On Sunday,October 13, 2019, Qantas sent one of its 747-400s (VH-OJU Lord Howe Island) off to Los Angeles as QF99. It was that aircraft’s final flight for Qantas. VH-OJU flew some 90,000 flights for Qantas over nearly 20 years, accruing some seventy million kilometres flying time.
Last Sunday’s flight generated some buzz as it was marketed as a points plane. VH-OJU isn’t going to the scrapyard. Rather it is being onsold. Who the buyer is Qantas isn’t yet saying but the rumour is VH-OJU is going to Rolls Royce as a test bed. The plane was the last Rolls Royce powered 747-400 in the Qantas fleet.
With Lord Howe Island now officially off the Qantas flight roster, the airline has six 747-400s left in operation. Let’s take a look at them.
What 747s does Qantas still have?
The six remaining 747-400s Qantas flies include VH-OEE, VH-OEF, VH-OEG, VH-OEH, VH-OEI, and VH-OEJ. All six aircraft were delivered to Qantas in a nine month period between October 2002 and July 2003.
The first remaining Qantas 747-400 is VH-OEE Nullarbor, which entered service in December 2002, making just shy of 17 years old. That aircraft is operating a charter right now. At the time of writing this, VH-OEE is in Lima, having just flown there from Cartagena, Colombia, ferrying a bunch of well heeled travellers around the world for Constellation Journeys.
The second (and oldest) remaining Qantas 747-400 is VH-OEF Sydney. This aircraft is easy to spot at airports as it is the sole Qantas 747 painted in Oneworld colours. VH-PEF started flying for Qantas in October 2002. At the time of writing it is a couple of hours out of Sydney, operating QF74 from San Francisco.
The third remaining Qantas 747-400 is VH-OEG Parkes. It arrived at Qantas in December 2002, the same month as VH-OEE. At the time of writing, VH-OEG is in Sydney, having operated QF25 down from Haneda (Tokyo). Qantas sends a 747-400 up to Haneda every evening. After landing, owing to slot constraints, the aircraft is parked at Haneda all day before returning to Sydney the following evening.
The fourth remaining Qantas 7474-400 is VH-OEH Hervey Bay. This aircraft was delivered to Qantas in February 2003. It has just left Johannesburg a few hours ago, operating QF64 to Sydney. It’s a twelve hour flight circling over the sub antarctic and is one of the lonliest flights of the world when it comes to nearby air traffic.
What’s left? VH-OEI Ceduna. VH-OEI was delivered to Qantas in June 2003, making it over 16 years old. It is one of Qantas’ more distinctive 747s, currently sporting a Wallabies sticker in support (an ill-fated mission perhaps?) of the Australian rugby union team. It flew from Sydney to Haneda two nights ago as QF26 and has been cooling its wheels in Japan until tonight’s return flight to Sydney.
The last Qantas 747-400 is VH-OEJ Wunala. It is Qantas’s youngest 747, having arrived at the airline in July 2003. It would have been familiar to many readers as the big 747 painted in the distinctive Aboriginal art livery. VH-OEJ is a just one hour out of Haneda Airport, having flown up through the night from Sydney as QF26. This will see two Qantas 747-400s in Haneda today. Unusual perhaps? But with the typhoon in Japan last weekend and many flights cancelled, Qantas may have a surplus of passengers in Japan to pick up and get home.
The take out
Qantas is managing to spread its remaining 747-400s far and wide. In the last few hours they’ve touched down at airports in Asia, Australia, North America, South America, and Africa. That’s not a bad spread for just six aircraft.
Qantas says they will be retiring the remaining 747-400s by the end of 2020, although there were reports recently that an internal Qantas memo had pushed back that retirement date to 2021.
The 747s have been flying for Qantas since 1971. Retiring them in 2021 means they will have flown for the airline for 50 years. That’s a long and admirable run for any aircraft type. But the 747 has always been a favourite of many airlines and many passengers. When the 747s are finally gone, they will be missed.