|Last updated 17 July 2023
|COCOS ISLANDS AIRPORT
A pictorial history of this Indian Ocean island airport which played an important role in international air services
Compiled by Geoff Goodall
Qantas Lockheed Super Constellation VH-EAI "Southern Sun" being refuelled at Cocos Islands Airport circa 1957
operating the scheduled service between Sydney and Johannesburg. Photo: Civil Aviation Historical Society
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands, usually referred to as "Cocos Islands"or
just "Cocos", is small Indian Ocean island group. The
sociological history of the islands, the Malayan coconut plantation
workers and the ruling British Clunies-Ross family makes fascinating
reading. In 1955 British administration from Singapore ended and The
Cocos (Keeling) Islands became Australian Territory.
Cocos Islands' location halfway between Perth and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) resulted in a Cable Station being built in 1901 with telegraphic links to Perth, Ceylon, Batavia (Jakarta), Singapore and Mauritius via undersea cable. As one of the few populated islands across the northern Indian Ocean, its strategic importance for international air travel was recognised by pioneer Australian aviator Captain P.G.Taylor who lobbied the Government to finance an expedition to survey a flying boat route from Australia to East Africa and Britain in the event the existing route via Singapore was cut. His prediction was to prove correct when Singapore fell to Japanese attack in January 1942, however no action had had been taken on his recommendations to establish airline flying boat facilities in Western Australia and Cocos.
P. G. Taylor's Indian Ocean survey flight in June 1939 was the first aeroplane to be seen at Cocos Islands. It was a Consolidated 28-3 flying boat, civil predecessor to the military PBY- Catalina series. NC777 named Guba was owned by Dr. Richard Archbold of New York and was in Sydney following an American Museum of Natural History Expedition in New Guinea. Using his considerable personal influence, Captain Taylor negotiated to hire NC777 with its American crew for his Indian Ocean survey for which he would be the navigator.
The epic expedition flew Sydney-Port Hedland-Batavia-Cocos Islands-Diego Garcia-Mahe, Seychelles-Mombassa, Kenya.
At Cocos the flying boat was landed on a lagoon off Direction Island and Taylor spent a week surveying sites for flying boat operations and a land airfield.
First aircraft to visit Cocos was this Consolidated 28-3 flying boat NC777 "Guba"on an Indian ocean survey flight June 1939.
It is pictured at Williamstown boat harbour while visiting Melbourne the previous November to have its troublesome Sperry
auto-pilot serviced by Australian National Airways instrument technicians. Photo: Civil Aviation Historical Society
|World War II: Royal Air Force builds an airfield
During the desperate evacuation of allied forces from the Netherlands
East Indies ahead of Japanese advances, Dutch Navy (MLD) Catalinas
flew to Ceylon where they formed RAF No.321 (Dutch) Squadron. In
February 1942 an MLD Catalina bound for Ceylon carrying a remarkable 66
persons on board was forced to divert to Cocos seeking fuel. Its hull
was holed when it struck a rock while taxying on the lagoon, but was
pulled to the shore by a hundred Malay workers whi helped the crew deal
the tear withcement and washing soda. In June 1942
five MLD Catalinas which had reached Australia were ferried by their
Dutch crews to Ceylon to join their colleagues in 321 Squadron. The
five refuelled at the US Navy base at Exmouth Gulf WA and three needed
to land at Cocos
Islands to take on more fuel.
Qantas Empire Airways commenced its secret wartime Order of The Double Sunrise Catalina service Perth-Ceylon non-stop (average flight time 29 hours) in June 1943. The Indian Ocean crossing was done in radio silence and although passing close to Cocos Islands, landing there was too great a risk from Japanese air patrols. Nevertherless four landings are recorded by the QEA Catalinas to drop off or collect essential personnel. On one of these visits in February 1944 QEA Catalina G-AGFL was caught on the lagoon by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft which dropped several bombs which fell wide of their mark.
Meanwhile British military wartime planning included a forward air base
Indian Ocean to join the Allied bombing offensive against SE Asian
Japanese installations. Cocos was selected as the best location, no
influenced by P.G.Taylor's survey report. In March 1945 a shipping
convoy left India bound for Cocos carrying airfield construction
equipment and a force of British and Indian army, navy and
airforce personnel to build an airfield on West Island. Work commenced
by clearing thousands of coconut palms, with a negotiated compensation
payment per tree to the ruling Clunies Ross family. The single
runway had a Perforated Steel Planking (PSP) matting surface and the
new airfield was named RAF Staging Post (Cocos Islands).
