Qantas & Boeing – an enduring partnership

October 15, 2017
Boeing 747-400 Qantas historical
The 747-400 was Qantas's 100th Boeing jet

In one of aviation’s most enduring and close partnerships, the Qantas Group and its heritage airline Australian Airlines have operated 319 Boeing or Boeing heritage aircraft since 1959.

This week’s 787-9 delivery took the tally to 320.

The Australian group has ordered or operated every Boeing or Douglas jet except for the Boeing 777. although the latest variant,  the 777X,  is now being evaluated against the Airbus A350 for the airline’s long-range expansion plans.

Even the Boeing 757 (two leased in 1989), Douglas DC-8-73F and Douglas DC-10-30CF have been operated by Qantas or Australian Airlines.

However, the major types operated by Qantas have been the 737 (125 flown), the 747(59), 767 (40) and 707 (36).

Qantas Boeing 707-138The Boeing 707 started Qantas’s relationship with Boeing in the jet era. Credit: Boeing Historical Archives. 

Both Qantas and heritage airline Australian played major roles in the development of Boeing aircraft are were amongst the first to place orders for the 707, 727, DC-9, 747 and 767.

When the jet era dawned.  Qantas management mulled over a variety of options including buying an interim type, such as the turbo-prop powered Bristol Britannia, while it waited for the development of more powerful jet engines.  It even came close to buying a package of piston-engine Douglas DC-7Cs and DC-8 jets but the range of the early jets was an issue.

Boeing was more innovative than Douglas and offered Qantas a shortened version of the 707, with more powerful engines, and thus much greater range, a for delivery in May, 1959.

On September 6, 1956, the government announced that Qantas would buy seven Boeing 707-138s worth $28 million.

A Qantas press release at the time said that the 707-138s would cut the flying time on the Kangaroo Route from 48 hours to just 27 hours, a hugely attractive prospect to its patrons.

Qantas Boeing 707s entered service on the Pacific route on 29 July 1959 and this was extended to London on 5 September.

On October 15, 707-138s were introduced on the Kangaroo Route and Qantas became the first airline to circle the world with jets.






Boeing 707-138B which featured even more powerful turbofan engines. Boeing Historical Archives.

With the jets came a host of new technology which cut crew costs. Radio operators were made redundant by more sophisticated VHF and HF communications. The periscope for the navigator to take sun and star sightings on the first 707s quickly became obsolete with the introduction of Doppler Radar and the Inertial Navigation System (INS).

While some airlines levied a jet surcharge, Qantas maintained the same fares for both jet and piston-powered aircraft. The First Class return fare to London at the time was $1,755 and the economy fare was $1,170.

Traffic boomed with the Boeing jets.

In 1964, there were six 707 flights a week on the Kangaroo route and by 1967, there were 11 a week and in 1971 that had jumped to 23 a week.

To meet this demand Qantas ordered the larger -338 version of the 707 and by 1969 all the shorter -138s had been replaced.

Trans Australian Airlines, later to be renamed Australian Airlines and then taken over by Qantas in 1994, had long wanted to get into jet equipment.

The age-old battle between British and American designs surfaced with de Havilland and the British Government pushing the Trident against Boeing’s 727.

TAA opted for Boeing’s 727-100. Credit: Boeing Historical Archives.

In November 1962 TAA and arch-rival Ansett-ANA both ordered four 727s for delivery in November 1964.

When the jets were delivered, the return airfare across Australia was $210 and the average weekly wage was $57.

TAA called its 727s Whispering T-Jets, referring to the reduced noise level inside thanks to the rear-mounted engines.

The aircraft was an instant hit with the public. It is interesting to note that such was the standardization of the two domestic airlines at the time that the first 727s left the Seattle factory together and arrived in Melbourne at the same time.

The crews tossed a coin to agree who would land first!

Two years later, TAA joined with Ansett and ordered six Douglas DC-9s to replace its DC-6Bs and Viscounts. The first of what would eventually be a fleet of 12 aircraft arrived in 1967.

The Douglas DC-9-30 proved a workhorse for TAA for decades. Credit: Boeing Historical Archives.

In 1967, Qantas placed an order for four longer-ranged 747-200Bs and two options in case the supersonic Concorde or Boeing 2707 SST did not proceed. Qantas had options on 4 Concordes and six B2707s.

The 747-200s could fly the important Sydney-Singapore sector with a full payload.

First Boeing 747-238 for Qantas. Credit: Boeing Historical Archives.

The first Qantas 747-200 arrived in Sydney on 16 August 1971 and it went into service to Singapore and then to London in September.

Those four 747s would eventually grow to 59 with the SP, -300, -400 -400ER and -400F models with 13 still in service, which includes the three freighters operated by Atlas.

The 767 was a workhorse for the Australian carrier over three decades and only retired from passenger service in recent years.

Boeing’s 737 seen here on a demo tour in Sydney would eventually replace TAA/Australian airlines 727s and DC-9s and become the backbone of the Qantas fleet. Boeing Historical Archives 

TAA’s Douglas DC-9s and 727s would eventually give way to the Boeing 737 with 125 ordered or operated. Today Qantas has 80 in service in passenger or freighter configurations.

The Boeing 787-9 to be delivered to the airline this week is, in fact, the 12th for the Group with Jetstar operating 11 787-8s. It has price rights on a further 45.