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KENDELL, Donald Moreton (1930-2001)

KENDELL, Donald Moreton (1930-2001)

Don Kendall.

Don Kendall.

Airline founder, barnstormer and farmer, Don Kendell was one of the luminaries of Australian aviation and established one of the most popular regional airlines in Australia.

He transferred from Osborne Public School to the Geelong College where he was a day student from 1943 to 1945, presumably then living with Mrs G H Moreton who was listed in the School Enrolment Register as his guardian. In 1945 at the age of 15 he returned to help on the family farm at Lockhart, NSW. By his own admission he was a ‘poor student’ and took the first opportunity he could to ‘drop out of school’.

He saw his first aircraft in the Riverina in 1937 and in an interview commented that ‘I decided then that I wanted to be an aeroplane driver’. This he achieved in 1950 when he started work with barnstormer Eric Condon flying Tiger Moths around country towns charging £1 for 20 minute flights. In about 1955 he went to England and, after several attempts to pass the instrument rating test for his pilot’s licence, eventually succeeded. Shortly after Don Kendell became a trainee with British European Airways (BEA). Initially, he flew with BEA’s Scottish Aerial Ambulance Service and it was through this work that he met his future wife Eilish. After marrying, the couple returned to Australia and Don farmed at Lockhart before purchasing another farming venture at Albany, WA which he sold in 1965 to finance his foray into the aviation industry.

Premier Aviation at Wagga’s Forest Hill Airport was to become the commercial foundation of his later move into passenger transport. In 1971, he financed a twin engined Piper Navajo and commenced regular passenger flights from Wagga to Melbourne. To celebrate the re-birth of his airline he changed the name of the company to Kendell Airlines. Soon his regional services included routes to Griffith, Canberra and Merimbula and by 1982 to Warrnambool, Portland, Mildura, King Island, Wynyard and Mt Gambier.

Despite recessions, intense competition from other regional airlines and airline de-regulation Kendell Airlines survived and prospered and by 1992, its fleet included six Saab 340s and eight Fairchild Metroliners. Its reputation as a regional airline had grown to such an extent that Kendell won the award as best regional airline sponsored by ‘Air Transport World’. De-regulation and industry pressure forced Don Kendell to sell his remaining holdings to Ansett Airlines in 1990 although he retained a mainly non-executive role in the airline for several years after. By the time of the Ansett - Air New Zealand debacle in 2001, Kendell Airlines fleet had grown to 23 Saab 340s and Metro 23s and 12 CRJ 2000 jets, carrying about two million passengers a year across five states.

Gerry Carman in an Age newspaper account described Kendell as ‘a laconic yet colorfully colloquial character with a turn of phrase that belied an acute business mind and desperate determination. With a rugged face framed in a refined bushranger-like beard and a voice hewn from granite’ . Kendell epitomized an adventurous pioneering past which aviation is unlikely to experience again.

'Don' Kendell was inducted into the Old Geelong Collegians' Association (OGCA) Notables Gallery at Geelong College in October 2014.

Sources: Age Newspaper 23 January 1992 p5; Age Newspaper 16 October 2001 p7; Ad Astra July 2014 p51. OGC 1943.
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