When the construction was nearing completion, on 29 June 1945 Allied Air Commander South East Asia, Air Marshall Sir Keith Park arrived from India by RAF Sunderland to inspect the new airfield and talks with the Clunies-Ross family to finalise the terms for the use of West Island as an airfield. The first operational sortie was made on 3 July when a RAF Mosquito squadron began photo-reconnaisance missions over Sumatra, Malaya and Singapore.
RAF Liberator, Spitfire and Catalina units also operated there. A detachment of RAAF No.87 Squadron Mosquitos was based at Cocos during June 1945 for photo-reconnaissance missions over Singapore. Following V-J Day, British operations were withdrawn and the airfield was decommissioned in early 1946.
Liberator bombers on the newy-constructed airfield at Cocos Islands in
Imperial War Museum
|British and Indian Army troops worked in sweltering tropical conditions to construct the airfield. Note the Catalinas at rear.
|RAF 1667 Flight Spitfire under assembly
at Cocos 1945.
Imperial War Museum
|Early post-war Qantas flights
BOAC and Qantas Empire Airways were anxious to renew their shared London-Sydney service cut by the war. The previous 9 day Short C Class "Empire" flying boat schedule could be reduced to a third of that time by using high speed Avro Lancastrians. The Lancastrian service commenced in June 1945, QEA crews flying Sydney-Gawler-Learmonth-Colombo-Karachi. The newly-built Cocos Islands RAF airfield was a comforting alternate for the Indian Ocean crossing and became a scheduled refuelling stop in January 1946 when routing changed to Karachi-Colombo-Cocos-Perth-Gawler-Sydney.
QEA Liberators G-AGKT, G-AGKU and G-AGTI supplemented the Lancastrians with a Sydney-Perth-Cocos-Colombo return weekly schedule. This interim Indian Ocean route was scheduled to finish in April 1946 when war damage renovations allowed Qantas to resume the original Kangaroo route via Darwin and Singapore with more comfortable airliners. Tragically one of the very last Lancastrian services was lost between Colombo and Cocos Islands: on 24 March 1946, G-AGLX under the command of highly experienced QEA Captain O.F.Y. Thomas lost radio contact and no trace has ever been found of the aircraft or the ten persons on board.
Avro Lancastrian G-AGLS (in temporary RAF markings VD328 radio callsign OKZS) arrives Sydney 17 April 1945 on delivery to Qantas.
Lancastrians operated a fast 5 day mail and passenger service to London after the route had been cut during WWII.
John Hopton Collection
Empire Airways Liberator G-AGKT refuelling at Learmonth WA
1945. Geoff Goodall collection
After April 1946 the Cocos Islands airfield, RAF buildings and
installations were decommissioned and left to deteriorate
in the tropical weather. However Qantas management in Sydney knew
Cocos was the key to their proposed Australia-South Africa service. A
refuelling point midway across the Indian Ocean was essential for
their newly-ordered Lockheed Constellations to operate to South Africa on a route Sydney-Perth-Mauritius-Johannesburg.
An initial route proving flight was conducted by Captain Lewis Ambrose in Lancastrian VH-EAS in November 1948, carrying a party of Qantas, DCA, MET and Shell Oil Co officials. Prior to the flight, senior QEA Captain R.B.Tapp was taken from Singapore to Cocos by RAF Sunderland flying boat to inspect the disused runway. He reported that the metal PSP matting was badly rusted with vegetation growing through and recommended the Lancastrian use the parallel taxiway which ran in front of the Tower building. Flight Navigator Jim Cowan later recalled:
"When we did touch down at Cocos, as we hurtled down the narrow coral-paved taxiway I was sure we were going to strip our wingtip off against the old RAF Control Tower. However there was plenty of room and our landing run was without incident. Our stay at Cocos proved a great experience because, with the total absence of staff or accommodation, we stayed at "Government House", the Clunies-Ross homestead on Home Island. That evening our Lancastrian party of 12 sat down with the Cable Station personnel as guests for a magnificent Indonesian curry repast served by a retinue of well-ordered servants. I remember the excited faces of the people outside peering through the open sash windows into the dining room. Next morning we watched a flotilla of 50 to 100 white-sailed dugout canoes sail off across the lagoon in various directions to commence the day's work in the vast coconut plantations that covered the islands.
