Few aircraft turn heads like the Boeing 747 does. It is arguably the most iconic and best-loved aircraft ever flown. Between 1971 and 2020, Qantas operated scores of Boeing 747s, ranging from 747 SPs to 747-400s. One year after the last Boeing 747 left Qantas, what has become of the planes?
Most 747s now scrapped, but some preserved
Most of the former Qantas 747s, especially the older 747s, are now officially scrapped. But in the interim, many of the aircraft found second lives with other airlines. Some, like the 747-200, VH-EBQ City of Bunbury, some became museum pieces and remain carefully preserved.
In recent years, Qantas was best known for its fleet of Boeing 747-400s. The last of them only left the airline in 2020. But before the 400 series were 747-SPs, 747-100s, 747-200, and 747-300s. There were some big-name airlines happy to take former Qantas 747s. In 1991, United Airlines picked up six Qantas Boeing 747-200s. They were VH-EBP, VH-EBO, VH-EBN, VH-EMB, VH-EBL, and VH-EBK.
In the late 1980s, the first Boeing 747-400s touched down in Sydney, going on to fly under Qantas colors for 30 years. According to the airline database, ch-aviation, Qantas flew 31 747-400s over the years, including six extended range (ER) versions.
One of the most famous is VH-OJA which is now preserved at the Historical Aviation Society Museum south of Sydney. Most of the 747-400s are now scattered around the world in boneyards such as Mojave, Victorville, Marana Pinal, or Tulepo. Some 747-400s found themselves flying for other airlines. VH-OJU was bought by Rolls-Royce recently to be used as a testbed.
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A quick retirement for the Boeing 747 in early 2020
With the worldwide travel downturn hitting Qantas hard last year, the airline brought forward its previously announced retirement dates for their remaining 747-400s. Over the first half of 2020, the final jumbos began flying out of Sydney, heading to storage in California.
Qantas sent their last 747-400, VH-OEJ Wunala, off to California in July. 2020 was an unusual year, and the aircraft didn’t get the send-off originally planned. But VH-OEJs final flight did make a splash, drawing a kangaroo in the sky after it left Sydney.
It was a sudden end for an aircraft type that flew continuously at Qantas for 49 years – a remarkable length of time. However, in the year since, Qantas has been keen to maximize the nostalgia surrounding the 747. In a nifty marketing stunt, the airline proceeded to sell the drinks carts from the jumbos. The carts, appropriately stocked with drinks, sold like hotcakes.
More recently, Qantas has channeled the early days of the 747, setting up a replica of their notorious upper deck Captain Cook lounge at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach. The fabulously retro lounge harked back to an era when people dressed up to fly, were able to smoke onboard, and flight attendants carved the roast beef inflight.
Qantas turns to smaller, more efficient planes
Like many other airlines that flew the 747, Qantas is eyeing smaller, more fuel-efficient planes in the future. Earlier this decade, Qantas purchased a dozen Airbus A380s, a bigger plane than the Boeing 747, and probably a purchase the airline came to rue. Those A380s are now in long-term storage in California, flagged to return to flying in 2023.
In 2021, the flagship of the Qantas fleet is the 236 seat Boeing 787-9, a plane airlines love for its operating efficiencies but i leaves many passengers underwhelmed. In contrast, most passengers were always pleased to board a 364 seat Qantas 747-400.