Qantas: The Flight to Success

Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, is one of the most successful in the world. It has come a long way since it started out in 1920. Its flight to success has seen it expand from one aircraft to a fleet of 285 today, with a 65% share of Australia’s domestic market.

Its success story is linked with the development of civil aviation, with the early aircraft carrying up to two passengers in an open cockpit, compared with today’s latest Airbus A380, which can transport around 450 passengers half way around the globe in one day!

Plane in sky

© ClaraNila / Adobe Stock

Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd was launched in Winton, Queensland, on 16th November 1920. Its first plane was an Avro 504K, which was a biplane manufactured by the Avro aircraft company. The airline moved its headquarters to Longreach in 1921 and then to Brisbane in 1930.

Qantas formed a new company with Britain’s Imperial Airways – British Airways’ forerunner – in December 1934 and called it Qantas Empire Airways Limited. It offered international flights from May 1935, with Imperial Airways operating a service from London to Darwin and Qantas extending it from Darwin to Singapore.

The airline suffered hardships during World War II, when the Australian government requisitioned much of its fleet. Between 1939 and 1945, Qantas fully supported the war effort, dropping supplies to troops in New Guinea. The air operator also evacuated personnel who risked capture by Japanese troops.

Qantas also pioneered flights of 30-plus hours between Perth and Ceylon to maintain links with the Allied Forces. It lost five of its 10 aircraft on war service. Towards the end of the war, in 1944, Qantas adopted its famous kangaroo symbol, which was used on the “Kangaroo Route” from Sydney to Karachi.

The QEA Ltd airline was nationalised by the Australian government in 1947. Later that year, the airline operated its first flight to Japan and introduced Constellation aircraft on the London route. Services to Hong Kong began shortly afterwards.

The new head office, Qantas House, opened in 1957 in Sydney. Two years later, the airline entered the jet age with the purchase of its first Boeing 707-138. It was the first non-US airline operator to introduce the plane.

The airline changed its name to Qantas Airways Limited in 1967, when it also launched the DC9, setting a world record for mechanical reliability after 495 separate flights were completed without suffering any delays due to mechanical failures.

In 1974, the airline set a world record for the speedy evacuation of 673 passengers on a flight from Darwen after the city was struck by Cyclone Tracy.

In August 1989, Qantas Airways’ 747-400 plane, VH-OJA, set a new world record for the longest commercial flight in history. Its non-stop journey from London to Sydney took 20 hours, nine minutes and five seconds.

Changes took place during the following decade, when Qantas was privatised between 1993 and ’97. In 2004, Qantas launched the budget Jetstar Airways to compete with the new cut-price operators which were springing up. The Qantas Group’s market share remained stable at around 65%.

In 2008, Qantas set a world record for commercial engine performance after its B747-400 aircraft’s Qantas General Electric CF6-80C2 engine completed 42,019 hours on-wing. This equated to 1,000 return trips to the United Kingdom in the nine years that it had been in operation.

Today, Qantas is regarded as one of Australia’s strongest brands and a world-leading long-distance airline, as it continues to provide an unparalleled service to customers. The airline and its subsidiaries operate 285 aircraft on flights around the globe.

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