The Lancastrian crew were taken by boat to the Cable Station on Direction Island to obtain the aviation weather forecast and transmit their flight plan for the next sector to Mauritius. While they refuelled the aircraft from 44 gallon drums using a hand wobble-pump, Captain Ambrose inspected the PSP runway and was satisfied it was safe to use. VH-EAS departed that night with flares down each side of the runway. The proving flight continued to Johannesburg for a week's talks with Government officials before returning to Sydney via Cocos, taking 81 flying hours, 29 hours at night. The Lancastrian and its Rolls Royce Merlins had performed flawlessly.
|Airfield reconstruction 1951-1952
By 1951 Qantas had finalised all the international agreements to allow
it to commence the South African service. The Australian Government
agreed to fund
the upgrading of the Cocos Islands airfield to handle Qantas Lockheed
Super Constellations. The strategic importance of an Australian
airfield in the Indian Ocean for national defence was also recognised.
Accordingly the Commonwealth of Australia purchased from the Clunies
Ross Estate 367 acres of land on West Island, ecompassing the area of
the original RAF airfield. RAAF No.2 Airfield Construction Squadron was
assigned the task of constructing an airfield to Australian Department
of Civil Aviation specifications.
To assess the scope of work required, Qantas was chartered to carry a team of RAAF and DCA airfield construction officials to Cocos. The wartime runway was considered to be unserviceable so a Qantas Consolidated PB2B-2 Catalina flying boat VH-EBA was prepared for the flight. Because aviation fuel was not available at Cocos, the route was Sydney (Rose Bay)-Brisbane-Darwin-Djakarta-Cocos-Djakarta-Australia, to allow sufficient fuel to be taken on at Djakarta for the return flight to Cocos. The Catalina departed Sydney on 25 May 1951 under the command of Captain Len Grey. The outbound flight required a pre-dawn flare path takeoff from Darwin Harbour. The party remained at Cocos 30 May-12 June while the airfield survey was carried out.
Later in 1951 the RAAF construction group with heavy earthmoving equipment was deployed to Cocos by sea from Perth to
West Island where 7,000 tons of equipment and supplies were manually unloaded by landing barges.
|May-June 1951, the next aviation event at Cocos was the arrival of Qantas Catalina VH-EBA from Sydney with a airfield
construction party to survey the disused airfield to assess the works needed to upgrade it for international airline use.
Photo: Civil Aviation Historical Society
abandoned RAF Tower bullding and taxiway photographed by the Catalina
survey party in June 1951.
1951 survey documented abandoned RAF barracks and buildings like this
one behind the control
RAF chapel was being reclaimed by the the tropical vegetation by 1951.
Civil Aviation Historical Society
airfield construction crews at work
Civil Aviation Historical Society
|First aircraft to land during the airfield construction was Lancastrian VH-EAT on 1 February 1952, Captain John Morton.
Qantas Heritage Centre
After the runway was completed, construction continued on taxiways, buildings and the many installations required for an
international airport. From March 1952 Qantas operated a fortnighty DC-4 charter Melbourne-Perth-Cocos-Singapore
return, carrying personnel and supplies for the airfield construction group. Civil Aviation Historical Society
|Cocos Islands Airport "The Aerial Crossroads of the Indian Ocean"
Airfield preparation was completed in July 1952. Qantas had
passenger-handling and aircraft refuelling facilities ready, DCA
had an Aeradio (later renamed Flight Service Unit) communications
centre in the renovated RAF Tower building plus airport fire fighting
and rescue service, including a high powered sea rescue launch. A
proving flight for the long-planned Qantas Lockheed L.749 Constellation
Australia-Cocos-Johannesburg service was made by Captain Ken Jackson in
VH-EAD, departing Sydney on 25 July and reaching Johannesberg four days
later. This was followed by the official launch of the unaugural
passenger service which departed Sydney on 1 September 1952, again
VH-EAD commanded by Captain Jackson. The aircraft returned to Sydney on
schedule on 9 September, having taken 74 flying hours for the round trip
Shortly after, when the fortnightly DC-4 charter courier Perth-Cocos-Singapore return was discontinued, Qantas changed the route to a sheduled airline service Perth-Cocos-Djakarta-Singapore return, connecting with the South Africa service at Cocos.
