As part of Reg Ansett's deal to takeover ANA he wanted to acquire four of Lockheed's new L-188 Electra turboprops. TAA itself however was as usual one step ahead and was in 1957 getting an extension on two options for Sud-Aviation's jet Caravelle. It was recognised that both types would solve the problems associated with servicing the long routes to Perth. However the Australian National Airlines Commission, under which TAA operated, had concluded that the Caravelle would cost GBP400,000 less to acquire and put into service, plus its estimated direct operating costs would be 15% lower than the Electras. Not only that but it was much faster and could operate the roundtrip Sydney-Adelaide-Perth run in under 12 hours compared to 13 for the Electra. Plus the Caravelle was already flying and didn't require any exchange of expensive US dollars. TAA accordingly requested an order for 2 Caravelles but did take a back up option on a pair of Electras too. Delivery of the Caravellles would be in 1960 and the Electras were scheduled for 1959.
Unfortunately common sense rarely equated to government decisions surrounding airline operations in Australia. In March 1958 the Federal Cabinet rejected both Ansett-ANA's request for Electras and TAA's for Caravelles. The government wanted stability and thought the larger Viscount 800 adequate for the airline's needs. It saw larger and faster turbine equipment as the start of a competitive race which would destabilise the economy of the airlines.
The Government was using the Airline Agreement Act to arbitrarily decide equipment choices - something that it wasn't designed for. Its decision was widely criticised. Worse the government was open to reconsideration of Ansett's case but seemingly not TAA's.
There were however other factors favouring the Electra. Qantas wanted to order 5 of the turboprops for its secondary routes and the early availability made it possible to sell off Qantas' Constellation fleet at good value, whilst the Electra's engines were the same as used by the RAAF's C-130 Hercules transports making the provision of special engine overhaul facilities practical.
Both Ansett and TAA were called into meetings with the government and though the Caravelle was not criticised it was clear that TAA had to find an alternative. TAA weren't happy but there was little they could do other than suggest they were willing to accept Electras as an interim type and that they may still seek approval for Caravelles in the future. On May 23 the government gave both airlines approval to order two Electras each. The climbdown was widely perceived as a government backdown to Ansett and surrendered TAA's pioneering equipment philosophy. Reg Ansett meanwhile came out of it with his reputation for wheeling and dealing enhanced.
Gunn, John. Contested Skies: Trans-Australian Airlines 1946-1992
Checkout AussieAirliners.com for detailed operational histories of the Electras
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: