Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Hangar empty after 57 years


When John Macknight first came to Deniliquin as an air charter provider, he was the only permanent operator at Deniliquin Airport.

It was 1964 and the airport still had a dirt runway.

Now, 61 years after getting his pilot’s licence and 57 years of having planes at Deniliquin, Mr Macknight is selling his last plane.

He won’t be grounded permanentl­y though, as he’s not quite ready to relinquish his pilot’s licence yet.

Mr Macknight’s last plane is a Flight Design CTLS Recreation­al Aircraft, which has taken he and wife Jan on many a holiday since his retirement.

‘‘I’ve flown at least 1000 hours just in the CTLS and it has taken us to all parts of Australia,’’ John said.

‘‘Some of our more memorable trips would be one along the west coast of Western Australia, many trips to the centre and western Queensland, Cairns and Townsville.

‘‘I bought it new, and it was much smaller than the ones I’d had previously.

‘‘After many years of accident free flying I’ve just decided now it might be time to do something else — even if I don’t know what that is yet.’’

John, who is 84 and estimates he’s clocked up more than 20,000 hours of flying, says he’s been interested in aviation since he was ‘‘a little fella’’ and that ‘‘flying has been particular­ly good to me’’.

He was 23 by the time he finally got his Private Pilot Licence in 1960, and was then awarded a Commonweal­th Flying Scholarshi­p to obtain his Commercial Pilot’s Licence.

The late start was mostly because of the time it took him to scrape up the money for the associated fees for training.

John came to Deniliquin as a charter operator four years later, and in 1970 founded Macknight Airlines. It was a successful operation which ran in conjunctio­n with major airline Ansett, until his retirement in 1997.

‘‘In 1970 an opportunit­y arose to establish a regular public transport service in conjunctio­n with Ansett Airlines, which provided a daily return service between Deniliquin and Sydney.

‘‘This was one of the early feeder services establishe­d in Australia and proved to be very successful.

‘‘Piper Comanche aircraft have always held a soft spot in my heart, having owned quite a number of twin and single engine aircrafts of this type.

‘‘At the time it was the only real means of regional public transport in the region.

‘‘In those days the roads to Sydney were very rough, and of course the cars were not the luxury we are used to now.

‘‘A passenger air service would not work now, but it was a very valuable service then.

‘‘You could leave for Sydney at 7am and get there by 9.30am, and then come back again at 6.30pm to be home by 9pm.

‘‘The air service then was vital to survival, because there was no going to Melbourne or Victoria then.

‘‘In the 1970s and ‘80s when we did not have the technology we do today, you had the ability to fly seven days a week taking people to and from. Because of technology, that kind of operation just would not work now.’’

Through Macknight Airlines and his other roles, John became well known for his contributi­on to the aviation industry.

Along with it has come a number of prestigiou­s awards and honours — including having the main road into Deniliquin Airport named Macknight Drive in his honour in 2008.

In 2015 he was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame. It’s elite and limited list of recipients also includes legendary aviators Charles KingsfordS­mith (after whom the Sydney airport is named), PJ Taylor, Charles Ulm and Dick Smith.

John also became a life member of the Comanche Society in 1968 and received the Aviation Safety Foundation’s Certificat­e of Air Safety in 1997 for his contributi­on to aviation safety.

In 2011 John was recognised with the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the aviation industry and the community, and in 2014 he received the inaugural Wings Award for a lifetime achievemen­t in general aviation through Australian flying.

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