Qantas’ Last Boeing 747 Leaves Australia: A Bittersweet Goodbye

Qantas has closed a chapter on its history, farewelling the Boeing 747 series in a stunning event this morning. Bittersweet words were spun by CEO Alan Joyce, at the same time as the engines spun up for the last flight of the Qantas Boeing 747-400. The final aircraft departed Sydney in the early afternoon for its resting place in California.

Qantas’ Last Boeing 747 Leaves Australia: A Bittersweet Goodbye
Qantas 747 farewell event. Photo: Simple Flying

Farewell celebrations

The Australian carrier celebrated the end of an era, inviting Qantas legends and media alike to get up close and personal with the last Boeing 747 in the fleet.

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Invited guests and Qantas staff say goodbye in their way. Photo: Simple Flying

The aircraft, VH-OEJ, will perform the adeptly named QF7474 flight from Sydney’s Kingsford Smith (SYD) to Los Angeles (LAX), before being shuttled to its final resting place deep in the Mojave desert.

The Boeing 747 was moved into a spare hangar at Sydney Airport with special protocols to ensure social distancing. No handshakes or group photos were allowed, and Qantas employed specially trained staff to ensure that their audience did not mingle.

Simple Flying
Qantas took extra care to ensure that guests remained safe. Photo: Simple Flying

The flight will carry no passengers, with the previous weeks’ joy flights around Australia concluding actual passenger services.

A photo of guests on a joy flight last week. Photo: Getty Images

During the event, Qantas team members were invited to sign and write fond messages on the belly of the beast.

Qantas pilots write their notes on the aircraft. Photo: Simple Flying

This reporter managed to leave their message on the aircraft.

Qantas 747 simple flying
A simple message for all the good the Qantas 747 has brought to the world. Photo: Simple Flying

Older pilots, one ex-Qantas 747 pilot who was 94 years old, were able to caress the airframe one last time.

This reporter got a chance to pose and see a Boeing 747 up close for likely the last time. Photo: Simple Flying

Following the walkaround, several partners gave speeches about the Boeing 747, including Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas Group.

He said that the Boeing 747 contributed to the “overturning of Australia’s much-lamented tyranny of distance” and “[The 747s] have carved out a very special place in aviation history, and I know they’ll be greatly missed by a lot of people, including me.”

The flight crew wave farewell to Australia. Photo: Simple Flying

After the speeches, the crew boarded the aircraft and waved farewell, and the plane taxied to the ramp. This flight is flown by the first female captain ever at Qantas and partnered with an equally experienced flight team.

The pilot team, with Captain Sharelle Quinn on the left. Photo: Qantas

“I have flown this aircraft for 36 years, and it has been an absolute privilege,” says Sharelle Quinn, the Qantas Captian for the final journey.

It took off at 3:28 pm local time and began its final flight path. The aircraft plans to fly north up the coast of Sydney, then returning down to dip its wings to the first Qantas Boeing 747-400 stored in a museum on the south coast of NSW. The aircraft then will turn left and head to California.

Our video from the event:

A brief history of the final Qantas 747

The plane that left today for the history books, VH-OEJ, has had a long history with Qantas.

  • It entered service in July 2003.
  • In July 2003, it got a paint job in the “Wunala Dreaming” livery until 2012.
  • In January 2012, the interior got renovated and upgraded.
  • In August 2016, it was repainted in “Spirit of the Australian Team” unique colors until 2017.
  • It was finally retired from service in March this year.
Qantas 747
The special Wunala Dreaming livery. Photo: Damien Aiello via Wikimedia

What impact has the Boeing 747 had on Qantas

The Boeing 747 had a significant impact on Qantas and its operations. It allowed the airline to not only connect far-flung destinations across the world (beyond just routes over the pacific to Los Angeles) but also opened the flood gates to economy travelers thanks to a large number of seats available.

“The Boeing 747 has changed Qantas; it has changed aviation in Australia, it has changed aviation in the world” – Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said during the event.

The Qantas 747 has been instrumental for the airline. Photo: Getty Images

For many Australian passengers, this author included, the Qantas Boeing 747 was the first aircraft they flew on internationally. Others who moved to Australia during the immigration drive of the 1970s first experienced Australian culture onboard the 747, as it whisked them away to a better life.

Qantas’ Last Boeing 747 Leaves Australia: A Bittersweet Goodbye
This is the last time we will see a Boeing 747 sporting the Qantas famous red tail. Photo: Simple Flying

Notable events include:

  • Qantas deployed the 747s for rescue flights during the Darwin cyclone Tracy, where the Boeing 747 carried a world-record number of people fleeing the devastation.
  • After the Bali Bombings in 2002, Qantas sent nine Boeing 747s to the Indonesian island (the first time they had flown there) to bring Australians home.
  • In 2004, the Qantas 747 was instrumental in rescue and aid operations for the Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia.
  • At one point, Qantas was only a Boeing 747 carrier with no other aircraft.
  • The Boeing 747 also performed a record-breaking delivery flight from London to Sydney in a little over 20 hours in 1989.
  • Qantas does technically employ two Boeing 747-8F aircraft in Atlas livery, although they don’t perform passenger services.

Below you can see an excellent video from Qantas highlighting these accomplishments.

Qantas will replace all the Boeing 747 operations with Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The passing of these great aircraft ushers in a new age of fuel-efficient quiet aircraft, that are cheaper to operate and can do the distance.

“It has been a wonderful part of our history, a truly ground-breaking aircraft and while we are sad to see our last one go, it’s time to hand over to the next generation of aircraft that are a lot more efficient.” – Alan Joyce commented during the event

The Qantas Boeing 747 has left an impressional impact on Australia, and the world, and the only way to end an article like this (and 49 years of history) is with a simple, matter of fact, sign off.

The Qantas Boeing 747 entered into service in 1971 and was retired in 2020.