The Qantas story is of persistence, timing, and determination of how one fledgling airline has endured through the lore and linage of a storied British Colony established in 1788. Great Britain was facing a serious prison overcrowding situation in the mid to late 1780’s. The British Parliament decided to reduce this overcrowding by taking the non-violent, skilled convicts, and use their time incarcerated to establish a new colony. It had been estimated that to establish and maintain a colony took about seven to ten years. With prisoners identified and promised their freedom and a parcel of land in the new colony for their efforts, the ships set sail for Australia. A colony established by convicts began in 1787 and continued through 1790 where over 2000 prisoners were sent to the Sydney Shores. It was not until 1793 that the first free settlers arrived in Australia. For a few years, the colony was run, manned, and managed by the prisoners and convicts of the Queen. The experiment worked and the news Queensland had been established. But, like one other storied British Colony, their rule was to be challenged. New South Wales, New Zealand, Victoria, and Queensland began their separations from the crown starting around 1851. In a much less dramatic fashion than the American colony counterparts, the Australian colonist finally found their independence on 1 January 1901 and came to form the Federations of Australian States as the Commonwealth of Australia. A Country was born of convicts and prisoners.
Less than 20 years from their independence, a few men dedicated themselves to the prospects of flying. The aviation industry was born in Australia in August of 1920. Financed by a local businessman named Fergus McMaster and based on the know-how and motivation of Paul McGinnis and Hudson Fysh. The three added Arthur Baird as their aircraft mechanic and purchased their first AVRO aircraft. The company established itself as The Western Queensland Auto Aero Service Limited. The initial flights through 1920 consisted of demonstration and joy-ride flights. Formally renamed to Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited in late 1920, QANTAS was established. Continuing to provide regional joy rides and demonstrations with their two aircraft, QANTAS needed to expand. In 1922, much like the fledgling American Aviation industry, using aircraft to deliver the mail was a novel idea. QANTAS began to operate a mail service for the island nation, though limited in scope to one region.
On 2 November 1920, QANTAS flew is first passenger on a scheduled flight and it ended up being 30 minutes behind schedule and took a replacement plane to complete the flight because the first was could not take off due to weight and motor problems. Their meager missions continued until 1924 with the purchase of their DH-50. A four-passenger enclosed cabin to where customers didn’t have to wear goggles and a helmet provided a luxury unheard of before. By 1925, QANTAS was becoming well established and respected, having flown Prime Ministers and Parliamentary members as passengers. Their enroute structure stretched over 700 nautical miles. Now headquartered in Brisbane, QANTAS began building its infrastructure with new hangars and establishing a flight school. In addition to continuing to fly the mail and cargo along with limited passengers, new venture became available. With the topography and ruralness of the Australian island, medical care was hard to come by. QANTAS began in 1926 to fly doctors to these rural destinations, providing a much-needed service to the citizens of Australia. The flying Doctor service continued through the early 1940’s, when Parliament gave the need a royal charter and took over.
In 1935 through 1938, QANTAS left island and began its international services. Starting with a route to Singapore with flying boats, the DH86, business boomed. Continuing to expand their range and scope, QANTAS grew exponentially. QANTAS and the continued expansion needed to again relocate its headquarters and operations. They moved to Sydney in 1938 and set up its permanent residence. As the world was plunged into war, QANTAS and its international services were used to transfer people and cargo through the south Asia region. Their efforts are recorded in history through numerous acts of heroism and stories of valor. Pilots, crews, and their machine contributed to the war effort immeasurably.
By 1945, QANTAS purchased and operated over 19 Catalina flying boats over the Indian ocean. Their flight times were in excess of 28 hours to complete the trek and earned the passenger the privilege of seeing a double sunrise. The Catalina service ended in 1958 when QANTAS sold its fleet and had since been operating the L749 Constellation and the highly-regarded DC-3. The flying boats days were over. QANTAS now had services from Sydney to London, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Africa. With regularly scheduled weekly international flights and a robust fleet, QANTAS is solidified as the National Airline of Australia. QANTAS had its sights set on becoming a global airline, and set out to conquer it. In 1956 and the Olympic Games being held in Melbourne, QANTAS flew its 34 aircraft carrying record numbers of passengers to the island. The same year they moved out of the propeller driven airframes into the Boeing 707-138. The Jet age had arrived. By 1959, QANTAS took delivery of seven Boeing 707’s, just behind the U.S. Through 1964, the 13 Boeing 707’s flew the majority of the routes reaching its peak numbers of 19 planes by 1966.
The big decision came in 1966. Qantas decided to streamline and standardize it fleet, enter the “Jumbo Jet”. Management decided to skip the “A” model Boeing 747 and placed initial orders for the 747-238 “B”, while “A” models were still in production. Boeing delivered their first 747 in 1971 and through the sales of its 707 fleet and production times, in 1979 QANTAS had the worlds all 747 fleet. They totaled 19 aircraft providing wide body world class service to the globe. The 747 meet the companies needs and provided years of quality service until the need to expand was upon them again. With modernization of aircraft and designs, the demand for new airplanes was filled with the Boeing 767-238ER, 767-338ER (extended range), along with the brand new 747-438. The fleet expanded, meeting the needs of a global market. With services to New York, Los Angles, San Francisco in the US and the continued flights to Japan, Hong Kong, London, the expansion continue to the middle east.
With a state of the art fleet and a reputation as a world class airline, QANTAS was at the pinnacle. With regulations changes in the 1990’s, governmental subsidies, and a changing market, low cost regional and international carriers were established, all under the QANTAS moniker. They have added routes to Hawaii and operate domestic New Zealand services under these low-cost options now named under the Jet-Star logo. With their continued dedication to an exceptional flying experience and remaining atop the worlds airline, two more additions were needed.
Having the state of the art Boeing 747’s, the 767’s, 787’s, and 717’s, it was time one more time to expand the fleet. Enter the Airbus A330 and A380. These unique and truly monumental aircraft have pushed QANTAS to the top of the international air carrier world. The addition of these aircraft also opened up destinations in the UAE, Qatar, and other rich middle Eastern Nations. Its capabilities and capacity has enabled QANTAS to have the true global reach and live up to their slogan “One World”.
QANTAS has come a long way from the beginning of this story which was four guys and dream from an island of convicts. They have made the world accessible to all, made flying an experience, and kept their operation relevant, profitable, and state of the art. It will be interesting to watch and follow what the future holds for one of the world’s oldest airlines. It is for sure that the flying red kangaroo painted tail will be seen at airports around the world for many years to come.