It has been a turbulent journey but Illawarra Regional Airport’s fleet of historic aircrafts has grown with the arrival of the first of two Fokker Friendships.
The ex-passenger jets turned mail couriers were donated by a sponsor in New Zealand with the first landing in Albion Park on Monday. Bad weather had hampered the efforts of volunteers to fly the craft to Australia with diversions to Norfolk Island and Coolangatta over a 10-day period.
“The cyclone that was affecting Tonga and then New Zealand delayed it all,” HARS president Bob De La Hunty said.
A team of around 10 flight crew and engineers travelled across the ditch to service the plane and make it airworthy. Three remained to fly the Fokker home, all of whom had worked with similar birds when they were in their prime commercially in Australia during the 1960s and 1970s.
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Mr De La Hunty said Fokkers replaced DC-3’s in airline fleets across Australia and played a significant part in the nation’s aviation history.
“It’s a pity that when they became too old to continue in that role … Australia lost a very formidable, a very passenger appealing aircraft,” he said.
“We’ve been honoured by a sponsor who decided not to scrap two in New Zealand and we have them registered in historical registrations.”
Both planes will have their interior and exterior refurbished to look like original passenger crafts – one in the style of TAA and the other of East West Airlines.
Retrieving the second Fokker is set to be more complicated than the first, with two engines to be removed from the craft in Albion Park then sent to New Zealand and used to fly the other.
“It’s a very complicated process of having to shuffle engines and propellers backwards and forwards to get the second aircraft over here,” Mr De La Hunty said.
“Whether we continue to fly them in the future will depend very much on sponsorship – there’s a lot of interest but all these things cost money.”
Meantime Mr De La Hunty said the society were still “working furiously” to find money to retrieve a Boeing 707 John Travolta has also gifted the group.
It’s estimated the maintenance bill for the prized bird is around $4 million – a sum four times that flagged when the donation was announced last May.