Qantas Operates Its Final US Boeing 747 Service

Qantas operated its last regular Boeing 747-400 service to San Francisco this week, closing a chapter in a long history the Australian airline has with San Francisco. The final Qantas 747-400 service departed San Francisco on Tuesday evening and touched down at Sydney a short time ago. It marks the end of Qantas’ 747-400 services to the United States.

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Qantas operated its last Boeing 747 from the United States this week. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Qantas flies daily to San Francisco from Sydney, four times a week from Melbourne and from February 9, 2020, three times a week from Brisbane. As of today, all of Qantas’ services to San Francisco will be operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

Qantas has a long association with San Francisco

The final Qantas 747-400 service to San Francisco was operated by VH-OEE Nullabor. Qantas has been flying this plane since July 2002. Qantas has just six Boeing 747-400 aircraft left and plans to retire them all within the next 12 months. Since the first Boeing 747 was delivered to Qantas in 1971, the aircraft has been a mainstay of the fleet. All up, Qantas has flown 65 Boeing 747s.

The exit of the aircraft from San Francisco marks a sharp wind-down in Qantas’ 747-400 services, as the much loved but ageing aircraft are phased out in favour of smaller, fuel-efficient aircraft such as Boeing 787s.

Over the years, Qantas has had a long and storied association with San Francisco, first flying into the airport in 1954 using a Super Constellation. The airline’s first jet service also touched down there. In 1959 you could fly from Sydney to San Francisco via Nadi and Honolulu onboard a Boeing 707-138.  Proving the Qantas publicity machine stretches way back, their brochures of that time said;

“A typical itinerary of a 707 passenger could read… breakfast in London, luncheon in New York, supper in San Francisco. In fact, with the crossing of the international dateline, it’s quite possible to fly from Sunday into Monday and back into Sunday again!”

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A Qantas route map from 1972 showing an absence of direct flights across the Pacific. Photo: Airlinemaps via Tumblr.

In the early 1970s, Qantas sent their first 747s into San Francisco. The first 747 models were not able to make the long flight across the Pacific without stopping, usually in Honolulu. A Qantas route map from 1972 illustrates the key role San Francisco played in Qantas’ US services. It was the advent of more modern 747s, like the 747-400 that saw the Pacific being leapt in a single bound and nonstop services introduced between Australia and the west coast of the USA.

The last Qantas 747 flight from San Francisco

On Tuesday evening, in San Francisco, Mike Galvan, the Qantas Captain operating the last Qantas 747 service out of the city told SFGate;

“It’s sad to see the aeroplane that everyone loves, the aeroplane that democratised flying to the general public, to be flying its final sector. It’s a very emotional occasion because San Francisco was the starting point between Australia and the U.S. This is the first port we came to.”

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VH-OEE, the aircraft that operated the last Qantas 747-400 out of San Francisco. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons.

The last 12,162-kilometre flight down to Sydney went off without a hitch. Cruising at around 12,000 metres, the flight skirted south of Hawaii and slid down between Fiji and Vanuatu, to the south of New Caledonia before tracking into Sydney.

Qantas hasn’t made much of a fuss about this. It is far more fun to mark something new than to mark the end of something as enduring as the Qantas 747 at San Francisco.

Despite some reports to the contrary, it isn’t the end of Qantas 747 flights across the Pacific. Qantas is still flying its 747s between Sydney and Vancouver this northern winter, but this will inevitably be the final year of doing so.

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