A trip with Outback By Air covers two states, five iconic outback towns and more than 3000km in just three days.

Story + Photos Susan Elliott

After a year of restricted flights, Outback By Air is one of many Australian charter-flight companies to reboot for 2021, with tours circumventing city airports. Phil Hines is the founder and one of two pilots on every flight. “We’ve hectares of free parking here,” Phil laughs. “There are no check-in queues and, look at me, I’m Cootamundra Airport’s security and baggage handler.”

Born in Wallendbeen, a tiny NSW Riverina town 20km along the Olympic Highway from Cootamundra, Phil flies out of ‘Coota’ as well as Sydney’s Bankstown Airport for outback tours ranging from three days to three weeks. “You’re all in first class today,” directs Phil, as he helps passengers onto his beloved Cessna Caravan. The Caravan 208’s high wings and oversized windows are perfect for ‘flightseeing’.

“You’re going to see more of the outback in a week than you could in a month,” he says. To the excitement of all guests, former Test cricketer Glenn McGrath boards the aircraft and manoeuvres his 1.96m frame into a centre seat, where there’s plenty of leg room.

Glenn is a director of Outback By Air and a special guest on some of the tours. “I met Phil 14 years ago at the Allan Border Medal Awards in Melbourne,” Glenn says. “We discovered, very quickly, that we shared not only a love of cricket, but also a strong bond with the outback and a passion for aviation. We’ve become great mates.”

Glenn grew up in the Dubbo–Narromine region of NSW and loves every moment he can spend on his property near Bourke. “I love the coast. But when I cross the Great Divide, the further west I go, the redder the dirt, the more relaxed I become,” he says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #135

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2021