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A Qantas 747 (VH-OEE) parked at San Francisco International Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Mateen Kontoravdis)

Qantas Retires Final Boeing 747 from American Skies

When Qantas flight QF74 departed San Francisco for Sydney on Tuesday, it ended an era that started with one of its predecessors nearly a half-century ago, Qantas Boeing 747 service between Australia and America. In the latest milestone in its long history of transpacific flying, Qantas has retired its last Boeing 747 from American skies as the Sydney-San Francisco route, the final route to the U.S. that operated using the aircraft, will be upgraded to the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner starting Wednesday.

The last Qantas 747 to operate passenger service to the U.S., VH-JEE, departed Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport just after 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, according to FlightAware data, landing at San Francisco International Airport just after 12 p.m. Its final visit to the Bay Area, the 17-year-old aircraft named Nullarbor stayed on the ground for around 8 hours and 30 minutes before heading back to Sydney as QF74, operating the final westbound service from the U.S. to Australia for Qantas’ Queen of the Skies.

With Qantas’ 747s gone from the route, San Francisco will see two of the airline’s Dreamliners on a daily basis with service to Sydney and Melbourne. In February, that number will increase to three with the addition of Brisbane service as part of the new American Airlines-Qantas transpacific joint venture.

San Francisco joined New York as the latest American cities to see Qantas Dreamliner service in 2018 when, on the same weekend, Qantas began Dreamliner service between Melbourne and San Francisco and Brisbane and New York via Los Angeles. Featuring new cabin products and being one of the most efficient aircraft in Qantas’ fleet, the aircraft is the new flagship for the airline and has been used on test flights for Qantas’ Project Sunrise endeavor that aims to launch nonstop flights between Sydney and the cities of London and New York.

The City by the Bay has a long history with Qantas jets and has been the recipient of some of the airline’s newest jet aircraft for 60 years now. San Francisco was instrumental in Qantas’ entrance into the jet age when its first Boeing 707 was inducted into service on the Sydney-London route that operated via Nadi, Honolulu, San Francisco and New York, in 1959. The 1970s then saw Qantas bring the 747 to the United States and eventually, to San Francisco.

The aircraft, with its upper deck bar and other luxurious amenities, was not just a new way of crossing the Pacific, it was the symbol of the everlasting connection between the United States and Australia. The two countries maintain one of the strongest relationships in the world socially, economically, politically and militarily, and the Australian flag carrier flying the United States’ greatest aviation export on its transpacific routes was a physical representation of that relationship.

As has been with the case with other retiring Qantas 747s, the next time that VH-JEE returns to the United States will likely be for retirement. The airline has been sending a steady stream of Jumbo Jets to the California desert for their retirement, bringing them back to the country where they were first brought to life by Boeing.

The last that 747 Qantas retired found its new home in the U.S. but was given a new lease on life serving as a testbed aircraft with Rolls Royce. Qantas has stated that not all retiring aircraft will be sent to the desert and some may see new life with a different operator.

With the historic Kangaroo-emblazoned aircraft now gone from American skies, travel between the two countries will be forever changed but the Boeing 747 will go down in history as the most iconic aircraft to connect the Land of the Free with the Land Down Under.

Thomas Pallini
Thomas Pallini
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