Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJT departs Brisbane on its final revenue service bound for Los Angeles. (James Baxter/Qantas)
And then there were nine.
The Qantas Boeing 747-400/400ER fleet is down to single digits after the retirement of VH-OJT.
The aircraft named Fraser Island operated its last revenue service in Qantas colours on Saturday September 22, when it took off from Brisbane as QF55.
Following a few final checks at Los Angeles, VH-OJT is scheduled to be ferried to the Mojave desert later in the week, Qantas told Australian Aviation on Monday.
Figures from Qantas showed VH-OJT, MSN25565 and LN1233, completed about 9,300 cycles and racked up about 90,000 flight hours in its near two-decade flying career with the airline.
That represents about 18 million kilometres, or 111 return trips between earth and the moon, from the time it was delivered to the airline in October 1999.
Further, VH-OJT, whihc is powered by Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, was the 50th 747 delivered to Qantas.
It was also the aircraft on Qantas’s last 747-operated Los Angeles-New York (JFK)-Los Angeles rotation at the end of August.
Qantas to end 747 operations by 2020
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.
The first 747 entered service with Qantas in September 1971, and in time the airline 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).
The departure of VH-OJT leaves the 747 fleet at nine aircraft, 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 two Rolls-Royce-powered 747-438s (VH-OJS and OJU) delivered in the 1999-2000 timeframe.
Qantas announced in May 2018 all 747s would be retired by the time the airline celebrated its centenary in 2020.
Just three airlines now operate 747 passenger services into Australia – two foreign carriers and Qantas.
Thai Airways flies the 747-400 between Bangkok and Sydney, while Korean Air uses the 747-8I at certain times of the year on Seoul Incheon-Sydney.
For Qantas, the 747’s network comprises some medium-haul flights to Asia (Sydney to Tokyo Haneda and Hong Kong), a number of trans-Pacific routes (Sydney to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver, as well as Brisbane-Los Angeles until December) and long over-water flights from Sydney to Johannesburg and Santiago.
The airline has also recently operated some transcontinental flights from Perth to Australia’s east coast capitals with the iconic aircraft.
The retirement of the 747 fleet was announced after Qantas announced it had exercised options for six more 787-9s to arrive between late 2019 and mid-to-late 2020, which will bring to 14 the number of the type in the fleet.
“Qantas has renewed itself over the decades. It has seen the flying boats replaced by the 707s, which was also a major moment. The 707s were replaced by the 74s and now the 74s replaced by the 78s,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said at the May 2 announcement at the company’s Mascot jetbase.
“We are looking forward to our second century with a new fleet, a new product, aircraft our customers will love, our employees will get great benefits out of, so a very exciting moment for the Qantas Group.
“So while it is a sad moment that we see the retirement of these amazing vehicles, the Queen of the Skies, it is also a really exciting moment because we are replacing them with these amazing aircraft, the 787s.”
Australian Aviation wrote about Qantas’s long goodbye to the 747 in the June 2018 edition of the magazine. The story can be read here.