When Does Qantas Turn 100?

Qantas prides itself on a couple of key points. The first is its reputation as one of the world’s safest airlines. The second is its age. In less than a fortnight, on November 16, Qantas will turn 100. That makes it the world’s third oldest continuing airline. It is pipped to the post by KLM (established October 1919) and Avianca (established December 1919).

The Boeing 747, the plane that came to define Qantas. Photo: Qantas

This time last year, Qantas was making a lot of noise about their centenary. Big things were planned. But everything went haywire this year. Party plans have been tempered. Still, Qantas won’t let the day go unmarked. They are doing a centenary joy flight on the day, telling Simple Flying that on the day, they’ll fly for 100 minutes over Sydney to mark 100 years.

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Qantas goes from Avro biplanes to A380s in the space of a century

In the space of that 100 years, Qantas has gone from flying short hops in a biplane to flying to six of the world’s seven continents. Between Qantas and its subsidiaries, QantasLink and Jetstar, the airline normally has around 315 planes in the air, ranging from De Havilland Dash-8-300s to Airbus A380s.

Writing in the 2020 Annual Report, and showing that events of 2020 aren’t necessarily new, current CEO Alan Joyce said,

“This company was founded 100 years ago in the wake of a world war and a devastating pandemic.”

Three knockabout men founded Qantas in Central Queensland last century. Paul McGinness was a Warrnambool boy who went on to fly in WWI and is credited with shooting down seven enemy aircraft. Wilmot Hudson Fysh came from Tasmania. He was an observer and gunner to Paul McGinness in the Australian Flying Corps in WWI, later picking up a DFC for his efforts. The third man was Fergus McMaster, a Queensland kid whose family made their money in the grazing business. Fergus McMaster was the bank, and because of that, he became Qantas’ first Chairman.

A Qantas Short S-23C Empire Class Flying Boat in the early 1940s. Photo: Qantas

Qantas grew as Australia grew

The first plane was an Avro 504. It was a biplane from WWI that could carry three people, including the pilot. The first paying customer was in 1922. An 84-year-old gentleman flew from Longreach to Cloncurry in central Queensland, a distance of just over 500 kilometers. Even now, it’s a long dusty drive through nothing much at all. Back then, it would have been a mammoth journey, whether by vehicle or horseback.

In those earliest days, Qantas shifted cargo and mail around the backblocks of central Queensland, linking the railways that radiated west from the coast.

By the end of the 1920s, Qantas had expanded to around eight planes but was still focused on central Queensland. The airline’s origins have become part of its historical folklore and is today commemorated by the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach.

The Avro 504, Qantas’ first plane. Photo: Qantas

“We started in outback Queensland carrying mail and a few passengers in the 1920s,” said the current Qantas version of Fergus McMaster, Chairman Richard Goyder, last year.

“We grew as Australia grew, and we’ve had important support roles during wars, national disasters, and celebrations. Our founders talked about overcoming the tyranny of distance, and through the years, we’ve moved from bi-planes to single wing, to jets to help bring things closer.” 

While Qantas has its critics, it has proved a hardy and resilient airline that has served its home country well over the past one hundred years. None of us will be around to see it, but it would be great to watch the airline rack up a double century in 100 years’ time.