Ben Sandilands, perhaps best known for his insightful commentary on Crikey's Plane Talking blog, died last Friday after losing his fight with cancer. Retired Boeing Communications Director Ken Morton remembers the man who was a giant of aviation journalism.
Aviation writer Ben Sandilands, who died after a long illness last month, held many strong opinions and was never slow to share them. He had a legendary ability to dominate a press conference, always asking the first question, which was usually a mixture of free advice for the hapless executive at the front and some incisive comment based on his extensive research.
Ben never steered away from the controversial or difficult. He was the source of many sleepless nights for aviation PRs, including this one, but his professionalism always shone through, always providing space for an alternative view.
He was on top of his game from an era when all the major dailies had specialist aviation writers. Working for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review, and later the Bulletin, Travelweek and Aircraft magazine, Ben never followed the pack. Not for him regurgitating a company press release, unless to note its stupidity. Whether he was crisply castigating airlines for fitting more and smaller seats or dissecting fleet strategy, Ben always wrote something worth reading. He was passionate about space and a keen mountaineer in his youth.
Like many others, our friendship grew from a typically fiery phone conversation, about air fares I think around 1979, when Ben was the Sydney Morning Herald’s travel editor. We soon realised we shared a passion for aviation – and the ability to disagree without impacting our friendship.
Over the last decade, Ben wrote the aptly named Plane Talking blog for Crikey.com. His science-based analysis of the MH370 mystery was a beacon of reason in a sea of hopeless speculation. This attracted considerable interest, which even crashed the Crikey website. Ever an optimist, Ben was sure he would conquer his illness and continued to file through punishing treatment, his last story on the resumed search for MH370 running only eight days before his death.