The Plane That Changed Qantas Forever: The Boeing 747

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No aircraft was a better match for an airline than the Boeing 747 and Qantas. The plane connected not only a continent with the world but also a public consciousness with the big flying kangaroo. What is the story of the Boeing 747 and Qantas? And will this crisis be the end of a chapter?

Qantas 747
Why was the Qantas 747 so good for Qantas? Photo: Getty Images

When did Qantas first order the Boeing 747?

Qantas first ordered the Boeing 747 to replace its Boeing 707s in 1967, with the late delivery of four aircraft by 1971. The later delivery time allowed the airline to select the more suitable Boeing 747-200B variant (You can read about the different types of Boeing 747s here). The aircraft was bigger than the 707s and could fly further, greatly increasing the profitability of the airline.

Qantas would use these aircraft to fly to New Zealand and to Los Angeles, which at the time was only possible with a 747 aircraft due to ETOPS laws. The Boeing 747’s long range was perfect for Qantas, who needed a powerful aircraft to fly passengers to and from the remote Australian continent.

Qantas would then supplement this fleet of aircraft with two special long-range Boeing 747SPs. With the retirement of its final 707 in 1979, Qantas was now an entirely 747 airline.

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The old Qantas 747s took a lot of Australians off on their first big overseas trip. Photo: Phillip Capper via Flickr.

Qantas would set two major records with the 747s, the first being the most passengers on a single aircraft, which it set in 1974. The carrier evacuated 673 passengers from Darwin when a cyclone hit the city. Qantas would also operate a non-stop London to Sydney flight with a 747, although it was not loaded with passengers.

With the extra room afforded onboard the aircraft, Qantas would also be the first airline in the world to launch ‘business class’, a nice step between first and economy.

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Qantas lounge on the 747
The first-class lounge a Qantas Boeing 747, 1971. Photo: Qantas

From here, Qantas would also order the Boeing 747-300 in 1985 and the famous Boeing 747-400 in 1989. These aircraft would be almost exclusively used on long-range routes to Europe, Asia, South America, and North America until the introduction of the Airbus A380.

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Qantas gave some of the 747s very interesting paint jobs. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Qantas would operate 65 747s over 40 years, taking delivery of 57 brand new 747s from Boeing itself, taking three 747-400s of the hands of another airline and even having to lease five aircraft to cover capacity.

The future of the aircraft

Last year, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce issued a statement about the Boeing 747:

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The jumbo has been the backbone of Qantas International for more than 40 years … each new version of the 747 allowed Qantas to fly further and improve what we offered passengers”.

However, due to the current crisis, Qantas has had to ‘park’ its 747s around Australia with little hope of them returning to the skies (sans-special flights or rescue flights). They are not yet officially retired, but many are acting as such.

Interestingly, Qantas does technically still have two Boeing 747s. Qantas Cargo, the freight division of the airline has leased two Boeing 747-8Fs from Atlas Air to operate its lucrative postal routes. These will not be in the kangaroo livery, although if you squint your eyes you might just see some Qantas branding.

Atlas Air, Shannon, Thomas Cook Rescue
Altas Air Boeing 747. Photo: Atlas Air

With the curtains closing on this chapter, those who had a chance to fly onboard Qantas’ take on the queen of the skies will know that they were part of something special. We might not have the 747s anymore, but their spirit flies on with Qantas’ other aircraft.

What do you think of this? Did you fly on the Qantas 747 fleet? Let us know in the comments.

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