Qantas operated Boeing 747s for almost 50 years, only retiring them in 2020. Over the decades, Qantas flew multiple variants of the jumbo jet. For a time, in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, Qantas only flew 747s. What’s lesser-known is that in the early 2000s, Boeing made a 747 variant especially for Qantas, the Boeing 747-400ER.
Qantas need a plane with more range
Twenty years ago, Qantas ordered six Boeing 747-400ERs. Historically, Qantas had been a long-haul airline. It’s easy to forget that until recently, long-haul flying involved one or more stops. But in terms of both time and money, stopovers were costly and inefficient. Qantas was keen to do more point to point long-haul flying and needed aircraft with the wings to do so.
With a typical configuration and carrying a standard load, a Boeing 747-400 can fly for about 13,500 kilometers. Very lightly loaded and with nice tailwinds, it can fly further, as Qantas demonstrated in 1989. Loaded with passengers, cargo, and building in a safety buffer for delays and diversions, your typical 747-400 could make it across the Pacific, but only just. Qantas wanted something a little extra.
“Dating back to their first jet airplanes in the 1950s, Qantas has always urged Boeing to provide more range,” said Boeing’s Toby Bright when the first Qantas 747-400ER landed in 2002.