Qantas Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A leading Australian airline.

Qantas History

In 1919, former Australian Flying Corps officers W. Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness accepted an assignment to survey parts of the Australian outback. On August 18, 1919, they began their journey across Queensland and the Northern Territories in a Model T Ford. At that time, few roads cut through this deserted swath of land. As pilots, Fysh and McGinness saw the value in an air service that could link the remote outback settlements to one another.

In Brisbane, Fysh and McGinness approached Fergus McMaster, a wealthy rancher, about their idea. McMaster, who had himself once broken the axle of his car while crossing Queensland’s Cloncurry River, needed little convincing. He persuaded several business acquaintances to invest in the two airmen’s proposal.

Fysh and McGinness adopted a name for their company: Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited, which was abbreviated to QANTAS. The company filed for incorporation on November 16, 1920, with Fergus McMaster listed as chairman.

In 1921, the fleet consisted of two war-surplus planes: an Avro 540K and a Royal Aircraft Factory BE-2E. Keeping the two biplanes aloft proved treacherous: Pieces sometimes fell off in midair. Fysh and McGinness hired their former flight sergeant Arthur Baird as fleet mechanic. Baird proved to be a superb engineer who coaxed 54,000 kilometers out of the planes. The airline flew 871 passengers in 1921.

By 1922, Qantas was running a scheduled airmail service between Charleville and Cloncurry and needed larger aircraft. In 1924, Qantas acquired a four-passenger De Havilland DH-50 for the Charleville-to-Cloncurry run. The enclosed cabin of the DH-50 allowed passengers to forego helmets and goggles for the first time.

In 1926, Baird proposed that Qantas build its own aircraft. The first craft, a DH-50A, was finished in August of that year. It was the first aircraft of its size to be built in Australia under license from an overseas company. Qantas remains the only commercial airline to have built its own planes.

In 1928, Qantas signed a contract for medical flights to the Australian Outback. An available doctor made the difference between life and death for people residing in remote settlements. The contract gave Qantas two shillings, or the equivalent of forty cents, per mile. Arthur Affleck, the regular pilot of the “flying doctors” route, was accompanied by K. St. Vincent Welch, a Sydney surgeon. Together, the two men traveled more than 28,000 kilometers to care for 255 patients in 1928.

In 1929, with extended service to Brisbane, Qantas now covered 2,380 kilometers. This year also marked the airline’s first one million miles flown and 10,400 passengers carried. In June, the airline moved its headquarters to Brisbane.

Two years later, Qantas participated in an Australia-to-Burma-to-England airmail run. Qantas cemented its links with British Imperial Airways by registering in Brisbane in 1934 as Qantas Imperial Airways. Qantas and British Imperial each held a half-share in the new airline, and Hudson Fysh was named managing director.

By April, 1935, Qantas carried passengers and mail in a DH-86 on the four-day journey from Darwin, Australia, to Singapore. Demand along this route continued to grow, and by 1938, Qantas introduced Short C-Class Empire flying boats, for which the airline built mooring and fueling facilities in Sydney’s Rose Bay. Sydney crowds gathered whenever one of these craft took off or landed. Soon, a Southampton-to-Sydney service with a stop in Singapore debuted.

When World War II broke out in 1939, the Sydney-to-Southampton route became a vital communication link between England and Australia, until Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. International passenger services were interrupted until the end of the war. The Australian government commissioned more than one-half of Qantas’ airplanes for war service.

In 1943, Qantas participated in a plan to reestablish the England-Australia air route that had been severed by Japanese forces. The plan called for flights between the Swan River in Perth and Koggala Lake in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). The 5,652-kilometer trip across the Indian Ocean would be the longest flight yet attempted. Because enemy aircraft patrolled the waters, radio silence had to be maintained at all times, requiring celestial navigation. The weight of the fuel limited the plane’s load to only three passengers and 69 kilograms of diplomatic mail. Passengers were given certificates welcoming them as members of the “Rare and Secret Order of the Double Sunrise,” a select group of people who had been in the air for twenty-four hours. By the last flight on July 18, 1945, Qantas had completed 271 successful crossings.

After the war, Qantas modernized its fleet. In 1947, the Australian government bought all remaining shares of Qantas, retaining Fysh as chairman. Two years later, the airline introduced Douglas DC-4 Skymasters on new routes to Hong Kong and Japan. Service to Johannesburg, South Africa, was introduced in 1952. In October, 1953, Qantas took over Australia-to-North America service from British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, which Qantas eventually absorbed.

Qantas was the first airline outside the United States to buy jet airplanes. Qantas acquired seven Boeing 707-138’s between July and September, 1959. Service to the United States began in July, and was extended to London via New York. By October, Qantas offered Sydney-to-London service via India. By 1964, most Qantas routes featured 707’s, and the airline began to sell off its propeller-driven fleet.

Qantas, now officially known as Qantas Airways, began operating Boeing 747 jumbojets, which were better suited to long-haul flights, in September, 1971. By 1979, Qantas sold off all its 707’s and was now the only airline with an all-747 fleet.

Throughout the 1980’s, Qantas flirted with several versions of the Boeing 767. During this decade, routes were retailored to reflect Asia’s growing prosperity and demand for air services.

In 1992, the Australian government approved a request for Qantas to buy Australian Airlines and its subsidiaries. The new group was completely privatized. In December of that year, British Airways bought 25 percent of Qantas. For the next several years, Qantas increased capacity along its domestic routes to match rising demand. The airline looks forward to continued domestic and international growth throughout the twenty-first century.

  • Bennett-Bremner, E. Front-Line Airline: The War Story of Qantas Empire Airways Limited. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1944. Reprint. Longreach, Australia: Qantas Founders Outback Museum, 1996. An informative history of Qantas’s aerial operations during World War II.
  • Fysh, Wilmot Hudson. Qantas Rising: The Autobiography of the Flying Fysh. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1965. Reprint. Longreach, Australia: Qantas Founders Outback Museum, 1996. The autobiography of one of Qantas’s founders.
  • Gunn, John. The Defeat of Distance: Qantas, 1919-1939. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1988. The story of the early days of Qantas, with illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
  • Stackhouse, John. From the Dawn of Aviation: The Qantas Story, 1920-1995. Double Bay, Australia: Focus, 1995. A comprehensive history of the airline.

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Categories: History