Described as a tenacious, rule-breaking living aviation legend, Max Hazelton, founder of Australia’s Hazelton Airlines, turned 95 last week and marked the occasion with a knee at the Aero Club in the Orange airport – naturally named in honor of Max. Mr Hazelton started his bush airline in 1953 with a single Auster Aiglet aircraft and went on to build one of Australia’s most successful regional airlines before selling to Ansett Australia in 2001. Along the way, the he story of Max Hazelton is full of adventure, derring-do, and a healthy dose of rule-breaking.
A pioneer who broke the rules
Hazelton Airlines, alongside the now defunct Kendall Airlines, are the founding airlines behind today’s Rex. The airline hosted Mr Hazelton’s birthday party on Friday, which was attended by his family, friends, local politicians and senior Rex executives. Rex Vice President John Sharp calls Max Hazelton the last living Australian aviation pioneer.
“Max did things that no one else had done,said Mr. Sharp. “In doing so, he changed the way rural and regional airlines operated. He did so by breaking the rules in many cases. You could say he was not just an entrepreneur, not just a person determined, he was very tenacious. But if I was a bureaucrat, I wouldn’t use the word tenacious – I would use the word larrikin, but he was a larrikin who changed or broke the rules for the right reasons.”
Breaking the Rules Leads to Changes
While John Sharp is happy to sing Max’s praises now, Rex’s vice-chairman is a former Australian government transport minister and would have had a stroke if the full force of Max Hazelton’s larrikinism had occurred during his quarter.
“When he broke the rules, he would jump on his plane and fly to Melbourne and see Sir Donald Anderson, who was the longtime head of the Department of Aviation, and he would say to Sir Donald, ‘I broke the rules again”, and Sir Donald was asking what he did, and Max was saying I did that, and I broke the rules in the process, and you have to change the rules – and inevitably the rules have been changed.”
John Sharp, in his new life as an airline executive, says that by breaking the rules, Max Hazelton forced changes that improved the airline industry in Australia. “That’s what pioneers are,” he says. “Pioneers are not people who follow the same path as everyone else. Pioneers are the kind of people who create their own path and Max created his own path and other people followed. Today, there is a huge legacy that owes its existence to the man we honor on his 95th birthday.”
Max Hazelton in his youth on his bicycle at Cudal airport near Orange. Photo: Getty Images
Max Hazelton walks for six days after plane crash – so no one would take his calls
Stories of Max Hazelton’s wildest days are plentiful and fast-paced. In 1954, while flying his Auster over the rugged Blue Mountains west of Sydney Airport, he was caught in a storm and crashed into trees. “I thought the highest mountain in the area was 5,000 feet, but I was wrong,“, he said Friday.It was at 5,500 feet. I had a break in the clouds, and I was flying right up in the trees and I thought, ‘Oh my God.'”
Max survived the crash with only a mild concussion and walked until he found help. Auster was not so lucky. Max says it ended upside down in the densely forested mountain. After six days, Max finally ran into some loggers who directed him to a post office with a telephone booth an hour’s walk down the Cox River. “If I had come this far, I could go on,Max Hazelton said. When he arrived at the phone booth, authorities wouldn’t accept his reverse charge phone call because he was disbarred for death and his repeated calls were believed to be pranks.
Max Hazelton picks up his old bike from Cudal Airport on Friday. Photo: Andrew Curran/SimpleFlying.
Flying freighter class
“There’s another story about Max wanting to fly to Sydney from Orange,” said Mr. Sharp. “At this time Max was operating Short 360s. Max wanted to go to Sydney and expected to catch the flight, but it was full and there were no spare seats. Max was advised that he was not would just have to wait for the next flight or drive to Sydney, and that’s the end of it.
“And that was the end of Max until the plane landed in Sydney and the baggage handlers opened the luggage compartment and there he was, sitting on a box in the luggage compartment. And there are so many anecdotes like that, which show you how tenacious Max wanted to go on and do what he wanted to do.”
Of course, that was then and this is now. If you did a stunt like that today, airline boss or not, you’d be arrested or worse, exposed online. Things were a bit more lax then, rules-wise. Max Hazelton has watched the world (and the evolution of the airline industry) and is generally positive about progress. He was devastated when Ansett Australia collapsed shortly after taking full control of Hazelton Airlines, but is thrilled with modern Rex – the airline Hazelton spawned. It is suspected that he is also delighted with the continued respect that Rex and his leaders like John Sharp have for him.
At 95, Max Hazelton can still hold a crowd. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying
Respect for an old school aviator
“We broke the rules” Max admitted on Friday. At 95, he got up and attended the conference, giving a short but to the point acceptance speech. He took the time to thank the people who have worked for and built Hazelton Airlines over the years. He spoke of the days when he was starting out, dusting crops at night (again in violation of the rules), but like any good rule breaker, 60 years after the events, he still describes the reasons for it with pointed precision.
“People came and helped solve the problems we had,” said Mr. Hazelton. On Friday, Max and his immaculately dressed wife of 64, Laurel, sat mostly like the king and queen of a small country as a conga line of dignitaries, friends and relatives came to hug them. hand and talk to them. It was something to see the deep respect for an old man nearing the end of his life who has achieved so much throughout his life – and taken so many people with him.
“I would like to thank you all for coming today,” Max Hazelton said at the conclusion of his speech. “It’s something I will remember. I am very proud of what we have achieved.”
– The writer went to Max Hazelton’s birthday party thanks to Rex.
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