Qantas Empire Airways Limited.
Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited (QANTAS) was founded in Winton, Queensland on November 16, 1920 by Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness and Fergus McMaster. Although originally headquartered in Winton the airline’s office was moved to Longreach in 1921 before relocating to Brisbane in 1930.
In 1934 QANTAS formed a new company called Qantas Empire Airways Ltd (QEA) to operate the Empire Air Mail scheme with Britain's Imperial Airways - the forerunner of British Overseas Airways Corporation and British Airways. This joint venture was primarily tasked with transporting mail between England and Australia along with the few hardy people who could afford to travel such a long distance by air in those days.
The new airline commenced operations in December 1934, flying the mail between Brisbane and Darwin. When the airline acquired more suitable aircraft the QEA route was extended from Darwin to Singapore in May 1935 - its first international route. Imperial Airways operated the rest of the service through to London.
From its inception the service was hampered by the lack of suitable aircraft that could economically uplift and transport the ever increasing quantities of Royal Mail and passengers at a reasonable speed over this long distance. Short Brothers designed and built the now legendary Short S.23 Empire Class flying boat that became the backbone of this service, with the first aircraft being deployed on this route in 1938.
With the outbreak of World War II the fleet of Short Empire Class flying boats was severely strained. Aircraft accidents mounted whilst some aircraft were requisitioned for military duties. When Japan entered the war, the route between Australia and England was cut in 1942.
However on April 10, 1940 Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL) was formed by an Intergovernmental Agreement for Tasman Sea Air Services via a treaty signed by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The purpose of this new airline was to originally transport mail, passengers and cargo across the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand during World War II. The treaty was originally intended to end within three months after hostilities with Germany ended but it was later extended in 1949 and finally ended on March 31, 1954, with control and ownership passing into normal commercial agreements.
Shares in TEAL were held by British Overseas Airways Corporation (38%); Qantas Empire Airways (23%); New Zealand Government (20%) and Union Airways of New Zealand (19%).
The first service from Auckland to Sydney was undertaken by the TEAL Short S.30C Empire Class flying boat ZK-AMA ‘Aotearoa’ on April 30, 1940. For the first time there was a regular through air service between New Zealand and Britain.
On June 29, 1943 QEA resumed the important flying boat services to transport vital mail and limited passengers to and from Australia. The inaugural flight from Ceylon to Australia was carried out by 'Atlair Star' under the command of Captain Russell Tapp. These flights were carried out using a fleet of Consolidated Catalinas. The first regular service from Perth to Ceylon was operated on July 10, 1943 also by 'Altair Star'. This operation was based on the Swan River at Crawley in Perth, Western Australia. From this location the Catalinas would fly to Koggala Lake in Ceylon with restricted payloads and under strict radio silence. At Koggala Lake the often vital military correspondence was taken over by British Overseas Airways (BOAC) for transportation to England.
In June 1959 Qantas entered the jet age when its first Boeing 707-138 was delivered. This version of the Boeing airliner was a highly modified version of the standard Boeing 707. Qantas eventually purchased 13 of these ‘hot-rod’ aircraft, of which two are currently Australian based, the first aircraft VH-EBA is with the Qantas Outback Founders Museum and the last example built for Qantas, VH-EBM, will take up residence shortly with the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society at the Wollongong Regional Airport.
On August 01, 1967 Qantas Empire Airways changed its name to Qantas Airways Limited. In the same month it placed an initial order with the Boeing Airplane Company for four Boeing 747-200Bs - thus taking the airline into the 'jumbo-jet' era.
The first Qantas Airways Boeing 747-238B VH-EBA arrived at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport on August 16, 1971. The United States CAB banned Qantas from operating these aircraft into the United States, despite Pan Am operating their aircraft from the U. S. to Australia. This was a strategic move by the United States Government to secure additional landing rights for other U. S. carriers into Australia. Therefore Qantas initially deployed these aircraft on the Sydney - Singapore route and onward to London. Qantas commenced operating their Boeing 747s to the United States in January 1972.
