Date of Passing:
Hamilton, Keith Reginald (1928–1984)
by Leigh Edmonds
This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007
Keith Reginald Hamilton (1928-1984), airline administrator, was born on 4 June 1928 in North Sydney, son of Australian-born parents Clarence Reginald Hamilton, police constable, and his wife Eileen Dorothy, née Kyle-Little. Educated at North Sydney Boys’ High School, Keith joined Qantas Empire Airways Ltd in 1948 as a traffic officer. He soon began to make his mark through a series of overseas postings. Sent to Jakarta in 1952, he was promoted to chief traffic officer and then to assistant-manager for Indonesia. He was made manager in South Africa in 1957 and in Indonesia in 1958. There he kept Qantas flights landing despite strained relations between Australia and Indonesia. He was seconded to Malayan Airways Ltd in 1960 as deputy general manager and in 1963 appointed general manager of the renamed Malaysian Airlines Ltd, which became Malaysia-Singapore Airlines Ltd in 1967. In 1968 he was caught up in a dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, and he resigned from MSA.
Returning to Qantas Airways Ltd in 1969, Hamilton was appointed director of airline operations in 1971. When the governments of Malaysia and Singapore decided to establish separate national airlines, he led the Qantas team that assisted in establishing Malaysian Airline System, which became operational in 1972. He was made deputy general manager of Qantas in July 1973 and general manager in July 1976. In June 1980 he joined the board of directors and became the airline’s chief executive. He was appointed CBE in 1981.
Hamilton saw significant changes at Qantas from the days of piston-engined airliners carrying relatively small passenger loads from Sydney to London in five days, to those of Boeing 747s capable of the same flight in less than a day carrying almost four hundred passengers. In the 1970s he played an important role in developing air transport for a mass market with cut-price fares, charter flights and package tours. As general manager and chief executive, he successfully steered Qantas through a difficult period during which most international airlines made substantial losses. He oversaw major initiatives that kept Qantas at the forefront of international air travel, including strategies to attract business passengers; new airliners; direct services between Australia and Beijing; promotion of the air-cargo market; and strenuous cost cutting to bring the airline to profitability in 1983.
Having risen to the top by `sheer ability’, Hamilton was regarded in the aviation industry as one of the world’s most energetic and innovative airline executives. Nevertheless, he was not a flamboyant personality; he studiously avoided publicity and rarely gave interviews. He listed his recreation as gardening. On 7 March 1957 in Bern he had married Sonja Enenkel; they had no children. Survived by his wife, he died of coronary artery disease on 15 December 1984 in his home at Pymble, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites.