This blog post is dedicated to Robert Higgs. Thanks for the extremely generous support Robert.
We have already discussed the ongoing battle between the government owned Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) and the privately owned Australian National Airways (ANA), and how the latter was eventually taken over by Reg Ansett's airline to form Ansett-ANA and went on to purchase Electras, in 4 earlier blog posts:
Suffice to say the position of the Australian industry at the end of the 1950s was unique even in a heavily regulated and protectionist world market. The government craved sustainability and stability above all else and saw no place for competition and initiative. To achieve this it went to extravagant lengths like the 1958 Airlines Equipment Bill, by which it was able to determine for itself in detail the aircraft the airlines could operate, where they could operate and the route capacities they were allowed. This enabled Ansett to create guaranteed profits, which pleased Reg Ansett enough to offset any concerns about a loss of freedom. Besides he would prove to be formidable at manipulating the government to his own company's benefit. For TAA, which although government owned had always been a dynamic pioneering airline, the benefits were less clear.
One aspect that continuously bothered the government was the perceived disparity between the existing fleets of TAA and Ansett. As 1959 began TAA had the advantage with its substantial fleet of Viscounts over Ansett's piston fleet of DC-6s and DC-6BS that it had inherited from ANA. Air travel was growing particularly in the area of tourist oriented coach class travel. TAA ran separate aircraft in first and second class configuration whilst Ansett's larger DC-6s could be operated in a mixed class config. TAA's turboprop advantage was about to disappear as Ansett had cunningly achieved earlier delivery slots for its Electras and Viscount 800s. Fortunately for TAA this advantage was short-lived and its own Electras, Viscount 800s and F27s arrived from April onwards.
The huge growth of tourist class operations now favoured Ansett which had surplus DC-6s in service now the Electras had come online on the premier routes. The pair of standard DC-6s (VH-INV and INW) were both sold in 1960 however the newer and more capable DC-6BS continued in service. The DC-6Bs larger size gave them more flexibility to operate mixed class services and Ansett-ANA began routes, like those to Townsville and Cairns in March 1959, with fares 30-35% less than first class. TAA's smaller Viscounts weren't really suitable for a two class layout though the airline tried it nonetheless.
The government was not however keen on any show of what is considered potentially 'uneconomic competition' and mid-1959 it made its 'Determination No1'. This laid out specifically which aircraft both carriers were allowed to operate. TAA had an all turbine powered fleet of 25 aircraft whilst Ansett had only 14 turboprops plus 13 piston props (including 4 DC-6Bs). By February 1960 the government found that the passenger growth rate wasn't the 7% it had envisaged but was 27% and a renewed determination was required.
Not happy with the disposition of aircraft the new determination went to the extreme and attempted to force fleet parity on the airlines. With a greater number of turboprops this could only impact TAA negatively and that it did. TAA was forced to cross-charter two of Ansett-ANA's four DC-6Bs and send three of its Viscount 700s over to Ansett. At the same time TAA was reluctantly forced to cut its marketshare on the Perth routes from 59% to 51.5%. The cross-charter agreement was signed on February 26, 1960. It was perhaps no surprise that the two DC-6BS that TAA was given were Ansett's oldest pair VH-INH and INU.
The impact on TAA was immediate. Their fleet suffered a net loss of 1 aircraft, which had been used to provide extra flights at peak times, and the capacity restrictions increased Ansett's load factor by 6-7%. Altogether TAA lost 2% of the market and saw its total market share drop from 55-52%. The opposition Labor party saw the act as a means to weaken the government owned airline, whilst even Reg Ansett said he'd have preferred to have sold the DC-6s and bought another Electra. In this he may have been being disingenuous since the value of the aircraft on the seconds market was actually less than he still owed on them! Internally within TAA there was anger and protest but little that could be done. TAA staff saw it as yet another example of them proving that they were the better airline.
The cross-charter agreement didn't come to an end until August 29, 1966 when the 4 DC-6Bs were retired. Despite the injustice of the agreement the DC-6Bs had proven reliable earners for both airlines. By this time however with the Boeing 727-100 in the fleet and Douglas DC-9s on order the DC-6s were thoroughly obsolete. Despite that both the returned cross leased aircraft were hastily pressed back into service with Ansett until May 1967, partially to cover for the crash of one of their Viscounts.
Interestingly in 1963 both airlines saw fit to acquire a single extra DC-6B. Ansett sourced an ex-United aircraft whilst TAA acquired one that had served with the US Supplemental carrier North American. This latter aircraft, VH-TAD, became the only DC-6B not to have served with Ansett and to have only seen service with the government carrier.
Most of the DC-6Bs would see further airline careers with one (VH-INT) lasting seemingly until the year 2000 in Africa, amply illustrating the rugged efficiency of the big piston liner.
Gunn, John. Contested Skies: Trans-Australian Airlines 1946-1992
Checkout AussieAirliners.com for detailed operational histories of the DC-6s
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: