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A Qantas Boeing 747 in San Francisco. The airline is retiring its final two 747s this month. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Qantas Prematurely Stores Last 747-400s

Qantas has prematurely retired its final Boeing 747s in response to dwindling demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. AirlineGeeks first reported the airline’s final 747 flights in March 2020.

The first of its last two superjumbos left Sydney on Tuesday around 9:30 a.m. It flew first to Los Angeles. From there, it will fly one last time to Victorville, where it will be stored in the Mojave Desert in California, where three other former-Qantas 747s are already stored.

The other 747 is currently set to be retired at the end of the month. 

While one plane has been sent to storage, Executive Traveller reports that Qantas is in talks to sell at least one 747 to General Electric, who use the aircraft as a testbed for new engines. Qantas has already struck a similar deal with Rolls-Royce.

The 747 first flew with Qantas in 1971, and it has since flown to a number of high-class destinations like London, Frankfurt, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok in addition to a number of routes across the United States.

Qantas had six 747s at the start of 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic has expedited its retirement of the aging aircraft. Instead, the airline has opted to streamline its Superjumbo fleet to just one aircraft type, the Airbus A380, which is still parked. It is also relying on smaller, more efficient long-haul aircraft like the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, the latter of which will be used for ultra-long-haul services part of the so-called “Project Sunrise.”

Qantas Will Come Out a Different Airline

Australia’s government has ruled out international travel until at least late September, and there is little hope that most long-haul flying will restart until at least 2021. Qantas says that it needs to adapt to a re-shaped aviation industry, whose future is still incredibly murky.

“The Qantas of 2021 and 2022 will not be the Qantas of 2019,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce per Executive Traveller. “There’s a lot we don’t know about life on the other side of the crisis, but our starting assumption has to be that the market won’t return to demand levels we had going into the crisis. The market will probably be smaller for some time.”

Qantas has been forced, therefore, to drastically cut down on its route network and effectively eliminate all demand for long-haul jets. Besides retiring its 747s and parking its A380s, it has also deferred deliveries of three 787 Dreamliner aircraft originally set to arrive by the end of 2020.

“There is a potential to bring all 12 [Airbus A380s] back, but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back,” Joyce added. “That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like.”

Qantas did not immediately respond to AirlineGeeks’ request for comment.

Despite its bleak international outlook, the Qantas Group has restarted hundreds of domestic flights this month, signaling that Australian passengers are ready to fly again as their government eases interstate travel. It is unclear when passengers will feel ready to travel internationally, but that many international carriers are restarting overseas flights around the world may give a hint into what Qantas can expect when the Australian government clears it to fly internationally again late this year.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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