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Long hailed as the Spirit of Australia, Qantas has been a key player in the global aviation scene since what feels like the dawn of time (it’s 99 years, to be precise).
As Qantas gears up to celebrate its 100th anniversary in November next year, we thought we’d take a look back at where the local icon started, how it’s evolved over the decades, and even do a little anticipation on what the future may have in store for it.
From little things big things grow
To appreciate what the Flying Kangaroo has become over the last 99 years, it helps to look back at where it all began. In particular, the dusty desert town of Winton in central west Queensland. In 1919, former Australian Flying Corps officers Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness tackled the gruelling 2179-kilometre trip from Longreach to Katherine in a Model T Ford. It was apparently such a bumpy, uneven drive they never wanted to do it again… but it did give them an idea.
Fast forward to 16th November 1920 and, after considerable hard work and planning, Fysh, McGinness and former artilleryman Fergus McMaster founded Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd.
Australia in the clouds
The first stage of their ambitious dream to lead Australia into a new era among the clouds (and never have to drive that awful road again) was now a reality. They would soon be joined by engineer Arthur Baird, the essential fourth musketeer in their close-knit group, and their sky-high dreams of commercial aviation were truly under way. It would be two years until the first commercial mail and passenger plane would take off, during which time the airline traded up from Winton and moved its headquarters to the outback town of Longreach. Once that first plane took off, there was no looking back.
In the beginning, it was just two fragile, wooden Avro 504K biplanes, the kind widely used during the First World War. By the late 1930s, the fleet had expanded to include three Short Empire flying boats, which operated the route from Sydney’s Rose Bay to Singapore. That exotic journey took four days to complete, with three overnight stops along the way.
Over the subsequent decades, Qantas (soon to adopt the acronym of its original name to make QANTAS) and its growing fleet experienced huge changes with the advancement of technology. Going far beyond its original mantra to service Queensland and wider Australia, Qantas had quickly opened the country up to the rest of the world.
Entering the jet era as the first non-US airline to fly Boeing 707 aircraft in 1959, Qantas halved travel time on Trans-Pacific flights. That was later followed by the arrival of the now-iconic Boeing 747 Jumbo in 1971, which allowed an even greater number of Aussies to see the world.
Today there are more than 297 planes for Qantas and its subsidiaries in the skies, flying to more than 80 cities in 14 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Oceania.
Chicken, fish or beef?
As you can imagine, inflight service has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. We’ve all seen those “Golden Age” photos of lavish in-flight buffets and carveries and thought “I’ll have a bit of everything, thanks”… and while that would be nice, it just isn’t feasible.
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the cost of a return flight from Sydney to London was so high that very few people could actually afford it. But if your bank account was healthy enough and you had an inflight appetite for lobster or caviar at 20,000 feet, then you got it. In-flight dining may not be as glamorous now, but it’s also not bad as everyone says either. In fact, when you consider the high volume and consistency of food being sent around the globe every single day, the hundreds of thousands of ravenous passengers getting a choice of chicken, fish or beef, it’s pretty impressive.
Legendary Australian chef Neil Perry has been at Qantas’ side designing its menus for more than 20 years now, and it’s a culinary partnership which has seen the airline’s in-flight meals and lounge offerings truly taken to the next level. The first challenges every in-flight caterer has to overcome are diminished taste sensations, a direct result of cabin pressurisation, and also the limited cooking equipment and space available in galley kitchens. Once you’re past those hurdles though, the real work begins.
Perry and his team craft around 600 new dishes every year, seeking out foodie inspiration from the various cities and countries Qantas flies to, as well as culinary trends that are sweeping the land. All up, the whole process can take up to nine months from start to finish.
Qantas’ eyes on the horizon with Project Sunrise
Whether it’s a throwback to its time in the desert of Winton or just Australia’s being one of the first countries to greet each new day, Qantas has long held a fascination with the sunrise.
In 1943, it established the history-making “Double Sunrise” route from Perth to Colombo in Sri Lanka, flying Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats which were obtained from the British Air Ministry. The non-stop service took between 27 and 32 hours to complete, depending on wind conditions, and remains the longest non-stop route ever flown. It earned the name because passengers would experience two sunrises on the route.
The spirit of that route lives on in Qantas’ new Project Sunrise, which aims to offer non-stop flights from the East Coast of Australia to London and Paris, New York City and Rio de Janeiro. Announced back in 2017, Project Sunrise is ambitious, yet it has also the potential to be a game-changer.
With an expected flight time of around 21 hours to London and 19 hours to New York, it goes without saying the standard inflight experience may require a little fine-tuning. To that end, Qantas is actively investigating new ways to not only make the flight experience more comfortable but more enticing for potential travellers too.
Qantas recently commissioned a survey into what customers would like on future long-haul flights, conducted on their behalf by Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre. In the findings, a dedicated onboard space for exercise and a cafe area where guests can socialise (and maybe enjoy a few well-earned post-exercise snacks) were among the most-desired features.
Whatever the team decides will only complement the health and wellbeing initiatives that are already in place, such as time-zone based lighting to help re-orient the body clock and Neil Perry designed menus created to aid sleep and wakefulness. Both of these have been used to huge success on non-stop Perth to London flights since March last year.
There’s no date yet on when Project Sunrise will take off, but our money is on less than three years. And though the aircraft is still a closely guarded secret at the moment, two of the ones rumoured to be under consideration are the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350.
Qantas is expected to announce more details later in the year.
A cleaner, greener future
Climate change is one of the biggest environmental problems facing our planet right now. It’s a big issue and one which is only going to become more persistent as time goes on.
In an effort to reduce its environmental footprint, Qantas Group has announced the most ambitious waste reduction target of any major airline globally – a 75 percent reduction in waste to landfill by the end of 2021. To help reach that target, over 100 million single-use plastic items per year will be removed from flights and lounges by the end of 2020.
Separate reduction targets also exist for fuel, water and electricity consumption.
As part of its broader approach to sustainability, Qantas also has the largest carbon offset scheme of any airline. And, from mid-2019, customers booking via qantas.com will be able to earn 10 Qantas points for every dollar spent offsetting their travel from Australia.
One of the other areas Qantas is investing in is pilot training. Estimates suggest 790,000 more pilots will be required globally over the next 20 years, with a third of those needed in Asia-Pacific alone. To help address the shortage, Qantas has announced the Pilot Academy – a program designed to train up to 250 pilots a year from Australia and overseas.
The first Qantas Pilot Academy campus is due to open in Toowoomba by mid-2019.
Though it’s hard to accurately predict what’s in store for Qantas over its next 100 years without a crystal ball (if you have one, hook us up) one thing for certain is the airline will continue to push the boundaries of aviation, investing in new planes and new technologies, and making the world more accessible for travellers – one Flying Kangaroo at a time.