There’s yet more news from Qantas with reports this week that the airline is going to replace its ageing Boeing 737 freighters over the next few years.
The airline operates four 737-300 freighters and one 737-400 freighter. CH-Aviation reports that they will be retired and replaced over the next two to three years.
The five freighters are operated by Qantas subsidiary, Express Freighters Australia, which is based in Sydney. Express Freighters Australia operates six aircraft, the five Boeing 737’s in question and a sole Boeing 767-300ER, which it flies on behalf of Qantas Freight. The 767-300ER is registered as VH-EFR.
In response to a question about the 737 freight fleet, a spokesperson for Qantas told Simple Flying that;
” We are constantly evaluating options for fleet renewal as part of our long-term planning. No decisions have been made around Qantas Freight’s fleet renewal requirements and our 737 freighters still have some years to run in our fleet.”
This perhaps suggests that stories of the 737’s imminent demise are premature.
What aircraft are being replaced?
The five 737 aircraft in question are VH-XMB, VH-XML, VH-XMO, VH-XMR, and VH-XNH. They have been flying between 29 and 33 years.
The oldest in the fleet, VH-XMB, started flying with Australian Airlines in July 1986 as VH-TAG (Advance). Australian Airlines was a government-owned domestic carrier formerly known as TAA. Qantas took over the airline in 1992 and the following year it was flying under Qantas colours.
The aircraft has spent its entire working life flying for Qantas or one of its subsidiaries, including three years with New Zealand based subsidiary Jetconnect. In 2006, back in Australia, it was re-registered as VH-XMB and in 2007 was converted to a freighter. It has flown in that capacity ever since.
The history of VH-XML is similar. It entered service with Australian Airlines factory fresh at the end of 1986 as VH-TAU (Enterprise) and has variously spent time flying for Qantas and Jetconnect before been re-registered VH-XML in 2006. It was converted to a freighter in 2007, and has been jetting cargo around Australia ever since.
VH-XMO is marginally younger, having entered service with Australian Airlines in the autumn of 1987 as VH-TAW (Progress). It followed a similar trajectory as the two older planes, also flying with Qantas and Jetconnect. It 2006 the aircraft was re-registered as VH-XMO and started flying as a freighter that year.
The fourth aircraft, VH-XMR was brought into service by Australian Airlines in June 1987 as VH-TAY (Valiant). It later spent time flying with Qantas and Jetconnect. VH-TAY was re-registered as VH-XMR in mid-2006 and was converted to and flying as a freighter by early 2007.
VH-XNH is the sole 737-400 in the collection of freighters Qantas plans to replace. It has a very different flying history to the four 737-300’s. The plane entered service with Air Europe in July 1990 as G-BRKG. Over the next 27 years, it flew under the colors of 10 different airlines including Dan-Air, Ryanair, Air Miles, Xtra Airways, and Excel Airways. It had four different registrations.
Two years ago, already 27 years old, it came to Qantas and started flying freight for them under the Express Freighters Australia brand. It was re-registered as VH-XNH.
Qantas Freight and new 747 freighters.
Qantas flies freight in their passenger aircraft, on dedicated Qantas Freight planes and on subsidiary brands like Express Freighters Australia. In the 2017/2018, freight revenue for the Qantas Group was AUD$862 million.
It’s big business for Qantas. While the Express Freighters Australia aircraft primarily carry freight around Australia, the 767-300ER spends five days a week flying freight between Australia and New Zealand. On Sundays, after flying into Sydney from Christchurch, VH-EFR heads up to Hong Kong before heading back on Monday.
These 747 freighters fly a Sydney-Jakarta-Shanghai-Anchorage-Chicago-Dallas-Los Angeles-Honolulu-Sydney and a Sydney-Shanghai-Anchorage-JFK-Chicago-Honolulu-Sydney schedule each week. That’s a lot of flying.
Qantas Freight Chief Executive, David Andrew, told CH-Aviation;
“We are seeing strong growth in demand driven by e-commerce, fresh produce, electronics and mining equipment across our international freight network,”
Qantas has built a lucrative business flying freight around Australia and the world.
While Qantas is suggesting there 737 freighters will be around for some time yet, they are ageing and their replacement is inevitable. And there’s no sign Qantas will be downsizing their freight capacity or operations.