Qantas Orders More 787s, Will Retire All 747s By 2020

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Qantas received their first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft last year to huge fanfare. Despite dozens of airlines receiving hundreds of Dreamliners over the past seven years, it was very significant for Qantas for a number of reasons:

  1. It was the first new longhaul aircraft (and new aircraft type) they had received for many years;
  2. It represented that they had reversed their financial position, after several years of heavy losses (they sensibly refused to purchase new aircraft until they had corrected this);
  3. The range and fuel efficiency allowed new route possibilities, such as the first non-stop commercial flights from Australia to the UK (Perth to London); and
  4. It included their brand new premium economy product.

They now have four 787-9s in operation, with four more on order, and options for a further 37 787 variants. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has always indicated he hoped to order more 787s but would wait until the performance of the first few they have ordered were proven to ensure the economics worked.

Qantas has hinted that they would launch new destinations with the 787 that were not economical with the 747 or A380, such as Perth to Paris.


Qantas 787 Business Class

Today Qantas has announced that they will order six more 787-9s, to be delivered by 2020, bringing their total 787 fleet to 14. They have also announced this will allow them to accelerate the retirement of all their remaining 747s by the end of 2020.

Their 787s represent a significant product upgrade to both their 747, and (current) A380 business class products. The Qantas A380s will be going through a refurbishment exercise over the next few years, and by the time the 747s are retired, all Qantas longhaul aircraft (A330s, A380s and B787s) will have the same hard products (note the A330s do not feature premium economy).

Because of their retirement, Qantas will not be refurbishing the 747s, which feature the very dated 2-2-2 Skybed MK2 product.

Qantas 747s have been a daily sight at LAX and JFK for decades. They recently announced schedule changes that will remove all 747s from their flights to Los Angeles and New York as they will be replaced with a mix of A380s and 787s.

They are bringing a 747 to Honolulu (from Sydney) which seems like a smart move for a largely leisure route. Qantas will continue to operate a 747 from Sydney to San Francisco.

Qantas 747 Business Class

No more Antarctica charters?

An interesting and perhaps unfortunate consequence of the accelerated 747 retirement (other than losing the ability to fly on the Queen of the Skies), is what it will mean for the charter flights over Antarctica.

These are operated each southern Summer by a company called Antarctica Flights using Qantas 747 aircraft (and crew) from various major cities in Australia, over Antarctica and back to Australia, within one (long) day.

The company describe their experience as:

We operate one day sightseeing flights over Antarctica departing from Australia every summer. Taking around 12 hours, the flights are the easiest way to view this great white Continent. No passports are needed and you are kept warm and safe with a drink in hand while our privately chartered Qantas 747 glides effortlessly over amazing scenery.

The 747 has proven perfect for these flights, and ETOPS restrictions mean it is unlikely these flights can be operated by a 787, and the four-engine A380s are likely to be too big, expensive, and logistically difficult to use.

Antarctica Flights using a chartered Qantas 747

I’ve personally never had any inclination to book one of these flights because while unique, being Qantas planes they are extremely expensive (more than $5,000 per person for the ‘best seats’, and points cannot be used as it is a charter flight). Also, the idea of flying over somewhere, not being able to land and then returning home has zero appeal to me.

I would rather make my way to Ushuaia to try and actually visit Antarctica by sea.

The charter company may be able to source a 747 from another airline to operate these flights — there are certainly plenty of spare 747s around the world as airlines retire them. Thai Airways is the first airline that comes to mind, especially as they already bring their 747s to Sydney each day and their ‘old first class’ 747s especially, have a spacious product that allows passengers to move about the cabin and look out the windows.

But I gather most passengers on these flights are Australian (seeing as each flight leaves from and returns to Australia) and the experience would not be as ‘special’ if a foreign airline with foreign crews were operating the flight, and may prove even more expensive to operate if bringing a plane and crew from another country.

Bottom line

It’s a bittersweet day for Qantas.

It’s great the airline is moving with the times and ordering more of the aircraft type that is the future of their longhaul operations, and should have ideally joined the fleet five years ago. At the same time it is sad to see the retirement of the 747s in just two years time.