Cocos Islands Airport settled down to a routine of transiting Qantas flights and occasional visiting aircraft making refuelling stops.
|Lockheed L.749 Constellation VH-EAD flew the inaugural Qantas service to South Africa via Cocos in September 1952.
The passenger hostel can be seen in this view at Cocos. Richard Harrington via Civil Aviation Historical Society
Qantas Indian Ocean airline
Map courtesy Tony McGrath
|During 1955 Qantas replaced the L.749s with L.1049C Super Constellations on the South African service.
Here passengers disembark from VH-EAI "Southern Sun"on an early morning arrival at Cocos. CAHS
|Cocos Islands Airport passenger terminal in 1955. Note the circular ashtrays.
traffic officers stationed on Cocos 1955: l-r Len Ellis, Ian Grant,
Charlie Tapsall. Photo:
|Qantas passenger hostel on Cocos airfield, able to accommodate a Super Constellation passenger load should an aircraft be
delayed by unserviceability or weather. The hostel included a kitchen and dining room.
|The wartime RAF Tower building was renovated for the DCA Aeradio communications unit and MET. The original roof
Tower cab was removed. Here the windows are being boarded over in driving rain from an approaching cyclone. CAHS
airport fire appliance and ambulance on standby for an aircraft
Alan Jenkins via CAHS
|DCA Crash Boat C.A.62 in its maintenance shed by
|During the 1950s fuel was shipped from Singapore in 44 gallon drums which were manually unloaded on to landing barges.
Photo by Alan Jenkins via CAHS
of empty 44 gallon fuel drums circa 1956.
Alan Jenkins via CAHS
|1960s fuel depot with modern electrical pump driven delivery of stocks of Avgas and Avtur.
|1950s Cocos visitors
|Bright red Mosquito VH-KLG refuelled 3 October 1953 en route Sydney-London to enter the London-Christchurch Air Race.
It was to be wrecked in a forced landing in Burma later that same day. All air race competitors stopped at Cocos where they
were expedititiously handled by a RAF refuelling team sent from Singapore. Photo: Max Mead
Air Force Vickers Valetta visiting from Singapore mid
1950s. Alan Jenkins via Civil Aviation
|Royal New Zealand Air Force Bristol Freighters circa 1956.
Alan Jenkins via CAHS
|RAAF Avro Lincoln,
probably on a medical emergency evacuation.
Alan Jenkins via CAHS
|Cocos had VIP visitors. In 1956 General Charles de Gaulle, future French President arrived in his personal Douglas C-54 9148.
The General, Madame de Gaulle and their party stayed overnight at the Qantas hostel. Alan Jenkins via CAHS
|Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies ands his wife Dame Pattie were passengers on a Qantas service 1957. NLA
| Enter South African Airways
| In November 1957 South African Airways (Sud Afrikaanse Lugdiens)
was ready to take up its reciprocal rights to the Australian
service using Douglas DC-7B equipment. An initial pooling arrangement
with Qantas saw SAA introduce a fortnightly return service to
Perthalternating with Qantas Super Constellations. SAA named the route The Wallaby Service to Australia.
The number of itinerant flights using Cocos was increasing as international air charter and air freight grew.
|South African Airways DC-7B at Cocos in the 1950s in the original blue and white scheme
|This atmospheric picture of a SAA DC-7B in the airline's later colour scheme was taken in July 1963 by Peter Norman's father
who went for a stroll during a Cocos refuelling stop, enroute Johannesburg to Perth then Sydney. Photo via Peter Norman
1960s: passengers wait to reboard their SAA
From 1956 Air Charter Ltd, London operated a weekly British Ministry courier between London and Woomera Rocket Range
in South Australia, initially using Avro Tudor 4B Super Traders. Most services routed via Singapore and Darwin, but when
required by weather or sensitive military cargo, they skirted Indonesia by flying Colombo-Cocos-Australia. Here Air Charter
Tudor G-AHNL is seen at Perth in December 1958 after arrival from Britain via Cocos. Geoff Goodall collection.
|Cunard Eagle Airways took over the weekly Woomera courier in 1962 with Douglas DC-6Bs, which often refuelled at Cocos.
