Bush Folk Fear Loss Of Hazelton As Founder Flies Out

Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday January 9, 2001

Malcolm Brown

Max Hazelton, 73, who founded Hazelton Airlines in 1953 with a single aircraft bought on borrowed money, has taken a holiday in Queensland while the storm rages in Sydney over who is to own his airline.

Just how Mr Hazelton feels about the acquisition, which could be followed by a down-grading in regional air services in much of NSW services he has spent most of his life developing is unknown.

His wife, Mrs Laurel Hazelton, told the Herald yesterday that he was upset about recent media reports that he had sold all his shares in Hazelton.

``We are not out of it at all," she said. ``The family has 12 to 13 per cent of the company. Max will tell his side of the story later on but he is a bit worried that if he says anything he will get a bit of back-flak.

``He has resigned as a director and deputy chairman and does not go to any of the meetings. At this stage, with the ACCC involved, it is very difficult to know what will happen. We will just have to see what comes out of it."

But for the people of Orange, and for those served by Hazelton through the network of 19 airports in eastern Australia, there is dismay and a feeling that if the airline is acquired by Ansett or Qantas, Hazelton services to Sydney Airport will cease or be relegated to awkward times.

Ansett, owned by Air New Zealand, has snared a 33 per cent stake in Hazelton. Qantas has an option over another 20 per cent owned by individual investors.

At stake in the battle is the 452 weekly take-off and landing slots at Sydney's crowded Kingsford Smith Airport.

Hazelton possesses the third-largest number of landing slots at the airport, after Qantas with about 1,300 and Ansett with 1,177.

For people in Cudal, outside Orange, where Max Hazelton built the airstrip on his agricultural land and demonstrated from the age of 25 that a local boy could make good without becoming a Sydneysider, there was disenchantment.

Mr Gordon Goodridge, 48, who worked for Hazelton at the airport as a general handyman for 17 years until 1995, and still lives in Cudal, said: ``As far as I am concerned, Hazelton's no longer exists.

``It was a good company to work for while Max was in control of it. He has a personal concern for his staff and used to look after country people. He lived and breathed flying."

The airport, where Max Hazelton had his home and rode his bicycle each day to get around the base, operated as the Hazelton passenger terminal for Orange until last year when its passenger operations were transferred to Orange Airport.

Mr Hazelton, born in May 1927, showed a willingness to take risks to get his airline up and running, first forming an aerial agricultural and charter company and, in 1975, starting passenger services.

According to its annual report in August last year, Hazelton employed 289 full-time staff based in Albury, Cudal, Dubbo, Lismore, Orange, Sydney, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga.

The Mayor of Orange, Councillor Richard Niven, said yesterday that the airline had been Max Hazelton's ``baby", he had built it ``forever" and the city had always been behind him.

``When East West Airlines wound up, we did everything possible to lobby the Department of Civil Aviation for Hazelton to get the contract for the Sydney-Orange route," he said. ``This was in the early 1980s. He has been an honourable, decent, hard worker. He always wanted to remain in the country. He would not move to Sydney."

The airline was floated in 1993 and that might be seen to be where the problem started. In 1995, following an ill-fated venture to establish an air service to Geelong, Mr Hazelton become involved in a boardroom fight for control of the company and was obliged to resign as chief executive. He continued as deputy chairman until his recent resignation.

The president of the Orange Chamber of Commerce, Mr John Ferguson, said the prospects of a degrading of the air services to Sydney amounted to ``disaster".

``The predators are going to gobble up the small airline that has had landing rights to Kingsford Smith," he said. ``If I want to go to Sydney now, it is going to take two days."

© 2001 Sydney Morning Herald

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