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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."