Qantas retiring last Queen of the Skies plane as Boeing 747s vanish

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Jul 2020, 4:26PM
A Qantas Boeing 747-400, registration VH-OEJ taxis at Sydney Airport for the last time as it retires from service on July 22, 2020 in Sydney. Photo / Getty)
A Qantas Boeing 747-400, registration VH-OEJ taxis at Sydney Airport for the last time as it retires from service on July 22, 2020 in Sydney. Photo / Getty)

Qantas retiring last Queen of the Skies plane as Boeing 747s vanish

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Jul 2020, 4:26PM

The last Qantas Boeing 747 has gone out with a bang - or a hop.

Watching along on the flight radar path, the aircraft could be seen drawing the company's iconic kangaroo logo.

The Queen of the Skies is completing its last flight before retiring from the Qantas fleet.

After 50 years of service, the Boeing 747 aircraft will no longer service the Australian airline, which will be sending the iconic aircraft to California – where several others now sit – to be parked and stripped for parts in the aircraft graveyard in the Mojave Desert.

Flight QF7474, a Boeing 747-400, started its final flight out of Sydney at 2pm local time yesterday, flying over the Harbour Bridge, the city's CBD, northern and eastern suburb beaches as well as the HARS Museum in Albion Park.

Greg Fitzgerald, who was the co-pilot for the flight, said yesterday would mark the end of a significant chapter in Australia's aviation history.

"Everybody in Australia, everybody in the world knows the shape of the 747," he told ABC Breakfast.

"It's like Aeroplane Jelly and Vegemite – it's always been there. We don't know life without the 747."

Qantas received its first 747 jumbo jet in August 1971, making international travel possible for millions of Australians because of the aircraft's size, range and reliability.

In addition to being a passenger plane, it has been used in the past for numerous rescue missions – including flying 674 passengers out of Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy and, more recently, flying hundreds of stranded Australians home from the Covid-19 epicentre of Wuhan in February.

Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce said the 747 changed the face of travel for Australians, noting their aircraft's retirement was brought forward by six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's hard to overstate the impact that the 747 had on aviation and a country as far away as Australia," Joyce said.

"It replaced the 707, which was a huge leap forward in itself but didn't have the sheer size and scale to lower airfares the way the 747 did."

The 747 will be replaced by a "more fuel-efficient aircraft" when overseas travel begins again for Australians, which Joyce predicts will be midway through 2021.

"Time has overtaken the 747 and we now have a much more fuel-efficient aircraft with even better range in our fleet, such as the 787 Dreamliner that we use on Perth-London and hopefully before too long, the Airbus A350 for our Project Sunrise flights non-stop to New York and London," he said.

Qantas operated a total of 65 747 aircraft including the 747-100, 747-200, 747-SP, 747-300, 747-400 and the 747-400ER and each had specific capabilities such as increased thrust engines and increased takeoff weight to allow longer-range operations.

In 1979, Qantas became the first airline to operate an all Boeing 747 fleet.

This week British Airways confirmed it too would be scrapping its entire Boeing 747 fleet.

The airline had originally planned to retire the Boeing 747 jets by 2024 and gradually replace them, but with passenger numbers plummeting due to coronavirus the airline has been forced to bring forward its plans.

A spokesperson for British Airways said it was "with great sadness" the retirement was brought forward by four years.

"We are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect," the spokesperson told the BBC.

"It is unlikely our magnificent 'queen of the skies' will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic."

According to FlightRadar24, the global number of active 747 passenger aircraft has now dropped below 100.

Lufthansa still has 28 as part of its fleet, while Korean Air Lines has 12. Air Chine, Air India, Asiana Airlines, Atlas Air, China Airlines, Iraqi Airways, Mahan Air, Rossiya Airlines, Terra Avia, Thai Airways and Wamos Air all have fewer than 10 747s.