The QantasLink Group.
The in-depth histories of the individual aircraft that are or have been a part of the affiliated airlines that now form the QantasLink Group.
Qantaslink is the regional brand of Qantas Airways Limited and is an affiliated member of the Oneworld airline alliance. It is the main competitor of both Virgin Australia and Regional Express Airways on Australian domestic routes.
Prior to 2002 the various Qantas subsidiary airlines, as listed below, operated under their own names. In 2002 a common brand was created bringing these airlines under the umbrella of Qantaslink. Southern Australia Airlines was dissolved at this time and it staff and assets were merged with Qantaslink / Eastern Australia Airlines.
For a short time, Qantaslink took over some of Qantas’ non-trunk services such as Sydney - Gold Coast, using the fleet of Boeing 717s that were inherited after Qantas acquired Impulse Airlines. Qantaslink ceased operating some of these routes after Qantas formed their low-cost Jetstar Airways in May 2004, as the Boeing 717 fleet was transferred to the new Melbourne based airline. Following Jetstar’s purchase of Airbus A320s, the Boeing 717s were re-introduced to Qantaslink by way of inclusion in the fleet of National Jet Systems (later re-named Cobham Aviation Services).
In 2015 Network Aviation based in Perth was re-branded as Qantaslink. This announcement by Qantas coincided with the unveiling of the first Network Aviation Fokker 100 in Qantaslink livery and in January 2018, a pair of Jetstar’s Airbus A320s were transferred to Network Aviation, also in the Qantaslink livery for services within Western Australia.
The following is a short summary of the airlines that make up the 'Qantaslink' family.
Eastern Australia Airlines.
Easterm Australia Airlines can trace its history back to 1949, when Tamworth Air Taxi Service (which soon became known as Tamair) was set up with just one aircraft to offer services to small rural towns in New South Wales and Queensland.
Other subsidiaries of Tamair, Air Eastland and New England Airways, were subsequently merged into a new airline named East Coast Commuter Airlines. Later this name was again changed to East Coast Airlines Ltd, then Eastern Airlines, and finally to Eastern Australia Airlines. In the early years aircraft including the Piper Aztec, Twin Commanche and Seneca were operated, together with Cessna Centurians and Embraer Bandierantes.
In 1987, after Ansett Airlines had acquired East-West Airlines, the Trade Practices Commission in Australia, ruled that Ansett should sell off some routes and aircraft. East-West Airlines itself had a financial interest in Eastern Airlines which was by then an important operator in New South Wales. Australian Airlines stepped in and took a 26% interest in Eastern Airlines and by 1990 had purchased all the remaining shares to make Eastern a 100% owned subsidiary. Consequently, Eastern became a fully owned subsidiary of Qantas Airways when Australian Airlines was merged with the former in 1993.
The formation of Impulse Airlines dates back to March 1994 when Oxley Airlines based in Port Macquarie was taken over by the McGowan family and the name changed to Impulse Airlines.
By the time Impulse Airlines began operations as a Qantaslink carrier on May 27, 2001 (initially using the AirConnex operating name), the company had already amassed a fleet of Beech 1900D aircraft and a handful of Boeing 717-200s. Qantas initially utilised these Boeing 717s on the Sydney and Melbourne services to The Gold Coast, Sydney to Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne to Maroochydore, Sydney to Hamilton Island and Sydney to Newcastle. By July 2001, 478 flights a week were being operated by the Boeing 717 fleet.
The Impulse Airlines Beech 1900D fleet was put to use on services between Sydney and Taree, Sydney and Newcastle, Brisbane and Maroochydore, Brisbane and Hervey Bay, Brisbane and Maryborough. They were also operated from Brisbane to Barcaldine, Biloela/Thangool and Blackwater. Other towns served by the Beech 1900Ds were Grafton, Glen Innes, Inverell, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Roma and Cooma.
From May 27, 2001 all the Impulse Airline services were operated with Qantas flight numbers.
In July / August 2002, the Beech 1900D fleet was withdrawn from the Qantaslink operation and most of the fleet grounded at Newcastle pending disposal. Meantime the Boeing 717 fleet had been increased to a total of 14 aircraft, all of which were passed to Jetstar on May 25, 2004.
Cobham Aviation Services.
National Jet Systems was established in 1989 and commenced operations in 1990. At that time, Australian Airlines was looking for a carrier to undertake regional operations on their behalf, and soon came to an arrangement with National Jet to carry out these flights for them. A small fleet of British Aerospace BAe146-100 jets was obtained and these were given the Australian Airlines livery with the words ‘Australian Airlink’ on the fuselage. When Australian Airlines was purchased by Qantas Airways in 1993, the aircraft were painted into the standard Qantas livery and the name ‘Airlink’ applied to the fuselage of each aircraft. This was later changed to ‘Qantaslink’.
The fleet was gradually expanded over the next few years to the point where National Jet operated a total of 19 BAe146s on behalf of both Qantas and Australian air Express.
In 2008, National Jet Systems rebranded its name to Cobham Aviation Services Australia. The latter provides scheduled and charter airline services, and provides other aviation services such as wet leasing and freight operations Their main base is at Adelaide Airport, South Australia, and they have hubs at Perth, Darwin and Cairns Airports.
