What Happened To Ansett Australia?

When picturing today’s Australian airline market, flag carrier Qantas stands out as the biggest player. Alongside the ‘Flying Kangaroo,’ carriers such as REX and Virgin Australia also have a presence down under. However, less than two decades ago, it was home to another prominent airline, namely Ansett Australia. But what happened to this carrier?

Ansett Australia Boeing 747
Ansett’s largest aircraft were its Boeing 747s. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Where did it all start?

Reginald Ansett formed Ansett Airways as an expansion of his existing road transport business in 1935. This was an area in which he had already enjoyed significant success, having become a serious competitor to Victorian Railways. The airline began operating its first service the following year, flying a Fokker Universal between Hamilton and Melbourne.

After the Second World War, the airline was able to expand its fleet by converting surplus Douglas C-47 aircraft to passenger-carrying DC-3s. In 1957, Ansett acquired Australian National Airways, and was known as Ansett-ANA until 1968. After this, it was renamed Ansett Airlines of Australia, and became known by the shortened ‘Ansett Australia.’

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Ansett 737
Ansett only began flying internationally in its last 15 years of operations. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Having operated as a domestic-focused airline for half a century, Ansett expanded its operations to New Zealand in 1987. Further international services to Asian destinations such as Bali, Osaka, and Hong Kong followed in the early 1990s. However, troubled waters were not far away.

A diverse fleet

Ansett operated a comparatively limited route network that did not extend beyond Asia. Despite this, it still flew an interesting and diverse range of aircraft. At the time of its collapse, Ansett’s fleet featured both turboprop-powered planes and jetliners.

At one end of the scale, there were regional aircraft such as the Fokker F27 ‘Friendship.’ At the middle of the spectrum, Ansett sat on the fence in the Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 family debate by flying both of these popular narrowbodies. It branded the latter ‘Ansett Skystar.’

Ansett Boeing 747
Ansett promoted the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney with a special livery on one of its Boeing 747s.       Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, Ansett was also no stranger to widebody aircraft for its longer and busier routes. It was operating two varieties (the -200 and -300) of Boeing’s twin-aisle 767 family at the time of its collapse. However, its flagship aircraft were its Boeing 747s, of which it flew both the -300 and -400 variants. It evocatively branded its jumbos as the ‘Ansett Spaceship.’

The end of the line

In one respect, Ansett was ahead of its time – it operated mystery flights. These services with an unknown destination have recently enjoyed a renaissance within Australia. International travel is still prohibited due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As such, its citizens are embracing domestic travel, which Qantas has latched onto with mystery flights.

However, such forward thinking was not enough to save the airline. By 2000, Ansett was losing $1.3 million a day despite having been acquired by Air New Zealand. The losses arose due to factors such as intense competition, high staffing costs, and an aging fleet including several grounded Boeing 767s that could not fly due to maintenance issues.

Ansett Boeing 767
An Ansett 767 being scrapped at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Photo: Alan Radecki via Wikimedia Commons

The 9/11 attacks in September 2001 rocked the aviation industry as a whole, and also came at a bad time for Ansett. Just a day later, the carrier was refused a bailout by the Australian government, despite their counterparts across the Tasman Sea saving Air New Zealand. On September 14th, 2001, Ansett and its subsidiaries had their fleets grounded. This put around 16,000 employees out of work, sparking the largest mass job loss in Australian history.

The airline eventually recommenced limited operations that October using its Airbus A320 fleet. However, it was unable to make this venture sustainable, and its final-ever commercial flight landed in Sydney from Perth on March 5th, 2002. This brought an end to just over 66 years of operations at Ansett Australia, with some aircraft reclaimed, and others scrapped.

What are your memories of Ansett Australia? Which of its routes and aircraft did you fly on back in the day? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.