The 747 clocks up 47 years in the Qantas fleet

written by australianaviation.com.au | August 16, 2018
Where it began – the first Qantas 747 was 747-238B VH-EBA City of Canberra delivered in 1971. (Qantas)
Where it began – the first Qantas 747 was 747-238B VH-EBA City of Canberra delivered in 1971. (Qantas)

Qantas took delivery of its first Boeing 747 on August 16 1971, which means the type has been in the airline’s fleet for 47 years.

The airline welcomed its first 747 in Australia on the morning of Thursday, August 16 1971, when 747-238 VH-EBA touched down at Sydney Airport.

The aircraft was ferried to Sydney from Boeing’s Paine Field just outside Seattle via San Francisco and Honolulu.

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A file image of Qantas's first Boeing 747 VH-EBA. (Qantas)
A file image of Qantas’s first Boeing 747 VH-EBA. (Qantas)

Over the ensuing 47 years, Qantas would operate almost every major 747 variant, including the 747SP, the 747 Combi, the 747-300 (which introduced the extended upper deck), the 747-400, and the 747-400ER (Extended Range).

Qantas operated two 747SPs, initially to Wellington with its infamously short runway, before deploying the type on nonstop trans-Pacific flights. (Qantas)
Qantas operated two 747SPs, initially to Wellington with its infamously short runway, before deploying the type on nonstop trans-Pacific flights. (Qantas)
Qantas operated three 747-200 Combis, which carried a combination of passengers and freight on the main deck. (Australian Aviation)
Qantas operated three 747-200 Combis, which carried a combination of passengers and freight on the main deck. (Australian Aviation)
A Qantas Boeing 747-200 on approach to land at Hong Kong’s notorious Kai Tak Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
A Qantas Boeing 747-200 on approach to land at Hong Kong’s notorious Kai Tak Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
Qantas Boeing 747-400ER VH-OEJ, the last 747 built for Qantas, wore the iconic Wunala Dreaming Indigenous scheme from its delivery in August 2003 until it was repainted in standard Qantas colours in January 2012. (Rob Finlayson)
Qantas Boeing 747-400ER VH-OEJ, the last 747 built for Qantas, wore the iconic Wunala Dreaming Indigenous scheme from its delivery in August 2003 until it was repainted in standard Qantas colours in January 2012. (Rob Finlayson)
A Boeing 747 was Qantas's 100th Boeing airplane to be delivered to the airline in 1992. (Qantas)
A Boeing 747 was Qantas’s 100th Boeing airplane to be delivered to the airline when it was delivered in 1992. (Qantas)

In all, Qantas has operated 65 747s, taking delivery of 57 new 747s from Boeing, purchasing three 747-400s secondhand and operating five leased aircraft at various points. And for a period between the retirement of its last 707 in March 1978 and the delivery of its first 767 in July 1985 Qantas even operated an all-747 fleet.

Qantas currently has 10 747-400s in service, comprising six GE-powered 747-438ERs (VH-OEE thru OEJ) delivered between 2002 and 2003, a single GE-powered 747-48E (VH-OEB, built for Asiana in 1993 and acquired by Qantas in 1998) and three Rolls-Royce-powered 747-438s (VH-OJS, OJT and OJU) delivered in the 1999-2000 timeframe.

The aircraft are used on some medium-haul flights to Asia (such as Sydney to Tokyo Haneda
and Hong Kong), a number of trans-Pacificc routes (including Sydney to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver and Brisbane-Los Angeles-New York JFK) and long over-water flights from Sydney to Johannesburg and Santiago.

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A Qantas Boeing 747-400ER on the ramp at Brisbane Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
A Qantas Boeing 747-400ER on the ramp at Brisbane Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
Qantas Boeing 747-400ER VH-OEI takes off from Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
Qantas Boeing 747-400ER VH-OEI takes off from Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

The final chapter of the 747’s significant place in the long history of Qantas will be written in about two years.

In May, Qantas announced the 747s would be gradually withdrawn between now and 2020, when the airline is due to celebrate its centenary.


VIDEO: A Qantas television ad celebrating the introduction into service of the Boeing 747-400 in 1989 from Yogiew2’s YouTube channel.

