As a boy growing up in country New South Wales, Charles Maxwell Hazelton, hated school as much as he loved flying. He dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, and at the height of World War II, aged 16, he joined the Air Training Corps. But the man who was to become Australia’s pioneer of ‘bush aviation’ and an aviation legend, was thwarted when the war ended and the military told him that with so many pilots and engineers around, there was no future in the industry.
Max went to Sydney to work as an apprentice automotive engineer, but spent his weekends watching the planes at Mascot – now Kingsford Smith Airport. He paid ten shillings for a trial instruction flight, joined the Royal Aero Club and went solo for the first time in a Tiger Moth DH82. Building up his flying hours, Max earned his private pilot’s licence and then a commercial licence.
Hazelton Airlines started in 1953 when Max persuaded his mother to lend him £2,500 to buy the first plane in the Hazelton fleet. In Max’s words, it was a ‘Rolls Royce’, an Auster J5F Aglet Trainer. The single engine aircraft could carry a pilot and three passengers and provided charter services to stock and station agents from Max’s brother-in-law’s property at Toogong, NSW.
However, in 1954 Max and his Auster were caught in bad weather and crashed in rugged terrain near Oberon NSW.
Max recalled…”Just as I thought the aircraft had cleared the highest point of the valley, trees loomed up in the windscreen. I applied full power, but the aircraft hit heavy timber and landed upside down.”
Max survived the crash without a scratch and in true Australian spirit, walked 100 km through heavy bush over the next six days eventually finding his way to civilisation.
Max then acquired a Cessna 180 and then more aircraft to undertake freight and newspaper carriage, aerial agriculture operations and the provision of essential services, such as emergency medical evacuations, for rural NSW. In 1959 the enlarged company moved to its own airfield at Cudal, about 40 km from Orange.
The 1960s and 1970s saw Hazelton become one of the largest aerial agricultural operators in Australia. In 1975 Hazelton began its first scheduled passenger flight from Orange to Canberra. Within three years, rapid growth of scheduled passenger services and continued success of other services made Hazelton the largest general aviation company in Australia.
Growth continued. In 1979 Hazelton started flying into Sydney. In the early 1980s Hazelton introduced modern pressurised turbo-prop aircraft and in 1983 linked itself to Ansett’s computerised reservations system. In 1993, Hazelton became a publicly listed company on the ASX. After it’s listing, Hazelton continued to grow and by the year 2000 it was carrying over 400,000 passengers per year, flying to over 20 destinations, employing around 280 staff, and earning revenue of around $69M per year.
In 2001, Hazelton was at the centre of a very public takeover battle between Qantas and Ansett. Ownership of Hazelton eventually passed to the Ansett Group. However, in 2001 Ansett was placed into voluntary administration along with its subsidiaries including Hazelton. Hazelton recommenced operations a week later in Administration and its passenger airline business became part of the Rex Group in 2002.
From modest beginnings, Max Hazelton has made a significant contribution to Australian aviation. In 1953 Max began his one-man, one-aircraft business – 47 years later, Hazelton Airlines evolved into a major operation.
Max has pioneered techniques in aerial agriculture including night spraying of cotton, set flying endurance records, locked horns with Bob Hawke and the ACTU by defying a union ban to fly live merino sheep out of Australia, flew medical mercy flights, used his planes to fight bushfires, campaigned strongly for Sydney’s third runway and, most importantly, brought safe and reliable air services to regional areas. For his contribution, max was awarded an OBE in 1980 and an AM in 1991.