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The Fiji Sun’s Sunday Magazine takes a look back at Fiji’s aviation history sourced from the book “HAROLD GATTY’S LEGACY – A Photo History of Fiji’s National Airline. Fiji Airways 50 years on”, written by Robert A (Bob) Kennedy. It comes as national airline, Air Pacific, prepares to next year return to its original name, Fiji Airways
The Fiji Sun flies you back in time. It comes as national airline, Air Pacific, prepares to next year return to its original name, Fiji Airways. For many of our ardent readers, Fiji’s airline industry history may seem like a dull subject. This is not so for Robert A (Bob) Kennedy.
Bob’s earliest interest in aviation began when his family home in Cawa, Nadi (better known today as Martintar) was taken over by the US military in 1942 and used as a communication centre.
Bob, who was an infant at the time, his brother, two cousins and his mother, were evacuated to New Zealand.
Bob’s father was a works foreman for the RNZAF at Nadi and he was moved to Laucala Bay. In June 1943, Bob’s father was on board a Catalina flying boat which crashed on his way to join them in New Zealand. There were no survivors.
Bob and his family returned to their home in Nadi in 1945 when the USAAF moved on. It was in 1950, aged 9, that Bob first flew in an aircraft, from Nadi to Suva on a DC 3 belonging to NAC.
He soon became a seasonal traveller when he studied in Australia. The first overseas flight was by QEA Flying boat in 1951 which took 14 hours from Laucala Bay via Noumea to Rose Bay, Sydney.
Bob’s first year home for Christmas holidays, he got acquainted with a Captain Fred Ladd who flew him to Labasa where he had moved.
The flight in a Dragon Rapide was from Nadi Airport to Drasa – on the side of Lautoka – where Captain Fredd said they would cut the grass. On their way to Labasa that early December, they bombed the McDonalds at Nanu-i-Ra, did a little spear fishing, checked the coast for any fishermen who were not familiar with the aircraft and gave them a buzz, and all these, while being seated in the battery box inside the cockpit door.
Bob’s career in aviation started with QANTAS at Nadi Airport in engineering as supplies officer. After four and a half years he moved to rejoin QANTAS in Sydney as a traffic officer at KSA Mascot. In 1965, Bob returned to Fiji to join Fiji Airways as a traffic officer and months later he was seconded to the supplies department in Nausori under Jerry Collins.
The decision in 1966 to buy the HS 748 required a change in stock control and Bob was instrumental in all the design work for new paper work and coding system required for the computerising of spare parts.
He was also made cabin crew manager becoming responsible for catering, in-flight standards and cabin crew. He was also chairman of the first image committee.
After a long and distinguished Fiji Airways/Air Pacific career Bob now resides at Sigatoka running his family business, Sandy Point Cottages, and still keeps an active eye on aviation in the region.
In this series, we will fly you back as far as the 1920s and view photos of the many aircrafts that graced our shores and our skies (sourced from the book titled “HAROLD GATTY’S LEGACY – A Photo History of Fiji’s National Airline. Fiji Airways 50 years on” by Bob Kennedy). These photos have been generously put together by the late Gordon Shearer, who for many years had flown for Fiji Airways, and by one of the best known Fiji photographers, Nitin Lal. Other aviation materials were also accessed from the Ministry of Information and Fantasia Lockington then of Air Pacific.