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muppie 30-08-2001 11:35 PM

Death Notice - Sir Dennis Buchanan
 
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The former king of the PNG skies Sir Dennis Buchanan died on Tuesday night 28th August, 2001 aged 68 in Australia following a long bout with leukemia.

He once commanded more than 50 aeroplanes, the biggest fleet of third level aircraft in the world, under the Talair Pty. Ltd. banner, from his Goroka Headquarters. He went on to form another airline in Australia called "Flight West Airlines" which was recently put into voluntary liquidation by the family.

Several years ago, he won permission to operate flights from Queensland to PNG, but withdrew after a short while. In pre-Independence PNG, he was the official spokesman for the Administrator's Executive Council, the "cabinet" of its time. Sir Dennis is survived by his wife Dela and nine out of ten children.

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The passing of New Guinea's 'warrior' knight, Sir Dennis Buchanan Kt B, MBE November 6, 1932-August 28, 2001
Dragon to Dash 8
- article by Paul Howard, January 2002

"What's happening, chaps?"

The familiar cry would ring out whenever Sir Ranald Dennis Buchanan returned to head office and home in the highland centre of Goroka, Papua New Guinea (PNG), from another of his prolific travels. Well known as 'Junior', but more commonly 'Dennis', the former owner of Talair, has succumbed to a terminal illness, aged 68. In both business and life he was a self-made man, a colourful character who never failed to leave an impression on whomever he met.

An Australian by birth, Sir Dennis spent his adult life in PNG where he was involved in numerous business enterprises, including coffee, tourism, newspapers and aviation. He even had a brief dabble in politics. But it is aviation for which he will be best remembered and the fulfilment of an unswerving ambition to build the small third-level Territory Airlines (TAL)into one of the largest commuter operations in the world, known as Talair (Tourist Airlines of Niugini). When Buchanan bought TAL in 1958, the company - which had started in 1952 - boasted a 'fleet' of one de Havilland D.H.84 Dragon and a Cessna 170. Later, Talair even earned plaudits from BBC reporter Julian Pettifer who, during filming of the 1978 TV production Diamonds in the Sky, remarked that there was nothing "third rate" about Talair's first class operation.

In 1975, Buchanan was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for services to tourism; a knighthood, in 1991,acknowledged his contribution to aviation. Forever the persistent 'battler', Sir Dennis attracted uncanny loyalty from his employees, which he later admitted had a lot to do with Talair's success. But on May 25, 1993, the knight of the realm - who liked to remind everyone that he was really "just a bag snatcher" (loader) - shut down Talair, simultaneously stunning a nation and leaving the country's domestic air services in chaos. In defending his decision, Sir Dennis stated that the airline was another victim of the rapid decline in PNG's fortunes, and that the economic situation could no longer support the cost of running his business successfully.

In its prime (1979), Talair had operated up to 71 aircraft - the highest total on its inventory for any given period - serving some 130 destinations on 400-plus daily sectors. Sir Dennis was astute buyer of aircraft (give or take a few, he had owned some 181 examples of various types at last count), and was one of the few people in aviation who made money from the exercise.
Following his entry into aviation, Sir Dennis in turn bought out a number of his fellow domestic competitors when the opportunity arose, thus building up the Talair group (the title changed from TAL in 1974 in readiness for PNG's independence). Airlines acquired by Buchanan were: Sepik Air Charters (in 1972); Melanesian Air Charters, or Macair (1975); Panga Airways (1977); Aviation Developments (Avdev) - trading as Cloudlands Aviation - (1986); and Co-Ordinated Air Services, or Co-Air (1987). In 1968 he established Talco, to promote PNG tourism, transport native laborers to plantations on the islands of New Britain and New Ireland, and to conduct aerial spraying Then in 1981, Talair (Australia) Pty Ltd was opened, with a hangar complex in Brisbane and a charter operation based in Cairns.

