The somewhat sad if not bizarre Ansett ad that ran in The Age earlier this month raises the essential question as to whether or not dead airline brands should be revived.
An advertising executive called Peter Schooling is claimed to be the author of this exercise in this report. I don’t even know if he really exists, or if his real name is Dick Training, but those who remain scarred by the Ansett collapse might have reason to feel aggrieved.
He is not as the follow up story makes clear, going to revive the airline or bring back their jobs, or unruin their ruined lives. He just wants to know if anyone is ‘interested’.
Ansett should be remembered for what it was, and it was, at times, radically different from what it was at other times.
Which Ansett was Schooling referring to? Was it the Ansett which Lady Ansett told Ansett revivalists had died when its founder Reg Ansett was ousted by Peter Abeles and Rupert Murdoch from controlling his airline in 1979?
Or was it the Ansett which by late 2000 had become so unsafe that CASA was terrified it would drop an airliner and kill hundreds of people?
Or was it the ‘inbetween’ or ‘indulgent’ Ansett of the late 80s to late 90s, that took service quality from the front to back of every one of its airliners to a level of opulence possibly only experienced in this country by favoured air travellers in the brief pre and post war glory days of Empire class flying boats roaring off from Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour before the first Lockheed Constellations appeared for Q.A.N.T.A.S?
That 80s-90s Ansett is the Ansett everyone who then flew domestically, and for a limited time, to Osaka and Hong Kong, would remember as a stunningly great way to fly.
But that is not the Ansett which had the livery shown on the cruel teasing web site, which looks like one of the technically unaerodynamic but comic book styled versions of the shark’s fin 787 adorned with a latter incarnation of the Ansett-ANA livery which died around the same time as Reg.
There are other problems with reviving Ansett, other than the total certainty of having every dollar of such an investment destroyed by Qantas and Virgin Australia, and most of them concern the tragic desire to somehow roll back the age of low fares feeding a mass market that has expanded the airline game, and the jobs it brings, to a degree not possible when Ansett and Australian Airlines ruled.
The luxury of those times has just about been extinguished, but so has the privilege, and costs so high that ordinary Australian were driven to their deaths in their thousands over the years by taking to poorly maintained two lane interstate highways for holidays or visiting family and relations.
There is much to criticise in the post Two Airline Policy–deregulated world of air travel today in this country. It is often criticised on this forum and elsewhere for the poorer standard of air safety regulation, and the patently low flight standards found in some operations, and at times a near total contempt for the customers.
But it has created more flying careers, and driven more associated economic activity, than the mindset represented by the classic Ansett and TAA operations that comfortably suppressed mass air transport until the disruptive successful entry of Virgin Blue in 2000, preceded by the spread of airline reforms in the international markets during the second half of the 80s.
These at times romantic invocations of the past, when Australia was a much less competitive, much more inward looking society, producing uncompetitive products not many of its people could afford, are disconcerting.
When prominent Australians, and obscure ad men, press the nostalgic recreation buttons, it is like listening to some strange amalgam of the social ambitions of the Greens for a gentler society meeting the church and village strictures of the DLP in the mid 50s.
Ansett is a proxy rallying call in some quarters for bringing back the past, and lowering the blinds on the present.
Australia isn’t going there.
A profoundly different, and seriously challenging, and anything but ‘comfortable’ future awaits, but to paraphrase the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, if we cannot make it stop, then let us make it run.
So, for this long term observer, Ansett has overall negative connotations.
It is remembered, it is honored, it is recognized for what it declined into being, and it is dead and gone.