MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Australia established Qantas (QF) as its first airline in 1920, making it the world’s third oldest commercial carrier.
Today, QF maintains its position as the country’s largest carrier.
The Beginning of an Era
In 1919, the Commonwealth offered a £10,000 prize for the first Australians who reached the milestone of flying from England to the Southeast Asian nation. This was to be achieved in less than 30 days. With this goal in mind, former lieutenants Wilmot Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness decided to take on the challenge.
Both Fysh and McGinness had already had rural and wartime flying creds; therefore, they both wanted to exploit the benefits that aviation could bring to the Australian shepherd industry. By that time, the road and maritime transportation poised difficulties to run graziers’ interests in the best suitable way.
Taking this point of view into consideration, a syndicate of graziers led by Fergus McMaster joined the crusade to fund the project. Next year, the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited started operations in Winton, Queensland, with a fleet of one aircraft: the Avro 504, a plane used by the newly established Australian Flying Corps during WWI.
Months later, The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited, or QANTAS, was established on November 16, 1920.
However, the first regular services between Charleville and Cloncurry were not established until 1922. The new airline established its headquarters in Longreach, Queensland. By 1930, it changed again its operations base to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.
Flying outside Australia
By the mid-30s, QF joined with Britain-based Imperial Airways to form Qantas Empire Airways Limited (QEA). As a result, in 1935, it launched its first international service between Darwin and Singapore with a flying time of two days on board a de Havilland 86 aircraft.
As more routes were added, the services also featured modern cabin facilities like in-flight meals and space to socialize. Even when Singapore was occupied by the Japanese army in the Second World War, the airline did not stop flying. Instead, QF’s Pilots began flying non-stop routes between Australia and Ceylon, the current territory of Sri Lanka. This flight recorded a duration between 27 and 33 hours.
It was also during these war times when QF started to use its famous kangaroo logo on its livery. As such, the “Kangaroo Route” took place from Sydney to Karachi, Pakistan to continue to the UK.
During the 50s, Australia’s first carrier took delivery of its first jet-engine aircraft, the Boeing 707. The type was operated in the trans-Pacific flights to San Francisco that increased as further 707 jets were acquired by QF.
After 40 years in the skies, QF merged with the nationally-owned domestic airline Australian Airlines, in the process rebranding itself as QANTAS. Also during the 90s, the airline was privatized, becoming 51% owned by Australian shareholders according to the country’s legislation.
The carrier would experience a major operation boost when in 1998 it co-founded the oneworld Alliance. The premium airline club included American Airlines (AA), British Airways (BA), the former Canadian Airlines and Cathay Pacific (CX). Since then, QF has increased its fleet and business, especially in the Asian market. In 2004, it launched the Jetstar Asia Airways (3K) franchise.
For the next decade, QF held several records. In 2018, one of its Boeing 787 became the first aircraft to operate a scheduled non-stop commercial flight between Australia and Europe.
The carrier also made the longest commercial flight at the time with the Boeing 787, about 19 hours, between New York and Sydney in 2019. QF kept its record for the world’s longest scheduled passenger flights by elapsed time until 2019.
Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Nick Sheeder/Airways