The following year the airline reformed as British Eagle and introduced Bristol Britannias on the Woomera contract
|Monarch Airlines took over the Woomera courier in 1968 with Britannias, often routing via the Indian Ocean with refuelling
stops at Cocos or RAF Gan in the Maldives. Nigel Daw photographed G-ANCF at Adelaide on the courier run in April 1972.
The British Ministry courier to Australian was discontinued in December 1975 because of reduced Woomera projects.
|Scheduled International airline services end
Qantas replaced their Super Constellations with Lockheed L.188 Electra
turboprops on the Johannesburg route. The long route sectors
Perth-Cocos-Mauritius-Johannesburg made it a marginal operation for the
Electras: to reduce weight to carry more fuel Qantas was forced to
remove equipment such as the integral hydraulically-operated airstairs.
The inaugural Electra service was
flown by L188C VH-ECD departing Sydney on 27 April 1963. SAA continued
with their DC-7Bs.
During 1967 both Qantas and SAA introduced Boeing 707 jet airliners which could fly between Perth and Mauritius direct. This allowed Cocos Islands Airport to be dropped as an airline port and the removal of airline personnel, equipment and facilities at a significant cost saving. Qantas ended their Cocos services in April 1967, SAA the previous month. Earlier, to cover a period of DC-7B unavailability, SAA leased Trek Airways Lockheed L.1649 Starliner ZS-DVJ to operate SAA Johannesburg-Perth services via Cocos between 7 May and 28 September 1965.
|Qantas L188C Electra VH-ECD flew the inaugural Electra service Sydney-Perth-Cocos-Mauritius-Johannesburg in April 1963.
Ian McDonell collection
|Cocos (Keeling) Islands first postage stamp issue in June 1963 included a stamp highlighting the importance of the Qantas
Constellations to island life. First day cover courtesy Phil Vabre
|Trek Airways Lockheed L.1649 Starliner ZS-DVJ was leased for SAA services through Cocos during 1965.
This ultimate model of the Constellation range was photographed at Perth Airport in July 1965 by Merv Prime.
|After the airlines - Cocos serves itinerant military and civil flights
April 1967 when the airlines no longer required Cocos, the Australian
Department fo Civil Aviation continued to maintain the airport and its
services. It was an important refuelling stop for many types of of
civil and military aircraft crossing the Indian Ocean.
freight airline Trans Meridian Douglas DC-7C G-AWBI at Cocos in 1968 on
its way to Australia. Colin Hayes
Leigh Ryan sent these two photos he took during a Cocos refuelling stop on a RAAF C-130A Hercules flight from Butterworth, Malaya to
Australia in the early 1960s. During refuelling they were free to cross the runway to enjoy the scene on the island coastline
Landing Chart dated January 1969.
Aviation Historical Society
|Swing-tail Canadair CL-44s were widely used freighters 1960s-70s and regular visitors to Cocos. Two examples seen at Perth
on such flights were Tradewinds G-AWGS in April 1970 and Cargolux TF-LLI in March 1972. Geoff Goodall
|Cargolux CL-44 TF-LLI prepares to depart Perth for Cocos
on 24 March 1973.
|RAF Far East Handley Page Hastings visited Australia from Singapore during the 1960s, often routing through Cocos.
WJ337 seen at Perth on 1 June 1968 departed for home RAF Changi via Cocos later that day. Merv Prime
|RAF Britannia transports crossed the Indian Ocean to Australia usually via Cocos or RAF Gan in the Maldive Islands.
XM521 arrives Perth from Britain via Cocos on 16 February 1971. Geoff Goodall
|During 1968 Boeing EC-135N tracking aircraft operated from Cocos for the NASA Apollo space program to cover the Indian
Ocean between ground tracking stations in Australia and Africa. Seen with a KC-135A tanker and C-141A support aircraft.