Not content with taking over domestic operators, Buchanan stretched his network regionally. With the acquisition of Macair in 1975, Sir Dennis also inherited Solair, the neighboring Solomon Islands airlines - formerly Megapode Airways, then a wholly owned susidiary of Macair - and continued to develop that company with equipment transferred from Talair. Further east, the granting of independence in 1980 to the Anglo-French condominion of the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), provided an opportunity for the purchase of shares owner by New Hebrides Airways and Societe Francaise Air Hebrides in Air Melanesiae. In 1983 a joint contract with Aerolift of Manila saw a Talair presence esablished in the Philippines (subsequently, Talair purchased Metro Manila Airways that became Metroair), followed by the creation in 1984 of a local commuter operation, Velengair, in the Kingdom of Tonga.

When Australian Airlines withdrew from rural Queensland routes in 1987, Sir Dennis successfully tendered to move into Australia as a scheduled operator, and Flight West Airlines was born. This led eventually to pure jet operations, which pleased Sir Dennis greatly by its realisation of a long-held ambition.
Like most successful businessmen, Sir Dennis's patience was tried on many occasions by bureacracy, stemming from local politics and unjustified (in his view) regulation of his airlines by various civil aviation bodies. Unlike others, he would not submit, on principle, if he felt the best interest of his company were being adversely affected. Instead, he would deliver his unique - 'coup de grace' - by leaving his opponents stranded - sometimes literally -before moving on. Over the decades, all of his island operations fell victim to this practice, with Queensland, Australia, becoming the final recipient of Sir Dennis's singular style.

In June 2001, plagued by failing health, he shut down Flight West Airlines, the last operating airline of his family company, thus ending a 44 year association with aviation. But, in contrast to the recent 'ditching' of Ansett Australia by Air New Zealand - and typical of his old fashioned values - Sir Dennis timed the closure to ensure that sufficient assets remained to pay Flight West employees their redundancy entitlements.

Despite a love-hate relationship with his pilots - as one veteran remarked jovially, "Dennis giveth, then taketh away" - he nevertheless provided many hundreds of pilots with their first break, and the opportunity to hone their airmanship skills in the challenging environment of New Guinea. They all benefited from the experience, as have all major airlines they later went on to serve, who looked upon Buchanan's operation as their ideal 'cadet pilot school'.

It is doubtful whether we will see the likes of Sir Dennis Buchanan again. On behalf of those who served him, and his many friends.... "Farewell, Junior."

Paul Howard

(The writer worked for Talair and its associated companies in the region for over 15 years. At the time of Sir Dennis's demise he was researching material for a detailed history of the operations and the characters who made it happen.)

Photograph: Sir Dennis Buchanan

hairylegs 31-08-2001 07:34 AM

Yes.. Very sad indeed. A lot of pilots out there flying the big jets around the world either worked for Sir Dennis or had an association with him in one form or another, me included.

A true legend.

May he rest in peace.

efizz 01-09-2001 04:32 PM

Indeed a tragic loss to the aviation community. Talair contributed significantly to the development of PNG thru his stewardship.
May his soul rest in peace!

aussie 26-02-2002 08:51 PM

Sir Dennis Buchanan
 
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Some old Talair Drivers:

aussie 26-02-2002 08:52 PM

Sir Dennis Buchanan
 
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Founder of Flight West:

aussie 26-02-2002 08:57 PM

Sir Dennis Buchanan
 
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Talair Village, Port Moresby:

aussie 26-02-2002 09:01 PM

Sir Dennis Buchanan
 
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Flight West in PNG:

lik lik mangi 24-03-2002 08:38 PM

Was not in Goroka long however would Sir Dennis have been in Goroka at a place called the Aero Club? Just curious as I believe I may have met him. Awful nice chap!

aussie 08-06-2003 01:56 PM

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Sir Dennis Buchanan :

juanii 10-06-2003 10:02 AM

Hey liklik mangi, ofcourse he'd be at the Aero Club, what other club in Goroka holds more people everyday than the Aero where it all happens...Anywayz, going back to Sir Dennis, The Talair Farewell out of Goroka had to be the saddest day for the locals. While the Fleet did circuits the locals cried. Its good to know that PNG has been a part of Sir Denniss' life. A legend in his own right.


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