Why Qantas Never Ordered The Boeing 777

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During the design process of the Boeing 777, the aerospace manufacturer consulted with eight airlines to build the ‘perfect’ medium haul aircraft. They wanted to bridge the gap between the 767 and their 747 jumbo jet.

The eight airlines were All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, United Airlines and, Qantas.

Seven airlines would go on to buy the Boeing 777 once it was complete; all except Qantas.

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Qantas
Three Qantas 747s sit in Heathrow. Photo: Wikimedia

Why did Boeing ask airlines for help?

According to a report by the New York Times, Boeing never really consulted with Airlines before. They would show one or two airlines the almost finished product, but ultimately preferred an ‘off-the-shelf’ style of sales.

With the 777, Boeing decided to take a different route and include airlines in the design phase. The economy was in a slump at the time and Boeing needed to sell aircraft, not just for the moment, but that would serve airlines for decades to come. Hence, an idea was sparked to offer airlines the perfect aircraft that would cater to exactly what they wanted.

“We’re no longer saying, ‘We’ll buy three off the shelf,’ ” said James Guyette, executive vice president of operations for United Airlines in 1990, “We’re back in the laboratory working on the product.”

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Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific would go on to order the Boeing 777-300ER . Source: Wikimedia

The airlines came up with several criteria:

  • A passenger capacity around 360, to fit between the 767 and 747 in the Boeing lineup
  • Configurable to be either domestic orientated with two classes, or three classes for international routes. This means that airlines should be able to move galleys and other areas around, to fit in what they need.
  • The aircraft would need to be powered by the most modern engines available, and thus be the most efficient aircraft in the sky.

So, with the design settled, Boeing got to work building the ‘perfect’ aircraft.

Why is the Boeing 777 perfect for Qantas?

Qantas, at the time, had a fleet consisting of several Boeing 747s for their transpacific routes, 737-400s for their domestic routes and a few 767s. They even had an option on four Concordes – can you imagine?

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Qantas was looking to expand its international fleet, and the 777 was perfect.

  • Long haul and fuel efficient, the 777 could fill in less dense routes to more destinations that the 747s couldn’t handle.
  • Australia is very far away; the 777’s increased range (especially the 777-300ER) would suit Qantas perfectly.
  • Dense domestic routes, such as Sydney to Melbourne, could have massive capacity and allow Qantas to corner the market.

But, they ended up ordering Airbus A330s and Airbus A380s instead. Why?

The 2nd longest flight that Qantas operates is from Dallas to Sydney on their Airbus A380. Photo: Wikimedia

Why did Qantas never order it?

The year was 2000, Sydney was hosting the Olympics, Qantas had just founded Oneworld and James Strong was the CEO.

Qantas would make an order for 12 A380s, 13 A330s (including both types, -200s and -300s) and six 747-400ERs.

They claimed that the Boeing 777 was unsuitable for domestic routes (too big), and that’s why they ordered the A330s. As they also ordered the 12 A380s, they did not need the 777s for the international routes.

Qantas would go on to regret that choice. Whilst the A380s work well for airlines like Emirates who have long haul dense routes (London to Dubai for example), Qantas only has London or Los Angeles as dense long haul routes. Many of their other routes would be better served (and far more efficient) with a twin-jet aircraft like a 777-300ER.

“It is great to be able to say I wish I could get in a time machine and go back to 2000 and [change] the fleet order [made by] not the last CEO, the CEO before that,” Joyce told Australian Financial Review. “But the reality is we have the aircraft we have. We just have to get on with life,”

Alan joyce
CEO Alan Joyce has said that Qantas should have ordered different aircraft back in 2000. Photo: Qantas

Qantas would go on to order the Boeing 787 in 2005 in an effort to remedy their mistake.

Now, this last note is definitely in the rumor territory, but according to one comment, a previous CEO of Qantas was strong-armed into selecting the A380 bundled with an A330 order rather than the Boeing 777. Airbus apparently threatened to never compete for Qantas’ money again, and would simply charge list prices.

After he was instated as CEO, Geoff Dixon told employees that Airbus’ John Leahy told him that if he didn’t buy the A380 bundled with A330s that Airbus would not compete for another Qantas order again. Whether Geoff believed this or not, he shouldn’t have, but that is what he said at the time. Dixon was the last chance Qantas had to escape. Even he came to realise as well that not having 777s was an Achilles Heel but even he turned it down twice more, too.” – Source.

But with Qantas lining up to choose between the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350 by the end of the year… maybe history won’t repeat itself.

What do you think? Should Qantas have ordered the Boeing 777? Let us know in the comments. 

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