This and the next three photographs were taken by Colin Hayes
|Boeing EC-135N 60-0327 departs Cocos at dusk for an Apollo space capsule tracking mission
|Lockheed C-141A 66-0134 returns to Cocos from a supplies run to Guam
|C-141A Starlifter 63-8089 in the original USAF all metallic finish
|Cocos Islands Courier Service
When the regular airline services ceased in 1967, the transfer of
Government personnel and freight consignments of equipment and routine
supplies from Australia had to be replaced. A charter agreement
was negotiated with the two domestic airlines Ansett-ANA (renamed
Ansett Airlines of Australia the following year) and Trans-Australia
Airlines to operate alternate fortnightly Melbourne-Perth-Cocos return
flights on contract to the Department of External Territories. Both were to commence using
their last remaining Douglas DC-4s in passenger configuration, TAA's
VH-TAB and Ansett-ANA's VH-INY, all other DC-4s having been converted
The first service on 11 May 1967 was flown by DC-4 VH-TAB which took 9 hours 30 minutes for the oceanic leg Perrth to Cocos. Ansett-ANA was scheduled to opeate the second return service on 25 May 1967 but their DC-4 was unavailable at that time so TAA was cross-hired to operate it. Unfortunately VH-TAB had an engine failure inbound to Cocos, resulting in a 3 delay while a replacement P&W R-2000 engine was a flown from Melbourne by DC-4 VH-TAE and installed.
In February 1968 Ansett withdrew their DC-4 VH-INY from passenger work for conversion to Cargomaster freighter and cross-hired its Cocos Island runs to TAA until the scheduled introduction of Electras later that year. Both airlines had agreed that by then their Lockheed L.188 Electra services would by sufficiently replaced by new jet airliners to allow an Electra to be diverted to the Cocos fortnightly contract. Electras replaced the DC-4 on the Cocos run from 10 September 1968 when Ansett's VH-RMA flew the route, cutting the Perth-Cocos time to under 6 hours. Improvements in every aspect of the flight were welcomed by islanders. TAA's first Electra service was VH-TLB on 1 October 1968.
From March 1971 a revised contract introduced fortnightly Boeing 727s Perth-Cocos-Perth. The previous charter leg to/from Melbourne was no longer needed. This allowed the airlines to schedule the Cocos return flight between their regular B727 passenger services to Perth, a big improvement to productivity. The first 727 service to Cocos was operated by Ansett 's VH-RMD on 11 March 1971, followed by TAA's VH-TJC on 25 March. The jets cut the ocean crossing time to 3 hours 45 minutes.
|TAA's last passenger DC-4 VH-TAB on the Melbourne-Essendon passenger terminal apron in July 1968, almost certainly
being readied for another courier service to Perth and Cocos. Photo by John Hopton
Electra VH-TLC at Cocos circa 1970.
L188 Electra on the courier service
John McMahon via Civil Aviation Historical Society
|1960s airport staff and families welcome new arrivals on the fortnightly courier flight from Perth.
|Life for airport staff
to Department of Civil Aviation radio technician Colin Hayes, we have
these views of life on Cocos for airport staff and their families in
Airport operations also required DCA electrical technicians for
electrical systems including runway lighting, mechanical technicians
for mechanical equipment including emergency power generator diesels.
DCA had staff for airfield maintenance and building work. Flight
Service Unit, Airport Fire Service and Administrative staff also rotated
on transfers from Perth.
|DCA married staff housing in 1968, a big improvement on the early refurbished RAF crew barracks
|DCA and MET families gather for their mail, just arrived on the fortnightly DC-4 from Perth
|BarBQ picnic and social baseball match USAF & NASA versus DCA & MET. The Yanks won.
|Swimming beach on West Island
|Into the 1980s: Cocos Island Animal Quarantine Station
The development of an animal quarantine station at Cocos brought a new
category of visiting aircraft: specialist livestock charter operators
delivering and collecting valuable breeding livestock and prize race
horses. An enterprising Perth family saw an opportunity and formed
Bloodstock Air Services Pty Ltd, acquiring a Boeing 727 freighter from
USA in early 1983. VH-LAP, named Phar Lap
after Australia's most famous race horse, could be quickly fitted with
the pens and equipment required to carry livestock.
