Trans-Australia Airlines Museum

TAA's People - Frank J Ball

Frank Ball AM


1920 - 2009


FRANK BALL, was probably the last man to start his career as a pilot, switch to management, and rise to become the general manager of a major Australian airline.

Frank Ball was the general manager of Trans-Australia Airlines - (TAA) from 1980 to 1985, and proved adept at managing the airline in bad times and good.

At the time, TAA was one of the country's two trunk route aviation carriers.

After a distinguished career with the RAAF during World War II, he joined TAA on the day it operated it's inaugural flight - September 9,1946.

The airline was geared for growth when he was appointed general manager in May 1980, but when the 1982-83 recession hit, it plunging TAA, and the world's airlines, into a financial nosedive. Nearly 10 years of corporate growth was wiped out, but his astute management ensured a timely bounce-back for TAA.

Born and educated in Kalgoorlie, he had begun an accountancy course when war broke out.

He dropped his studies to join the RAAF, and logged about 2000 flying hours during his five years in the RAAF, mostly in twin-engined Dakotas and four-engined B24 Liberator bombers.

In 1941 he was a member of a top secret Special Duties Flight No.200, at Leyburn - Queensland, that operated B24's stripped of their armour on long, hazardous missions. They dropped commandos and supplies behind enemy lines in Borneo and Timor, flying at low levels in darkness, bad weather and over rugged terrain. It required courage, ingenuity, and calculated risks. Along the way he was awarded an Air Force Cross.

After joining TAA, he was based in Brisbane as a line pilot, and in 1949 became a training captain. He recognized the evolving opportunities in management and completed his accountancy studies by correspondence.

In 1952, Ball was in command of a Convair 240 when a starboard engine became troublesome and automatically feathered during take-off from Brisbane airport. He coaxed the aircraft to climb gradually on one engine before it began losing altitude near the Brisbane River. Fortunately, the crew restarted the engine and returned to the airport.


Ball, then a training captain, had a key role in reviewing operational techniques and in rewriting the Convair 240 operations manual that became standard with operators of the aircraft worldwide. Later, he headed TAA's introduction of the Vickers Viscount prop-jet. Sent to Europe to learn to fly the Viscount with British European Airways, he became the holder of the first Australian commercial airline pilot's licence for aircraft with turbine engines.

The Change

In 1957, he switched from flying and moved to Melbourne as operations manager and in 1974 became operations director. After a term as commercial director, he became an assistant general manager with responsibility for engineering, flight operations, marketing and public relations before being appointed to lead the airline.

As the new general manager introducing the Airbus 4300, the first wide body aircraft to be operated by an Australia domestic airline, he was soon confronted by the 1982-83 recession. He quickly set about restructuring the airline and tackling costs to cope better with the downturn.

Staff numbers were reduced within two years by about 1200 and uneconomic operations eliminated. Most of the Fokker F27 fleet was sold and surplus Airbus A300 capacity leased to Lufthansa and Air Niugini, among other measures. In all, overheads were reduced by about $42 million or 11 per cent and, as a result, TAA became leaner and more efficient. Frank Ball also oversaw new competitive initiatives - such as introducing business class on the A300 that boosted yields and market share.

As a government-owned carrier, TAA faced the drawback of its inability to raise capital in the market. Thanks to constant lobbying in Canberra by Ball and his chairman, the Fraser Government eventually increased the airline's capital by $25 million in 1982. This eased but did not solve the problem, and in 1983 the Hawke Government added a further $90 million.

Ball took a strong, principled stance in a difficult industrial dispute involving crew complements. In looking ahead at the introduction of technologically advanced aircraft that were designed for two-pilot 'operations - doing away with flight engineers - TAA paid a heavy penalty when industrial action grounded key aircraft. The airline was put at a competitive disadvantage, until negotiations led to the acceptance of change that is now worldwide practice.

Ball retired in November 1985, widely admired and respected by staff, opponents and union leaders. He also handed to his successor an airline in good shape. Among the many messages he received was one that summed up the man "A thorough gentleman and a man of his word who, if he said something would happen, it happened."

The content of this page was taken from the obituary in the SMH written by John Tilton