Qantas retires entire Boeing 747 fleet

If you never got to fly on the upper deck of the Qantas Boeing 747, you've missed your chance for good.

By David Flynn, June 25 2020
Qantas retires entire Boeing 747 fleet

Qantas will send its last two Boeing 747 jumbo jets on their final flight next month, making an early retirement for the iconic jumbo jet.

It's expected there'll be little fanfare for these much-loved Queen of the Skies: no victory lap of Australia's major airports, just a long lonely journey across the Pacific Ocean to Southern California's Mojave Desert, where they'll join other parked Qantas Boeing 747s and hundreds of other aircraft deemed surplus to their owners.

Read: Qantas seeks $15bn savings in dramatic post-Covid recovery plan

One of those red-tailed Boeing 747s currently sitting idle at the famous 'boneyard' has already lost her Qantas branding and the Flying Kangaroo logo, and is now listed for parts and scrap.

Three Qantas Boeing 747s at Mojave, with one already stripped of its markings and listed for parts..
Three Qantas Boeing 747s at Mojave, with one already stripped of its markings and listed for parts.

While there's speculation that her siblings will share the same fate, Executive Traveller understands that Qantas has for some months been in discussions with General Electric about the company buying at least one Boeing 747 to use as a testbed for its GE Aviation jet engines; a similar deal was previously done with Rolls-Royce.

Qantas was approached for comment but did not reply. In public announcements to the ASX, however, the airline confirmed that Boeing 747 fleet would be "retired immediately, six months ahead of schedule."

Of course, not all jets that fly into the arid Californian desert never fly out again – many are being stored in the dry environment of Southern California Logistics Airport as airlines wait out the coronavirus pandemic, and are expected to return to the skies as demand for air travel picks up.

Read more: How do you put a jumbo, and over 16,000 other aircraft, to sleep?

But the writing was on the wall for the Qantas Boeing 747s long before Covid-19 arrived.

Once the backbone of Qantas' international network, carrying travellers to London, Frankfurt, the USA and the key Asian routes of Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok, the Boeing 747 – which made its debut with Qantas in 1971, sporting a then-chic first class lounge in its upstairs 'hump' – was overtaken by the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787.

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

Read more: The Qantas Boeing 747 – looking back on a half-century of flying

Qantas began the year with six Boeing 747s, all of which were to be put out to pasture as factory-fresh Boeing 787 Dreamliners arrived, but Covid-19 has accelerated that timetable after a lockdown of Australia's borders and a ban on all but essential overseas travel resulted in the grounding Qantas' international network at the end of March.

(Ironically, it was a Boeing 747 which made the airline's last scheduled passenger flight before that shut-down).

As with other airlines which have recently retired their Boeing 747s – Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines – big things were planned for the former flagship's finale, but as with Qantas' own centenary celebrations, the coronavirus put that idea out to pasture.

The elegant yet powerful 'Queen of the Skies' joined the Qantas fleet in 1971.
The elegant yet powerful 'Queen of the Skies' joined the Qantas fleet in 1971.

With the federal government now ruling out overseas travel until late September, and little expectation that long-distance flying will be back on the agenda until 2021, half of Qantas' mighty Airbus A380 fleet are being put into hibernation under a sweeping review of Qantas entire international fleet to reshape the airline around post-coronavirus travel demand.

"The Qantas of 2021 and 2022 will not be the Qantas of 2019," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told Executive Traveller in May, predicting a slow recovery for the airline and the industry.

"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."

As previously reported, Qantas will defer the delivery of its last three Boeing 787-9 aircraft due to arrive by the end of this year, joining other airlines around the world in pushing back on the delivery of new jets until the worst of the coronavirus has passed and the shape of the post-pandemic travel market is clearer.

Qantas has also halted its refurbishment plan for the Airbus A380s, with only six of the 12 superjumbos upgraded with new business class seats and inflight lounges.

"There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back," Joyce says of the airline's flagship jets. "That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like."

Also read: The Qantas Boeing 747 – looking back on a half-century of flying


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

07 Jan 2016

Total posts 36

And with that, the end of an era in Australian aviation comes to an end. Not so much with a fanfare but a mere whimper.....

16 Jun 2020

Total posts 1

I wonder why then my recently booked QF to Tokyo Haneda for late March 2021 has been allocated a 747. I have even booked myself an upper deck seat?

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1242

The GDS is probably yet to be updated.

26 May 2011

Total posts 18

They are flying to Mojave, not Victorville.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2017

Total posts 25

It actually landed at LAX and headed into the Qantas maintenance facility.

22 May 2011

Total posts 88

If they're flying out of Sydney, any reason they couldn't do a flyover over the harbour on the way out at least?

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 160

it did a big right turn over balmain and headed over the bridge and out through the heads. Haven't heard a mid-morning 744 for a while so it was noticeable!

04 Nov 2012

Total posts 213

With about 100 or so international flights, the best ever for wife and self was up in the 747 J bubble DFW to BNE some years ago, IMO best flight ever, so much room and storage, two cabin crew, had its own loo, sad to see them go.


03 May 2013

Total posts 673

With the retirement of the 774 birds the A380 fleet may well end up a tad more palatable for Qantas. An international fleet of 787's, A350's and A380's could offer great agility and flexibility.

16 Jun 2020

Total posts 9

QF routes are unique to QF International and the hub and spike theory may work in appealing to Delta, American and so on however not QF International, the -400 was ideal, the -800 would have been ideally suited, SYD-DFW, SYD-SCL, SYD-JCB, BNE-LAX, A380 DFW-SYD enough fuel and less 100 pax

04 Nov 2012

Total posts 213

Qantas can buy whatever they like yet we still consider that 16 hour trip up in the 747 bubble best ever from various OS J flights over the decades.

07 May 2019

Total posts 5

It is going to be very interesting to see what Qantas puts onto the SYD-JNB-SYD route. Will miss sitting upstairs looking at the Antarctic ice shelf in winter. But on the last few trips the ageing 744s were really showing their age. I'll be on one of the first flights back to Aus when flights resume, I'm looking forward to the new offering.

16 Jun 2020

Total posts 9

SYD-JNB-SYD, agree the view of the ice was special, also from SYD-SCL-SYD

10 Jul 2015

Total posts 14

When you see the difference in size of the 747 engines next to the new 777x engines. I wonder if with the use of lighter composite materials the queen of the skies could be reimagined as a twin engine plane.

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 104

I very possibly see this becoming freighters soon as passenger belly freight has all but disappeared overnight and the cargo airlines have had to reactivate their older out to pasture aircraft.

These 747-400ERs are still relatively young and since they are the more sort after ER variants, I'm predicting a cargo airline will snap them up.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Jan 2013

Total posts 13

Had many very enjoyable journey's aboard the mighty QF 744's, but very sad the Victory laps are off and my little fella misses out on the opportunity. Totally understand the economics though. Guess a look through EBQ & OJA will have to do.

07 May 2019

Total posts 5

And why is this still news?

Having spent the last four years travelling intensively on the 744 QF63/64 in Economy, PE and Business they were really showing their age. Bring on the new fleet.

The one thing that always struck me about that flight is the general vibrance of the passengers . . But I do think it was the general nature of the South African passengers, hope this never changes.

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