What Happened To Ansett Australia’s Boeing 747s?

It’s been nearly two decades since Ansett Australia last flew a paying passenger. But for 66 years, Ansett was a mainstay of the Australian aviation scene. It was a fabulous airline to fly on but made some decisions that might, in hindsight, be considered rash. One of those decisions was operating a Boeing 747 aircraft fleet for seven years between 1994 and 2001.

Over seven years, 12 Boeing 747s came and went at Ansett Australia. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

The party stopped at Ansett when the airline was placed into administration in 2001. That also spelled the end of the Boeing 747 flights to Hong Kong and Osaka. Over the seven years, Ansett Australia flew 12 leased Boeing 747s. In the wash-up, where did they end up?

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The first Ansett 747 touched down in 1994

The first two Boeing 747s turned up at Ansett in August 1994. VH-INH and VH-INJ were both 747-300s, and both were leased from Singapore Airlines. Both stayed with Ansett until the latter half of 1999.

VH-INH became 9V-SKA back at Singapore Airlines. It stayed with the airline until 2001 when it was retired and sent to Mirana Pinal Airport in Arizona for retirement. VH-INJ was known as 9V-SKD when back at Singapore Airlines. It also only stayed in Singapore until 2001, before going to the Boeing Aircraft Holding Company, a company that manages used aircraft, including planes handed over due to a trade-in or a lease return.

Ansett got its next Boeing 747-300 in September 1994. 9M-MHK was leased from Malaysia Airlines. It only stayed at Ansett for a few months, going back to Kuala Lumpur in December that year. The aircraft was reconfigured into a freighter in 1998, still with Malaysia Airlines. In 2002, 9M-MHK went to Dragonair for two years before heading to Victorville’s scrapyard in 2008.

In November 1995, VH-INK turned up – another ex Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-300. This aircraft stayed with Ansett Australia until the end of 1998. After Ansett, VH-INK went back to its lessor before going on to fly for several other airlines, including Corsair, Excel Airways, and Air Atlanta Icelandic. The plane was retired in 2009 and then went into storage in Kuala Lumpur.

The Ansett 747 formerly known as VH-INH, quietly going to seed in Marana. Photo: Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons

Why so many leased Singapore Airlines 747s?

In 1996, two more Boeing 747-300s came to Ansett Australia. Both were leased from Singapore Airlines. N125KL was with Ansett Australia for a single month. Back at Singapore Airlines, it flew on there until 2000. Before being retired in 2010, N125KL flew for many airlines under one registration or another. Some of those airlines included Phuket Air, Indonesian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, and Air Atlanta Icelandic.

The second 1996 Boeing 747-300 was N121KG. It turned up in Sydney in July. But it only stayed for three months, heading back to Singapore in September 1996. From there, it was used by multiple airlines, including Air Atlanta Icelandic several times  N121KG was retired from service in 2013 and went into storage at Cotswold Airport in early 2014.

In March 1997, Ansett Australia took another Boeing 747-300 on lease from Singapore Airlines. What’s the thing with Singapore Airlines, you might ask? Firstly, Singapore Airlines have always immaculately maintained their planes. Secondly, at the time, there was a close working relationship between Singapore Airlines and Ansett. So much so, in 1999, Singapore Airlines made an unsuccessful play to buy a stake in Ansett.

This 747, N122KH, stayed with Ansett until September 1998, when it went back to Singapore Airlines. The plane stopped flying in 2005.

In late 2007, Ansett leased its last Boeing 747-300. N123KJ also came from Singapore Airlines and flew for Ansett for three months. Singapore Airlines sent N123KJ to Corsair in 2001.

Another ex-Ansett Boeing 747, VH-INJ, pictured in Singapore in 2011. Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons

The Ansett Spaceships arrived in 1999

In 1999, Ansett Australia upgraded to Boeing 747-400s. With the upgrade came a new moniker, Ansett called its 747-400s “Ansett Spaceships.” In April that year, 9V-SMT came and went in the space of a month. From Ansett, the plane went to Aircastle, Great Wall Airlines, before winding up at China Cargo Airlines. The plane went into storage in Kansas in 2014.

In August 1999, VH-ANA started flying for Ansett Australia. They held onto the plane for over two years – right to the messy end. After Ansett collapsed, the administrators sent the plane back to Singapore Airlines. In 2003, they leased the plane to Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways). Air Pacific flew the 747-400 until 2013 when it was retired from service. VH-ANA then went to the scrapyard at Tulepo.

It was a similar story for VH-ANB. That 747-400 started flying for Ansett in September 1999. From there, its history parallels VH-ANA, right down to ending its days at Tulepo in 2013.

The final Ansett Australia 747 was 9V-SMA. It was also its most fleeting 747, flying for Ansett Australia for just two weeks in 2000. At the time, Ansett was Australia’s official “Olympic Airline” in the lead-up to the September Sydney 2000 Olympics – probably a busy month for Ansett.  The plane ended its days flying for Martinair Holland. 9V-SMA was finally retired in 2013.

That’s a lot of planes over a relatively short period. What’s interesting is how around half of them spent so little time with Ansett. Two of the 747-400s spent one month or less at the airline. It’s an intriguing timeline, but it was also a tumultuous decade at Ansett. The high turnover of Boeing 747s at the airline possibly reflects that tumult.