In the 1990s the Australian Government commenced the process of privatizing its aviation interests. In 1986 Trans-Australia Airlines was renamed Australian Airlines. On September 14, 1992 Qantas Airways Limited purchased Australian Airlines from the Australian Government thus giving it an extensive domestic route network for the first time. Australian Airlines was officially merged with Qantas Airways Limited on October 31, 1993.
Once this merger had been completed the privatization of Qantas Airways was undertaken. The privatization legislation stipulated that at least 51% of the airline must be owned by Australian shareholders. The privatization gradually took place between 1993 and 1997.
In 1998 Qantas Airways co-founded the ‘Oneworld’ alliance with American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Other airlines were invited to join this alliance in the ensuing years.
With the deregulation of the Australian domestic airline market now in place, anyone who complied with the legislative requirements could establish an airline to challenge the two existing carriers - Ansett and Qantas. In 2000 the budget carrier Virgin Blue, later renamed Virgin Australia, commenced operations. The result was a quick decline in market share held by the two existing carriers.
In 2001 Qantas Airways established a relationship with Impulse Airlines whereby Qantas would operate the Impulse fleet of Boeing 717s under the marketing name of AirConnex / Impulse Airlines. Services commenced on May 27, 2001. In November 2001 Qantas Airways exercised its option to purchase Impulse Airlines which was subsequently absorbed into the Qantaslink Group of subsidiary airlines.
However on September 14, 2001 Ansett Australia collapsed due to bankruptcy - thus removing the main Qantas Airways competitor from the market. Although attempts to refloat Ansett over the next six months were tried, they failed and the Qantas domestic market share climbed back to nearly 90% before settling back to round 65% as Virgin Blue consolidated and expanded its position.
In 2002 Qantas Airways revived the ‘Australian Airlines’ name to create an international budget airline, focusing on routes into Japan and Asia, with brightly painted Boeing 767-338 aircraft sourced from the main Qantas fleet. This Qantas subsidiary airline was eventually closed down in favour of expanding Jetstar into this international market and New Zealand with newer Airbus equipment.
On May 24, 2004 Qantas Airways established its own budget carrier Jetstar Airways to blunt the inroads that Virgin Blue was making to its market.
Also in 2004 the Qantas Group expanded into the Asian budget airline market with the establishment of Jetstar Asia Airways in which the airline owned a minority shareholding. The same model was used again in 2007 when the Qantas Group invested in Jetstar Pacific which was headquartered in Vietnam, and again in 2012 when it invested in Jetstar Japan.
In December 2006 Qantas Airways faced one of its major challenges when a consortium calling itself ‘Airline Partners Australia’ launched a bid to acquire the airline. The consortium consisted of the Texas Pacific Group, Macquarie Bank, Allco Finance Group, Allco Equity Partners and Onex Corporation was structured to comply with the strict Australian ownership laws for Qantas which stipulated that the airline must be 51% Australian owned at all times. Many people saw this move as an ‘asset stripping’ exercise that had been supported by the Qantas Board. This failed takeover bid caused many concerns amongst all the Qantas shareholders as to the ongoing viability of the Qantas Board, which had recommended that the takeover offer be accepted.
In 2008 merger talks with British Airways were undertaken but this did not proceed to an agreement being reached.
It has been a long held dream of Qantas to fly from Sydney to London non-stop and in less than one day if possible. In 1938 when its aircraft were operating the longest air-route in the world from London to Sydney the average travel time was 9 days, flying in the romantic Short Empire Class flying boats.
This dream came one step closer to reality on March 25, 2018 when the Qantas Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flew the inaugural QF9 non-stop service from Perth to London (Heathrow). This 14,498 km flight took some 17 hours.
Is the Sydney - London non-stop service just around the corner?