From 2005 onwards, National Jet Systems began phasing out the BAe146s, replacing them with a fleet of Boeing 717-200s, which had previously been operated by Qantaslink/Impulse Airlines and Jetstar Airways. Initially the 14 Boeing 717s operated by Jetstar were transferred to Qantaslink, but three airframes from the fleet have since moved on to Hawaiian Airlines and others have joined the fleet from other operators, leaving a fleet of 11 in operation.
Today this part of the Qantas operation provides services to Alice Springs, Darwin, Nhulunbuy and Uluru in the Northern Territory, Cairns in Queensland, Adelaide in South Australia, Launceston and Hobart in Tasmania, and to Perth, Karratha, Broome, Port Hedland, Paraburdoo, Kalgoorlie and Newman in Western Australia
Southern Australia Airlines.
Southern Australia Airlines was formed in January 1992 as a link operation for Australian Airlines, which at the time was one of Australia’s two main domestic carriers. Murray Valley Airlines, based in Mildura, Victoria, had been formed in mid 1981with services operating between Mildura and Melbourne, Renmark and Adelaide in South Australia, and Broken Hill in New South Wales. Services were initially operated with a small fleet of Cessna 402s, an Embraer Bandeirante and a pair of Short SD-360s.
Murray Valley Airlines had financial difficulties and ceased operations in October 1986. Sunstate Airlines from Queensland came to the rescue by purchasing a shareholding in Murray Valley Airlines, and services were recommenced on November 09, 1986 under the name Sunstate Airlines, Mildura. In 1989, Sunstate Mildura set up an Air Ambulance operation on behalf of Ambulance Victoria with a fleet of 6 Cessna 404 Titan IIs. The operation changed again in 1992 when Australian Airlines took control of Sunstate Mildura and changed the name of the company to Southern Australia Airlines as part of their Australian Airlink operation. The fleet was updated with de Havilland Canada Dash-8-102s, and then in 1996, commenced jet operation with a pair of BAe146-200s (later increased to 3 aircraft). The BAe146s were used on services from Melbourne to Launceston and Hobart, and Sydney to Launceston and Hobart, but in October 2001 the route structure for the jet fleet was altered dramatically to allow Qantaslink/Impulse Airlines on to these routes. Southern Australia Airlines then took up services on the Adelaide to Canberra and Brisbane to Canberra routes.
In September 2002, the Dash-8 fleet (with crews) was transferred to Eastern Australia Airlines and the BAe146 fleet transferred into the National Jet Systems ‘Qantaslink’ operation, effectively bringing an end to Southern Australia Airlines. If you’re ever at Gate 10 in the Qantas domestic terminal at Melbourne Tullamarine, take a look at a very small sign which still appears above a doorway at that gate, which in 2018 still reads, 'This way to Southern Australia Airlines Flights' - perhaps the airline hasn’t disappeared at all!
Sunstate Airlines beginnings took place in December 1975, when a small operator, Noosa Airlines, began operations with a single Britten-Norman Islander aircraft between Maryborough and Brisbane, Queensland. Bevan Whitaker who owned Noosa Airlines and it’s parent company, Whitaker Pty Ltd, decided in December 1981 to set up another small carrier to operate routes abandoned by Trans-Australia Airlines when they began withdrawing their fleet of Fokker F.27 Friendship aircraft. The new airline was named Sunstate Airlines, and services commenced with an Embraer Bandierante aircraft.
By 1983, Noosa Airlines and Sunstate had merged and from January 01, 1984, the combined Sunstate operation was flying as part of Trans-Australia Airlines' Queensland network. Some aircraft rationalisation took place and the airline was well on the way to growth and expansion.
On June 01, 1987 Sunstate took over the routes of Air Queensland who were in financial difficulty, and again increased their fleet in order to meet the new challenges they faced. Around this time, Sunstate Airlines also took over Murray Valley Airlines in Mildura, Victoria (See Southern Australia Airlines). By 1989 Australian Airlines (the new name for Trans-Australian Airlines) had purchased a one-third share in Sunstate Airlines and increased this shareholding to 100% in 1990. By 1992 Sunstate was operating with Australian Airlines flight numbers and had started operating a small fleet of de Havilland Canada Dash 8 turboprop aircraft. In 1993 Sunstate absorbed Australian Regional Airlines and took over its fleet and route network.
In 2001 Sunstate Airlines along with Eastern Australia Airlines, Southern Australia Airlines, Impulse Airlines and National Jet Systems Airlink operation, were re-branded as Qantaslink.
Network Aviation is a Perth based airline that was founded in 1998 by entrepreneur Lindsay Evans. He operated a mix of Cessna 441 Conquest IIs and Beechcraft Super King Airs in partnership with other key clients. Network acquired larger aircraft types and commenced operating a fleet of Embraer Brasilias in 2000 and the Fokker 100s in 2008.
In 2011 Qantas Airways purchased Network Aviation, retaining its existing management, staff and operating structure and aligned the business to Qantas operations, standards and processes. At the time of this purchase Qantas announced that it was looking at significantly growing Network’s fleet and operations, by purchasing a fleet of 10 additional Fokker 100s to complement those already in service.
In March 2015 operations by the turbo prop aircraft ceased and Network took over the Qantas services from Perth to Geraldton an some services to Exmouth. On July 31, 2015 a further announcement confirmed that all the Fokker 100 aircraft would be repainted into the Qantaslink livery and in September 2016 Newtwork Aviation became an affiliate member of the Oneworld Airline Alliance.
In early 2018 two Airbus A320s that had been operated by Jetstar Airways, were transferred to Network and repainted into the Qantaslink livery.