The June edition of Australian Aviation looks at the role the Boeing 747 has played in the history of Qantas. It can be read here. Digital editions of the magazine can be purchased on Zinio and Issuu, or in the Apple app store.

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16 Comments

  • Jon Symes

    says:

    As Professor Julius Sumner Millar was wont to say “Why is it so?”. Once upon a day, I would not fly any other airline than Q. Not just because they take the serious business of Safety very seriously, but because, it always felt like coming home whenever you boarded, no matter where .. But, that old fashioned (Australian) service, honest and straight forward as it was, has gone, sadly. No amount of latest Boeing or Airbus hardware will ever replace our honest Ozzie values that used to prevail, once again sadly. Thank you Qantas for trying, but as they used to say ” Service is King” and so it is today. I am proudly from the same part of Ireland as the current CEO Of Qantas, but I think that he was never tarred with the same “give the best possible service to your customer” training that I was, and so it goes, sadly. Bring back old fashioned service? I can hear the board chuckling out loud, oh well, at least I tried :-).

    • AK

      says:

      Sadly I concur with J Symes, the service which was once reflectivr of who we are and our aussie-ness has long past. As a frequent traveler in all classes bar first, the service I experience is so hit and miss, with miss being expected, a hit a nice surprise. Passengers appear to be a pest. After many years of qantas loyalty, I prefer to spend my travel dollar with non Australian airlines and have a positive travel experience. Sad but true.

      • S Bone

        says:

        Also i sadly concur with Mr Symes… on a recent flight from Dubai to Brisbane via Emirates one of the cabin staff came to my economy seat, called me by name and thanked me for my loyalty as a gold member and asked if there was anything she could do to make my journey more comfortable i only had to ask… Was i impressed? absolutely! It was such a little thing but thats never happend to me on any Qantas fight ever…. I sit in my seat on an Emirates or Singapore Airlines flight and take note of how attentive everyone is and then i look at the quality of the meal they serve up and then i look at what qantas serves up and i say to my self… why am i persisting with this.. and wheres my bloody bread roll!!!! The reason is because im locked in… trapped… as a gold member and nearly platinum!! so i persist for one reason and thats to keep my points up. im waiting for virgin to do one of those swap your points deals and ill be gone in a flash and before you can say Hasta la Vista Alan!!

  • William

    says:

    Qantas should wait for 16/8/2021 to retire the last 747, then they would have flown the 747 for 50 years.

  • John Giddens

    says:

    The 747-800 intercontinental would look awesome in qantas livery,,,, sadly greed conquers all

  • Ben

    says:

    @William I agree. What difference does a year make for the sake of saying you’ve reached such a milestone?

    @John Giddens I agree – I really like the 747-8. It looks awesome and I can’t understand why it hasn’t sold more. I’m an enthusiast though – not an airline economist.

    @Jon Symes – I broadly agree with you. These days on return flights from London you quite often or always get British cabin crew on Qantas flights. Nothing wrong with them as such, but long gone seems to be the relaxed, friendly Aussie accent welcoming you home from the moment you step aboard. That is what the flying public look for in their flag carrier, at least one as iconic as QF. Sadly this seems to be a thing of the past.

  • Rain Man

    says:

    I only fly Qantas. Definitely Qantas. I’m an excellent flyer.

  • Raymond Enders

    says:

    Fully agree with William. I wonder if any of the bean counters have an ounce of sentiment or nostalgia to extend the Queen of the Skies for one more year? Maybe Boeing could have ‘production issues’ for the 787s replacing the 747. Stranger things have happened.

  • Ray Finn

    says:

    Ray,
    My son who now is an Engineer with Boeing sent me this link. Takes me back to the exciting days when I participated in crewing from Boeing field to Sydney on 2nd Delivery. Many memories of greeting Aussies boarding the flying Kangaroo with “gidday mate gees its good to be home”. I too feel it was what made us different in the air. The cheeky banter, an update on who won the footy, and what’s the latest in Oz and the running of the Melbourne Cup sweep during flight for charity. Santa visiting the kids during a long haul flight after the skipper rocked the Jumbo to announce his arrival on board. Technology and our ability to keep updated has changed the need to communicate one on one. Crew were the entertainers prior to inflight systems. Who will forget the record number of passengers evacuated on a Jumbo from cyclone Tracey or the Vietnam evacuation flight which I was privileged to crew. They were big bastards when we stepped up from 707s. But you know what they say ” If its not a Boeing I ain’t going”. Thanks for the memories.

