Boeing 747 Retirement & Project Sunrise – Qantas Prepares To Enter A New Age

It has been a big year for Qantas. Change is fairly incremental in the aviation industry but Qantas is preparing to move into a new age as it makes decisions about new and old aircraft, adjusting its fleet and wider business in response to market changes.

2019 has been a big year for Qantas as it prepares to enter a new age. Photo: Getty Images.

We’ve reported on Qantas a lot this year in Simple Flying. Two of our regular touchstones have been Project Sunrise and the retirement of the Qantas 747s. As the year draws to a close, it is a good time to recap and summarise what has been going on at the airline in 2019.

Project Sunrise inches closer

Over the last month, Qantas has moved to transition Project Sunrise from concept to reality. As many expected, the airline chose a slightly modified A350-1000 over the troubled Boeing 777-8 as its preferred Project Sunrise aircraft. One of the key reasons Qantas turned to Airbus was the proven track record of the A350-1000 whereas the first Boeing 777-8 is yet to take to the air.

And just before Christmas, there was another step forward for Project Sunrise. Here at Simple Flying, we’ve written extensively about ongoing negotiations between Qantas and the pilots union. Qantas needs to bed down its pilot’s pay and work conditions before it gives Project Sunrise the sign-off.

Qantas has selected a modified A350-1000 as its preferred Project Sunrise aircraft. Photo: Qantas News Room.

So far, it’s been a frustrating process. But there was a breakthrough of sorts just days ago. Qantas hammered out a pay deal for its short-haul domestic pilots with the same the union it has been negotiating the Project Sunrise deal with. This week’s announcement is being hailed as a circuit breaker that has generated some much-needed goodwill between the parties thrashing out the Project Sunrise pay deal. This short-haul breakthrough is seen as setting the scene for a breakthrough on Project Sunrise. If so, it clears away the last big hurdle for Qantas and Project Sunrise.

The era of the Boeing 747 is fast drawing to a close

Whereas Project Sunrise and the A350-1000s represent the future, the elegant queen of the skies, the Boeing 747, represents the past. Qantas is down to a clutch of 747-400s now and expects to have them all retired by the end of 2020.

As it retires each of its remaining jumbos, the airline has taken to sending them off with a bit of fanfare, publicizing the final commercial flight and opening up seats for points redemptions. In March 2019, VH-OJS Hamilton Island was retired. In October, VH-OJU Lord Howe Island finished up with Qantas after nearly 20 years and went to a new life working at Rolls Royce as a flying engine testbed.

2020 will be the last time you’ll see Qantas 747s at airports. Photo: JBabinski via Wikimedia Commons.

In February 2020, VH-OEF Sydney is set to retire, going out in style with a last transpacific hurrah. That will leave Qantas with just five 747-400s remaining and all are due to finish up in 2020.

And that will see an era close at Qantas. The airline received its first Boeing 747 in 1971 and since then the 747 has taken millions of Aussies off to see the world – often for the first time. No wonder they are getting all nostalgic about not hearing the rumble of the Qantas 747s coming into land anymore.

Qantas moves into a new age

Throughout the year, it often seemed that Qantas was doing little more than generating publicity through media stunts and announcements. But when you look back over 2020, you can see the airline has done things.

Alan joyce
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has generated concrete results. Photo: Qantas News Room.

In addition to Project Sunrise and the retirement of the 747-400s, Qantas has begun refurbishing its fleet of A380s. It has opened new flights to new destinations, both international and domestic. Qantas, like its local competitor Virgin Australia, often cops flack for neglecting regional Australia but Qantas deserves some kudos for initiating a couple of new and improving some existing regional routes recently.

What’s on next year at Qantas? The airline is expected to make a fleet renewal decision regarding its short and medium-haul single-aisle aircraft – the Boeing 717s, Fokker 100s and some of the older 737-800s. The A220 is widely tipped as the favorite. If this comes to pass, it will be another step into a new age for Qantas.