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Qantas Celebrates 100th Birthday Amidst Historic Aviation Crisis

A Qantas 787-9 performs a test flight at Paine Field. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

On Nov. 16, 1920, Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Service — then and now affectionately known as QANTAS, but stylized “Qantas” — was founded by two veterans of the Australian Flying Corporation, Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, together with local grazier Fergus McMaster.

With Australia being one of the largest and most sparsely populated countries in the world, air transport soon became a fundamental enabler for the economic development of the country as it entered the modern era. Initially carrying mail between outback towns, by the 1930s Qantas was already flying passengers to Singapore.

The airline entered the jet age in June 1959, when the first Boeing 707 aircraft was delivered and global travel became mainstream. The 1980s marked a transition to an all Boeing 747 fleet, with the airline being privatized in 1990 and starting their own low-cost subsidiary, Jetstar.

And on Monday morning, Australian flag carrier Qantas became only the second airline in the world to continue operating under its original name for an entire century.

Celebrations of this 100th anniversary have been scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Qantas is still planning a low-level flyover of Sydney Harbour. “The flight path is expected to pass near Rose Bay where our Empire Flying Boats took off for Singapore between 1938 and 1942,” the airline said in a note.

“The history of Qantas shows it’s no stranger to a challenge or a crisis. That’s often when its role as the national carrier has really come to the fore,” Qantas Chairman Richard Goyder said in a statement. “We want to use this moment to say thank you to all those who have supported Qantas over the years. And, in particular, to the many people who have dedicated some or all of their careers to this great company.”

“Around the world, Qantas is probably best known for its safety record, endurance flying and long list of aviation firsts. But for Australians, there’s nothing quite like seeing the flying kangaroo at the airport, waiting to take you home. We hope to be doing a lot more of that in the months and years ahead,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

A Staple of International Aviation

“The Flying Kangaroo,” as the airline has long been nicknamed, is the only carrier flying to all inhabited continents on earth, even as international flights have been suspended due to travel limitations imposed by the Australian government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 22, 2002, the last Qantas Boeing 747 aircraft in service, VH-OEJ, flew from Sydney to Los Angeles International before positioning to the Mojave Desert for permanent storage and decommissioning. This put an end to 49 years of continuous service of the aircraft type for the carrier.

Another badge of distinction for Qantas is its unblemished safety record: no jet aircraft has ever been lost by the Australian carrier and no casualties have been recorded. However, between 1927 and 1945 the airline experienced eight fatal crashes with the loss of 63 lives, though those came before the widespread introduction of jet aircraft into the fleet.

Qantas was also the first airline to launch non-stop flights from Australia to London’s Heathrow Airport when, on March 25, 2018, a Boeing 787 aircraft made the 17-hour trip from Perth — located in Western Australia — to Heathrow. The carrier has launched the so-called “Project Sunrise” to launch non-stop flights from the Australian East Coast to both London Heathrow and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The project has been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vanni Gibertini


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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