In the event the 727 had much more use as freighter leased for periods
to TAA and Ansett before Bloodstock Air Services ran into financial
difficulty and ceased operations in March 1984. The 727 was sold and
returned to USA.
A variety of international air freight operators flew Boeing 727s and DC-8s between Cocos and Australia carrying livestock.
Bloodstock Air Services, Perth operated Boeing 727-25F VH-LAP during
1983-84. Seenat Melbourne in April 1983.
Turas DC-8-63CF EI-BNA taxies at Perth in February 1985 while operating
a series of livestock charters from Cocos.
|Oman Royal Flight Vickers VC-10 A4O-AB at Perth in March 1985. It departed for home via Cocos, no doubt in connection
with royal race horses under quarantine before competing at Australian race meetings. These 3 photos by Geoff Goodall
|Indian Ocean Territories Air Service contract - Christmas Island added
The Australian Government fortnightly courier contract between Perth and Cocos operated by Ansett and TAA Boeing
727s was extended to Christmas Island in June 1974 when its airport was
upgraded. Christmas Island to the north of Cocos was another British
colony administered from Singapore which became Australian Territory in
1958. Christmas Island had been heavily mined for phosphate and now had
an Indonesian-financed Casino attracting many charter flights from
Singapore and Indonesia.
The contract was now named Indian Ocean Territories Air Service. The triangular Perth-Cocos-Christmas-Perth Boeing 727 route commenced on 6 June 1974 when TAA Boeing 727 VH-TJB operated the inaugural run. It was scheduled to depart Perth at midnight after the 727 had flown a revenue service from the Eastern States. Blocks of seats were removed for emergency life rafts. TAA was the sole operator until March 1976 when Ansett joined with alternate fortnightly 727 services.
A big change came in June 1984 when pressure on the Government to drop the protectionism of the Two Airline Policy resulted in all operators being invited to submit bids for a new set of contracts for the Cocos and Christmas Islands courier. It was awarded to Ansett WA whose bid was based on using their Fokker F.28 Fellowships, but required refuelling stops at Learmonth WA. A year later the contract changed to Australian Airlines (formerly TAA) until 1989 when it was awarded to a Darwin light aircraft charter company Amann Aviation which tendered with a leased Boeing 737. Amann was embroiled in controversy and was unable to operate an effective service, withdrawing in late 1989. Ansett WA took over again, this time using their BAe146 airliners on a weekly service.
More upheaval was ahead, when in July 1992 the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder, a start-up Perth carrier established the previous year, Indian Ocean Airlines. A Lockheed L.188 Electra N351Q was acquired from USA and registered VH-IOB, but unexpected costly maintenance issues delayed its Australian certification. At the same time the Civil Aviation Safety Authority was extremely reluctant to issue an Airline Operators Certificate to new-start company with modest operational support carrying passengers over oceanic routes in a 33 year old aircraft. Indian Ocean Airlines did not get their Electra into service and were forced to sub-contract Ansett WA to operate on its behalf. The Government courier then reverted to Ansett WA which was fully integrated into Ansett Australia in 1993. Experienced Bae.146 airline operator National Jet Systems was awarded the contract from January 1998 but only a year later it was changed to niche-operator SkyAirWorld in Queensland who were to use two Embraer190 jets but the company suffered a financial collapse before services commenced. The service reverted in April 2009 for another year to National Jet which had recently rebranded as Cobham Aviation. In 2010 the current operator Virgin Australia took over with Embraer 190s, later Airbus A320. The service is licenced as RPT allowing it to carry tourists to recently etablished holiday resorts on Cocos and Christmas Islands. The Australian Government Detention Centre for illegal immigrants on Christmas island is served by separate air service contracts.
and Ansett Boeing 727s at Perth Airport April 1972 while both were used
on the Perth-Cocos contract.
|Ansett WA (formerly MMA) flew the Cocos-Christmas contract with F.28s and BAe146s. VH-JJP at Perth August 1985.
|The ill-fated Indian Ocean Airlines Electra VH-IOB was repossessed and ferried back to USA as N351Q in December 1992.
Seen during a refuelling stop at Cairns, Queensland before setting out across the Pacific. These 3 photos by Geoff Goodall
|* * * * * * *
- My thanks to Bob Livingstone, Gordon Reid, Colin Hayes, Tony McGrath.