Qantas Celebrates 100th Birthday By Flying A Boeing 787 Over Sydney Harbor

Qantas took to the skies early on Monday evening for a centenary flight over Sydney. It was a little more low-key than many were hoping, but passengers did get a few partylike trimmings. There was a champagne pyramid, crew dressed in uniforms from the last 100 years, and a dip over Sydney Harbor where the Harbor Bridge was lit up as larger-than-life birthday cake complete with illuminated candles that were blown out by as the plane did a low level overfly at 1,500 feet.

VH-ZNJ taxiing out for yesterday’s centenary flight. Photo: Qantas

The Sydney Harbor Bridge lights up like a birthday cake

The flight, QF100, took off from Sydney Airport at twilight on Monday evening. VH-ZNJ operated the flight, a Qantas Boeing 787-9 that’s best known for its distinctive centenary livery. Onboard were 200 passengers, including 100 Qantas employees. The flight, which took 100 minutes, flew down to Shellharbour before wandering back up the coast. Over Sydney it performed several loops before flying down the main harbor.

“We want to use this moment to say thank you to all those who have supported Qantas over the years. And, in particular, to the many people who have dedicated some or all of their careers to this great company,” said Qantas Chairman, Richard Goyder, in a statement yesterday.

With the centenary more muted than originally hoped, there was a little unexpected twist. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is a handy platform for a decent New Year’s Eve fireworks display and occasionally lights up for some special event.

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The Sydney Harbour Bridge list night. Photo: Destination NSW

Last night, as the 787-9 flew low over the harbor, more than 1,300 LED tubes, 126 LED fixtures, and 38 searchlights lit up the full expanse of the bridge. Sixty five-meter-high birthday candles were projected onto the southern and northern pylons, creating a big birthday cake that you couldn’t eat but sure looked pretty.

All was not lost in the cake department, though. There was cake beforehand in the lounge.

“Qantas aircraft have been flying over Sydney Harbor Bridge for decades, so this was a spectacular way to mark our anniversary,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce last night.

A small, low cost birthday not what originally planned

Mr Joyce called yesterday’s centenary a small, low-cost event. He noted a big bash would have been unacceptable in the current environment, especially after thousands of employees have lost their jobs.

And while there’s nothing wrong with a flyover and a bridge lit up like a birthday cake, it wasn’t exactly the year-long party the airline had previously been cooking up.

Originally on this year’s schedule was a 12-month long tour around Australia, a kind of mobile museum showcasing Qantas from the past century. There were going to be big bang announcements such as Project Sunrise. Also planned were some shiny new routes, like the indefinitely delayed service to Chicago. Orders for new planes were in the pipeline. Money would get spent.

The centenary flight at Sydney Airport last night. Photo: Qantas

Instead, the majority of the Qantas fleet is grounded. What planes are flying are generally way underutilized. Six thousand people have lost their jobs at Qantas in its centenary year. Yesterday Alan Joyce said Qantas had survived drought, wars, and depression, but 2020 was the worse year by far.

Despite this, Mr Joyce thinks Qantas will come out of the year fine and that the airline performs best when its back is against the wall.

“For Australians, there’s nothing quite like seeing the flying kangaroo at the airport, waiting to take you home. We hope to be doing a lot more of that in the months and years ahead.”