  • John Dalwood

    says:

    I have been a QF employee working in Airport Operations Customer Service. Have always been proud to be part of it but have been retired since 1997. These days I get a lot of negative feedback from friends who have flown with QF but now prefer one of the Middle Eastern Carriers. Having flown Singapore Airline, Cathay, Emirates and Etihad in Business I can’t find anything extraordinary about them other than that they reflect their country of origin. Perhaps QF has lost its Australian Soul.

  • Craigy

    says:

    Speaking of Boeing, VH-ZNF (Boomerang) flew into Melbourne Sunday from Payne Field. The Jumbo service to LA from BNE is approaching its finale

  • John Harrison

    says:

    Ah the Boeing 747 in all her glory, Yes Qantas had them for many a year, took my 1st Boeing 747-238B flight way back in 1973 Sydney to Perth (having flown to Sydney on a Qantas Boeing 707 !!) I’ve flown in every model of the B747 Qantas has
    had in its fleet. Recently had the chance to fly in a B747 again (Perth to Sydney) luck to get in business class (downstairs)
    Services was OK. For me the Boeing 747 will always be the “Queen of the Skies”

  • Tony G

    says:

    Hope they can be sent out with a retro scheme. The flying kangaroo. With regards to the 748, it would have sold so well if Boeing had released it earlier. I think they sat on the 744 for too long and potentially to for granted

  • Ian Fischer

    says:

    Sadly the comments about the “past QF service” are 110%! Young, happy, bright hostesses who genuinely loved looking after passengers, top service, nothing was too much to ask for and strangely….. you actually felt welcome!

    Now with the madness of political correctness, the even sicker gender equality idiocy, involvement of top management spurring all this craziness along with full support, we now have cabin staff who simply don’t give a damn anymore, we are made to feel like we are a nuisance when we ask for anything, meals are at best minimal for we of the great unwashed in economy and the ONLY reason I travel with QF is because I know that the Pilots and Engineers have such a brilliant safety record, management would not have the guts to try and interfere with them in any way whatsoever! It only takes one disaster to tumble from first in world flight safety down the list …..

  • Michael Ellen

    says:

    I took my first flight with qantas on a 747 jumbo on December 5th 1972. I travelled with my wife and three sons on a return visit to England to visit their grandparents for the first time. The adult return fare was$700. The service was fantastic. We were seated in the centre four seats behind the movie screen bulkhead. My wife, myself and my oldest two toddlers used seats, while the baby lay in a cot which folded down from the bulkhead and had a secure down cover for takeoff and landing. At Take off a hot flannel and glass of juice was supplied. Choice of meals was great with real cutlery. The children were looked after by lovely stewardesses bringing games, colouring books and pencils. Calls for extras were always supplied with a smile. Baby change tables were fitted in the toilets so no need to do that on your lap to the annoyance to some travellers. All seats were wider in the 3 seats, aisle 4 seats , aisle, two seats format. Legroom in all seats was great where the window passenger could stand up and walk to the toilet without disturbing others. Passengers in front of you could recline their seats without jamming your meal tray into your face. Those were the days. Now we travel with our knees under our chins and eat meals with our arms tightly against our sides. Lord help you if the person in front reclines their seat. Requests For extras are either not met or practically thrown at you. Having flown around the world often I so long for the old says when flying was a pleasure.

  • franz chong

    says:

    will be missed.my first time and only trip to canada to date was thirty years ago come december on their 747-200’s connected from adelaide on the 767-200’s over and 767-300 home to and from sydney.we ended up on those due to the pilots dispute.my teacher who arranged the cultural exchange would have normally done it on australian and canadian like he did with his family in 87 but that was not an option for my group.my first time to new zealand was outbound using 747’s but coming home was 767’s and to bali was 767 over and home on 747 domestics were 737 adl-syd and 767 syd-adl.did hong kong in 2002 and a 747-400 both ways connecting on 737’s domestically.will be missed.in fact with the exception of the 747sp and 747-300.i have had the pleasure of travelling on the 747’s qantas has operated.

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