1985: Australia’s Premiere Regional Airline Gets a Powerful New Plane

February 25, 1985

In Australia, a major milestone for Kendell Airlines took place when that record-setting regional airline in Australia, added the twin-engine turboprop aircraft Saab 340 to its fleet. These 34-seat civilian planes, which had made their public debut only two years earlier, were built by the Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab AB for use in non-stop flights that are three to six hours in duration. (Saab AG was established in 1937 and, from 1945 to 1990, it was the parent company of the now-defunct car manufacturer Saab Automobile AB.)

With its acquisition of a Saab 340, Kendell Airlines became the first airline in the entire Southern Hemisphere to own and operate this state-of-the-art aircraft. That acquisition also further strengthened the status of both Kendell Airlines and its founder as formidable forces in the regional flight industry not only in Australia but throughout the world.

Don Kendell (photo courtesy of Australian Aviation Hall of Fame)

Don Kendell had been born in the port city of Geelong in the Australian state of Victoria in 1930. He developed a strong fascination with human flight while growing up in a rural section of the state of New South Wales (NSW). At the age of seven, Kendell even ran barefoot for nearly a mile (1.6 kilometers) through a field teeming with saffron thistles just so he could see a biplane take to the skies.

In 1949, Kendell obtained his pilot’s license after he took flying lessons in the NSW city of Wagga Wagga. He subsequently spent some time serving in the Citizens Air Force (a collective name for reserve units of the Royal Australian Air Force) and flying de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth biplanes in the western section of Victoria.

Kendell took his strong interest in aviation to a whole new level in 1965 when he and his wife Eilish became part of a small flying enterprise in Wagga Wagga. The Kendells soon bought out their partners in that enterprise and then – with two Piper PA-28 Cherokee planes as their fleet – set up a company called Premiair Aviation. This company was incorporated in 1967 and renamed Kendell Airlines three years later.

As a regional airline in Australia, Kendell Airlines thrived in a segment of the transportation sector with a notoriously high failure rate. This success was due to Don Kendell’s considerable business savvy and ironclad determination, combined with his firm commitment to dependable, frequent flight service for various regions within the Land Down Under.

By the late 1970s, Kendell Airlines was experiencing a much larger-than-before expansion of routes and aircraft. The acquisition of Saab 340 planes starting in 1985 reflected this growth, and so had the company’s purchase of de Havilland DH.114 Heron and Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner planes in 1979. In 1986, Kendell Airlines took over the routes of Airlines of South Australia (a subsidiary of Ansett Airlines). This acquisition nearly doubled Kendell Airline’s network of routes.

In the course of the 1990s, Kendell Airlines went beyond its headquarters at Wagga Wagga Airport to also establish operating bases at Sydney Airport and Albury Airport, both likewise located in NSW; and Devonport Airport in the state of Tasmania. In addition, Kendell Airlines became a subsidiary of Ansett Airlines during the decade. This development enabled Kendell Airlines to become Australia’s largest regional carrier, employing 900 people at one point and transporting an average of one million passengers per year via a total of 1,000 flights each week.

The Australian government’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority designated Kendell Airlines as the best national airline in 1990. Air Transport World, a trade magazine published in Washington, D.C., and focused on the global air transportation industry, named Kendell Airlines as one of the regional airlines of the year in 1992. Don Kendell, who retired as managing director of his namesake company in 1997, also received several major recognitions for his contributions to aviation. He was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1992 and received an honorary doctorate of business from Australian multi-campus public university Charles Sturt University in 2001.

With Ansett Airlines experiencing major financial woes in 2001 that would ultimately lead to its demise, Kendell Airlines merged with fellow Australian regional carrier Hazelton Airlines to form the present-day Regional Express Airlines. Don Kendell died in Wagga Wagga that same year at the age of 71.

For more information on Kendell Airlines and its founder Don Kendell, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Kendell and http://www.rex.com.au/AboutRex/OurCompany/kendell.aspx.

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