When Qantas flight QF56 departed from Los Angeles bound for Brisbane Thursday evening, it marked the final departure of a Qantas 747 aircraft from Los Angeles International Airport. The flight closed an important chapter in Qantas’ history and one of its longest, as the airline has been operating the popular, yet aging jumbo jet between Australia and Los Angeles for nearly 50 years, earning icon status amongst aviation enthusiasts around the world.
Qantas 747 service to Los Angeles, Qantas’ largest gateway to the United States, first began in 1972 when Qantas flew its first 747 from Australia to the United States to augment its current Boeing 707 service at the time. As Qantas began phasing the 707 out of its fleet, the 747 quickly dominated its route network and set the new standard for Australian aviation, serving cities as far away as New York via a single stop in Los Angeles.
Although its time with the aircraft is coming to an end, it’s been quite a strong and long-lasting love affair between the two that lasted longer than most would’ve expected considering the rate at which most airlines are retiring their 747 fleets. Going strong for 51 years now, the aircraft and airline duo first met in 1967 when Qantas placed its first order for the Boeing 747-200B.
When Australia’s national carrier received its first 747 in 1971, it began a whirlwind relationship that saw Qantas acquiring all of the models that came after the -200 including the -300, SP, -400 and -400ER, with the only exception being the 747-8i. There was even a time when Qantas was so in love with the 747, it operated an all-747 passenger fleet and is the only airline in the world to ever do so.
As times change, however, so does technology and the needs of an airline. New ultra-modern and next-generation aircraft such as the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and Airbus A380 are becoming the new face of the 98-year old airline, with New York seeing its 747 service replaced with Dreamliner service in September, amongst other destinations. The total number of 747s Qantas has operated throughout the years topped 65 aircraft, now down to nine and dwindling further still.
Additionally, Los Angeles International Airport will have lost one of its favorite customers, as Los Angeles used to be the main outstation in the U.S. for Qantas 747s until the arrival of the A380 and now, the 787. For years, flying from Los Angeles to Australia on a Boeing 747-400 was a rite of passage and the only way to fly nonstop between the City of Angels and the Land Down Under to cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
With the departure of QF56 from Los Angeles Thursday night, Qantas will exclusively be sending its Boeing 787-9 aircraft to Los Angeles from Brisbane, while using both the Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A380 on flights to Melbourne and solely operating its Airbus A380 from Sydney. Passengers on the Brisbane-Los Angeles route, however, will be comforted by the fact that the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner features Qantas’ new business class and premium economy cabin, as well as the aircraft’s passenger-friendly technology aimed at reducing the negative effects of a long-haul flight, especially from the U.S. to Australia.
This won’t be the last time American skies are graced by the Qantas 747, as Honolulu and San Francisco will both still receive the 747 from Sydney, but it will be the last time Los Angeles will see the aircraft. The aircraft doing the honors and flying the final service is VH-OJS, named Hamilton Island, and is Qantas’ second oldest 747, delivered in September 1999 and likely to be retired to the California desert sometime soon.
Time is running out for those seeking to fly on a Qantas 747, as the airline plans to fully retire the fleet in 2020. For now, the Australian Queen of the Skies has left Los Angeles for the last time, never again to return.