Donald George Anderson was born on 1 March 1917 at Waikerie, South Australia, the son of Alex Gibb Anderson and Clara Catherine Anderson nee Nash. He was educated at Adelaide High School, Adelaide Teachers College and Adelaide University qualifying in 1938 as a Primary School Teacher. In addition to teaching, he worked as a casual journalist being a country correspondent for local and Adelaide newspapers. He was a very keen sportsman playing cricket, football and tennis. He had a large stature at 6ft 3in (191 cm) which gave him presence, especially in his roles in later years. With the outbreak of war, Donald joined the Citizen Air Force, RAAF, and trained as a pilot.
Sir Donald George Anderson CBE
In 1941 he married Monica Mary Porker in Perth and was commissioned in January 1942. He initially served with the 22nd Troop Carrier Squadron, United States Army Air Force in New Guinea flying troop positioning and supply–dropping missions. Later he flew in the United States as a test and acceptance pilot with the US Air Force Ferry Command. On demobilisation in 1946 he held the rank of temporary Flight Lieutenant, was mentioned in despatches for his war service and had 3,000 hours flying time.
Back home in Australia, Donald joined the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) as an Examiner of Airmen and was appointed to the role of Airway Surveyor (Flying) Air Navigation Branch, Directorate of Air Navigation in June 1947. The following year he was promoted to the new office of Superintendent, Air Traffic Control Branch, Melbourne. He was instrumental in developing staff and operational procedures and played a major role in recruiting some 200 ex military pilots to Air Traffic Control operations developing Australia’s Air Traffic Control system to meet the growing demands of our rapidly expanding civil aviation network.
As a member of the Australian delegation to the International Civil Aviation Organisation conference in Montreal, Canada in 1948, he was appointed Chairman of the Third Session of the Rules of the Air and Air Traffic Control Division which defined the principles for standards of the world’s air traffic control. These principles and standards became Annex 11 to the Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation. This led to Donald becoming known as the “…father of Australian Air Traffic Control.”
In 1951 Donald was appointed to the position of Assistant Director – General (Personnel and Establishments) and in 1954 Assistant Director – General (Administration, Personnel and Establishments) and oversaw the development of the general administrative management of the Department. On 1 January 1956 he replaced Sir Richard Williams as Director – General of Civil Aviation and had a hand in the development of policy and regulation of all facets of civil aviation until his retirement.
At that time the economic regulation of Australia’s domestic air transport was at a cross roads. Under his guidance, the Government’s Two Airline Policy whereby the main airline trunk routes in Australia were reserved for two major carriers – the Commonwealth owned Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) and a privately owned airline (which later became Ansett), was revitalised in 1957 and effectively remained in place until deregulation in 1990. During this initial period Donald held the posts of “Rationalisation Co-ordinator” and head of DCA which meant he was effectively judge and jury of disputes between the trunk airlines. There were few appeals against his decisions.
Also in 1957, Donald led a mission to the United States to negotiate a route across the US from Australia to Europe for Qantas Empire Airways. While he was successful on this mission, subsequent negotiations saw this arrangement eroded. He went on to successfully negotiate many agreements with other countries for access rights for Qantas.
Donald had a reputation for being a hard negotiator and a stalwart for the industry and safety in particular. He fought hard for capital funding for air transport infrastructure and enhanced safety through radar and air traffic control. He was very passionate about civil aviation and was often considered tough and ruthless, but at the end of the day took a rational approach. Overall, the industry at large considered him more of a benevolent dictator and he is remembered well as a man who got things done.
Following his retirement in 1973, he was appointed Chairman of Qantas Airways Limited and moved to Sydney where he advocated lower cost travel to improve access to international travel for Australians. He served on the Executive Committee of the International Air Transport Association and took up a Board position with the NSW Institution for Deaf and Blind Children, although his health was now starting to deteriorate. He retired from Qantas in August 1975 and returned to Melbourne.
On 30 November 1975 Sir Donald Anderson died of cardiac arrest. He was survived by his wife Monica and daughters Wendy and Kayleen.
In recognition of his great contribution to civil aviation, Donald Anderson was awarded the Royal Federation of Aero Clubs of Australia Oswald Watt Gold Medal in 1957, received a CBE in 1959 and was knighted in 1967. The International Civil Aviation Organisation honoured him posthumously in 1978 with the prestigious Edward Warner Award.