policy became known as the Two-airline policy.

Reg Ansett built an estate at Mount Eliza in 1939 and married Joan McAuliffe Adams in 1944. He had three daughters (Jill, Janet, and Jane) and two sons including Bob Ansett who founded Budget Rent a Car which became Australia's biggest car rental company.

Postwar Expansion 1946-1956

Both the coachline and road freight businesses were highly successful businesses and by 1962, Pioneer Coaches was running 245 buses throughout the country. In 1956, Ansett established an airfreight business using Carvair nose-loading aircraft.

Ansett was the first Australian airline to move into the package holiday business. In 1947, Ansett started offering services to resorts on the Great Barrier Reef using Catalina flying boats. These services established the Great Barrier Reef as a destination for tourists.

Takeover and consolidation of ANA 1957-1969

In 1957, Sir Ivan Holyman, who was the principal of ANA, died. Reg Ansett saw an opportunity and bought ANA which he merged with his own airline to form Ansett-ANA. Ansett acquired ANA's fleet of Douglas DC-6's and acquired six Vickers Viscounts in order to better compete with TAA. After the acquisition, Reg Ansett suddenly became a firm supporter of the two-airline policy. It became more restrictive after the passage of the "Airlines Equipment Act" in 1958 prescribing what aircraft each airline could buy and much else besides. Reg Ansett had advocated the act to stop TAA from buying French Caravelle aircraft which would have been the first jets imported into Australia.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Ansett purchased a number of regional airlines including MacRobertson Miller, Guinea Airways, and Butler Air Transport. Ansett also offered services to New Guinea. In 1964, Reg Ansett would import the first Boeing 727's following a coin toss with the managing director of TAA as to which company would import them first. In 1968, Reg Ansett changed the name of Ansett-ANA to Ansett. By 1969, Ansett had become Australia's leading domestic airline and its market share would rise as high as 55%.

Reg Ansett expanded his business interests into television in the 1960s. In April 1963, his Austarama Television company was granted a television license to operate Melbourne's third commercial television station ATV-0, starting constructing studios in Nunawading a few months later. ATV-0's first official broadcast was on August 1, 1964. Ansett expanded his television interests to become a major shareholder in Universal Telecasters, licencees of TVQ-0 Brisbane, in 1965 and buying out the station entirely in 1970.

Reg Ansett was knighted in 1969. [ [ It's an Honour] - Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire] At that point, he was managing director of Australia's biggest airline and the biggest transport company in the southern hemisphere. Because of its regional services, Ansett was the world's biggest operator of Fokker Friendships.

Challenges in the 1970s

In 1972, Peter Abeles' Thomas Nationwide Transport launched a takeover bid for Ansett Transport Industries. This bid was thwarted with the assistance of Victorian Premier Sir Henry Bolte. This was due to both a longstanding friendship between Bolte and Reg Ansett and that Bolte was keen to save a Victorian company from being taken over by a NSW firm. After Bolte's retirement, he would become a director of Ansett Transport Industries.

Reg Ansett's views on women in aviation were widely viewed as sexist. He once described stewardesses over 30 as "old boilers" and claimed that women were unsuitable to be pilots because of their menstrual cycles. In the 1970's, Deborah Jane Wardley took the company to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board for discrimination. Wardley was a charter pilot who claimed that she was better qualified to be hired than other male pilots that had been hired. Ansett claimed that they hadn't discriminated against her because she was a woman but because she had the potential to fall pregnant. On June 29, 1979, the Equal Opportunity Board ruled in favour of Wardley and directed that Ansett should recruit her at the next intake. In November 1979 Wardley started work but the company tried to find cause to dismiss her before the airline tried to dismiss her.

In late 1979, Abeles and Rupert Murdoch launched a successful takeover of Ansett Transport Industries. Under the new management structure, Abeles and Murdoch would be joint managing directors with Reg Ansett as chairman. Murdoch would take over ATV-0 and merge with TEN-10 in Sydney to effectively give him control of what is now the Ten Network. Abeles would merge the freight operations with TNT and run the airline.

In 1980, Ansett sold TVQ-0 to a joint venture between petrol company Ampol and Sydney radio station 2SM.

Reg Ansett died on 23 December 1981. Ansett went bankrupt in 2001 following a series of poor management decisions by the Abeles-Murdoch duopoly and later owners Air New Zealand. Respected aviation writer Tom Ballantyne said in 2002: "While Sir Reg Ansett laid the groundwork for a national icon, Sir Peter Abeles took it by the scruff of the neck and laid the groundwork for disaster."

References and further reading

*Adrian Magee, "Reg Ansett: Aviation Tycoon", Heinemann Port Melbourne, 1997
*Jon Davison and Tom Allibone, "Beneath Southern Skies: Celebrating 100 Years of Australian Aviation" Lothian Books South Melbourne 2003
*Australian Geographic, "The Australian Encylopædia" 6th edition, Terrey Hills, 1996 articles on Sir Reginald Myles Ansett and Ansett Australia

External links

* [ Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum]
* [ The Ansett Family on ABC TV's Dynasties]
** [ Synopsis]
** [ Timeline]
** [ Full Episode Transcript]
* [ The Rise of Civil Aviation to 1970 by Australian Heritage Commission]
* [ Ansett 17 February 1936 - 5 March 2002 History]
* [ "Some Inspirational People"] Profiled by Laurence MacDonald Muir.

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