Qantas has one of the longest histories of any airline – it is one of a handful of airlines to have already celebrated its 100th anniversary. It is not surprising then that it has operated a diverse range of aircraft. Since starting with jets, it moved to an all Boeing fleet (and an all 747 fleet for some time) but has since become a split Airbus and Boeing operator.
The Qantas fleet
Qantas today operates a Boeing 737 narrowbody fleet and a mixed Boeing and Airbus widebody fleet. As of September 2021, it operates the following, according to ch-aviation.com.
- Boeing 737: 75 aircraft
- A330: 28 aircraft (18 A330-200 and 10 A330-300)
- A380: 12 aircraft (all parked)
- Boeing 787-9: 11 aircraft
Looking back through its history, it has operated many more aircraft types. These have included:
- With Boeing, it has flown the 707, 747 (including the -100, 747SP, -200, -300, and -400), and 767-200
- With Airbus, it has operated the A300
- De Havilland Comet (wet-leased from BOAC)
- Avro Lancastrian (converted Lancaster bombers after the Second World War)
- Douglas DC-4 and L-1049 Super Constellation propeller aircraft
- Short Empire, Short Sandringham, and Catalina flying boats
- In its early days, it operated several Australian-built biplanes, including the Avro 504K and De Havilland DH50 and DH9)
We take a look here in more detail at some of Qantas’ most significant aircraft.
Qantas’ early Avro and De Havilland biplanes
Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (Qantas) started in 1920 with a mission to service the sparsely populated northern regions of the country. The first aircraft were biplanes – an Avro 504K and a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2E.
Service expanded in 1922 with a government mail contract, and scheduled passenger service started in 1924, using a four-seat de Havilland DH50 aircraft. Qantas produced its own aircraft (under license from De Havilland) in Longreach. Between 1926 and 1928, they built seven DH50 and one DH9 aircraft.
The flying boats
Some of Qantas’most interesting early aircraft were flying boats. By the late 1930s, it had a flying boat base in Sydney, and service began to Singapore. Service started with Short Empire flying boats, which were later replaced by Catalina flying boats.
Qantas and Imperial Airways (a predecessor of British Airways) jointly formed Qantas Empire Airways Limited (QEA). Imperial Airways picked up the onward service from Singapore to the UK, with a nine-day route. This route continued throughout the Second World War, with routing via Durban for onward connections by sea.
Entering the jet age with the Comet and 707
Post-war Qantas operated several propeller aircraft – the Avro Lancastrian (modified Lancaster bombers from war service), the Douglas DC4, and later the Super Constellation. This would initiate the Kangeroo and Souther Cross services in both directions to the UK.
It entered the jet age in 1959, with an order for seven Boeing 707s delivered from that year. By 1966 the fleet reached 19 jets (including six higher capacity 707- 338C aircraft). Qantas also operated six de Havilland Comet aircraft on the London route – these were leased from BOAC and crewed by BOAC crew.
Qantas and the 747
The 747 has, of course, been a popular aircraft with many airlines and passengers over the decades. Few airlines, though, can claim the same history with it as Qantas. It changed the face of Australian aviation and with it the future and prospects for Qantas. This made its early retirement in 2020 particularly sad.
Qantas introduced its first 747 in 1971 (with an order for four 747-238B aircraft). This was over a year after Pan Am became the launch customer. It has waited for the more capable 747-200 and modified these for longer routes. It went on to operate the 747-100, -200, -300, -400, and the 747SP. The last 747-400 was only delivered in 2003.
When the 707s were retired in 1979, Qantas became an all-747 operator. This lasted until the 767 was introduced in 1985. Like other operators, Qantas made good use of the extra space the 747 offered. It was amongst the first airlines to introduce a separate business class. And it used the upper deck for a lounge on longer services – known as the Captain Cook lounge.
Simple Flying took a more detailed look at Qantas’ 747 history in a recent article.
The fleet today – mixed Airbus and Boeing
Qantas broke its all-Boeing fleet with the Airbus A300. It acquired four A300B4 aircraft through its merger with Australian Airlines in 1992. These left the fleet in 1998, but Qantas went on to operate more Airbus aircraft. It introduced its first A330-200 in 2003 and the A330-200 in 2007.
The A380 took its first flight with Qantas in 2008. It originally ordered 20 A380s, but only 12 aircraft entered service (between 2008 and 2011). As of early 2021, all its A380s remain grounded. Qantas has indicated they will remain out of service until 2023, but there is some hope this may happen sooner. CEO Alan Joyce has expressed his opinion that the A380 still works well for the airline, particularly at slot-constrained hub airports like Los Angeles and Heathrow.
Other new introductions include the 737-800 from 2002, grown into a fleet of 75 aircraft now (its domestic dominance increased significantly after the collapse of Ansett Australia in 2001).
And it began to introduce the 787 from 2017. This began the first direct scheduled flight service between Australia (Perth) and London in March 2018. And from July 2021, it is scheduled on the Sydney-London routes in place of the A380.
Looking forward – the A321XLR and the A350?
With the slowdown in aviation and Qantas’ international grounding in 2020, future fleet changes and aircraft deliveries have been delayed. In 2020, Qantas pushed its planned arrival of three more Boeing 787s and one A321LR into 2021.
Qantas still has 64 A321neo aircraft (including A321LR and A321XLR) on order. These are destined to renew the narrowbody 737 fleet, and also likely for Jetstar. It also brought in the Embraer E190, under the QantasLink brand.
It also has a tentative order for the A350-1000. It plans to use these for its longest flights – including possibly Sydney to London and New York. This is being looked at as part of Project Sunrise, now likely delayed until 2024.
Qantas has operated many different aircraft over the past 100 years. We have discussed some of the most significant here, but not all. Feel free to discuss these and other types further in the comments.