Qantas bids farewell to the Queen

Last 747 departs Sydney on its way to desert retirement

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The last Qantas 747 on its way to its final resting place. (PHOTO: Qantas)

Australian flag carrier Qantas bid farewell Wednesday (22 July) to its last 747-400 jumbo jet as the airline retires its fleet of the plane that enabled millions of people to travel in style throughout the world. Qantas joins other carriers like British Airways that are culling four-engine planes ahead of schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown in international travel. The final 747-400 in the fleet (registration VH-OEJ) departed Sydney as flight number QF7474 and drew a kangaroo in its flight path that was visible on various flight tracking applications.

Qantas took delivery of its first 747 (a -200 series) in August 1971, the same year that William McMahon became Prime Minister, the first McDonalds opened in Australia and Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool topped the music charts. Its arrival – and its economics – made international travel possible for millions of people for the first time. The fleet of 747 aircraft not only carried generations of Australians on their first overseas adventures, they also offered a safe voyage for hundreds of thousands of migrant families who flew to their new life in Australia on board a ‘roo tailed jumbo jet.

Qantas 747s were at the forefront of a number of important milestones for the airline, including the first Business Class cabin of any airline in the world. Their size, range and incredible reliability meant they were used for numerous rescue missions: flying a record 674 passengers out of Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy; evacuating Australians out of Cairo during political unrest in 2011 and flying medical supplies in and tourists home from the Maldives and Sri Lanka following the Boxing Day Tsunami in December 2004. The last rescue missions the 747 flew for Qantas were to bring hundreds of stranded Australians home from the COVID-19 epicentre of Wuhan in February this year.

Between 1971 and 1984, Qantas 747s carried the distinctive ‘ochre stripe’ livery. (PHOTO: Qantas)

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the 747 changed the face of Australian aviation and ushered in a new era of lower fares and non-stop flights. “It’s hard to overstate the impact that the 747 had on aviation and a country as far away as Australia. 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. That put international travel within reach of the average Australian and people jumped at the opportunity,” Joyce said. “This aircraft was well ahead of its time and extremely capable. Engineers and cabin crew loved working on them and pilots loved flying them. So did passengers. They have carved out a very special place in aviation history and I know they’ll be greatly missed by a lot of people, including me.

Qantas has flown six different types of the 747, with Boeing increasing the aircraft’s size, range and capability over the years with the advent of new technology and engine types.

Members of the crew at the farewell ceremony. (PHOTO: Qantas)

Qantas’s first female Captain, Sharelle Quinn, was in command of the final flight and said the aircraft has a very special place in the hearts of not just Qantas staff, but aviation enthusiasts and travellers alike. “I have flown this aircraft for 36 years and it has been an absolute privilege,” Quinn said. “From the Pope to pop stars, our 747’s have carried over 250 million people safely to their destinations. Over the decades, it’s also swooped in on a number of occasions to save Aussies stranded far from home.”


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