If you’ve ever wanted to fly over Antarctica, I would look at doing it as soon as possible.

I expect the final 747 flight, which will also be the same year as Qantas’ 100th birthday in 2020 will be a very special (and very highly publicised) event.

Do you prefer to fly the Dreamliner or the 747?

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  1. Icarus

    Both Qantas and KLM withdraw 747s from 2020.

  2. Myles

    So sad that the Queen of the Sky is retiring..had a lot of good memories with it. But in exchange to have new planes with superior C products..no need to be too sad! Looking forward to try QF prestige C suites in the future...still rembers those C recliners from London to Sydney..it really feels as if it was in an alternate reality...

  3. Garrett

    I wonder what the flight schedule will look like for KLM at LAX once they retire the 747s... A 777-300 and a 787-9 daily? Number of seats would be about the same.

  4. Leeza1

    Glad that I'll be able to fly this aircraft SYD/SCL this year (paid economy, discounted fare).
    But this will reduce capacity a lot, and those flights always seems to be full.
    Maybe they'll open a new route to South America?
    BNE/SCL or GRU would be great.

    1. James

      @ Leeza - LATAM have been increasing services to Australia over the past few years with their own 787s so if there was demand from BNE I would expect LATAM to get there before Qantas do.

  5. Leeza1

    @James: LATAM only launched the SCL/MEL last year, and the other flight to SYD have a stop in AKL. Also, LATAM is always doing some crazy fares to sell the SCL/MEL flight (in february they did a U$560 rt fare in economy)
    I work for a consolidator in Brazil, and there's a lot of demand for BNE and OOL.
    However, Qantas will decrease capacity in 120 seats for the flight to SYD. As I said, those flights are almost always full.

  6. Steven M

    James I wanted to fly over a portion of Antarctica on a Qantas 747 without spending much money. Et voila -- end of May I take the Queen of the Skies from Sydney to Johannesburg using Aadvantage miles. Even deliberately put myself for a final time in the exit row with the partially obstructed legroom just for nostalgia's sake!

  7. TravelinWilly

    Great write-up.

    Totally off topic, but I went to Ushuaia once, in August.

    Do not be like me and go in August.

  8. Leeza1

    @TravelinWilly: Almost died in winter?

  9. yyc

    @TravelinWilly, why, was it very cold? :)

  10. derek

    This kills the 1:1000 chance of ordering the 747-8i.

    I fear that fares will increase due to decreased capacity. That might take a while as the 787 might mean that all major capitals, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, and Brisbane gets service to major cities in the Pacific and US. The A380 would be used on the busiest routes, like SYD-LAX.

  11. DC

    @Leeza1 - It’s might drop in capacity on a plane -for-plane basis, but many seem to expect an increase in frequencies from the current 3 per week on QF27/28 if and when the 789 is brought in.

  12. David S

    Alan Joyce indicated on local radio that the 787 Dreamliner would potentially open a new route to Seattle. Lets hope!

  13. Leeza1

    @DC: That's true.
    If they manage to make it a daily flight, then the capacity (weekly) will even increase.

  14. platy

    Hmmm..that "huge fanfare" is the QF PR machine doing it's gig with a largely sympathetic and compliant media falling into line. Sucked in fella! Not to mention that the PER-LHR inaugural was one big free for all in business class for media and politicians so most media reviews are hardly representative.

    The Australia-UK services feature a significant reduction in capacity as an A380 (with first class) is replaced by a 787-9 (with no first class)...

    Hmmm..that "huge fanfare" is the QF PR machine doing it's gig with a largely sympathetic and compliant media falling into line. Sucked in fella! Not to mention that the PER-LHR inaugural was one big free for all in business class for media and politicians so most media reviews are hardly representative.

    The Australia-UK services feature a significant reduction in capacity as an A380 (with first class) is replaced by a 787-9 (with no first class) with half the number of seats as QF9/10 has been rerouted via PER instead of DXB: net loss of 25% capacity on QF metal between Australia and Europe.

    In the time that QF have launched 787s to two destinations, SQ have managed to launch A350s to 17 destinations! QF's competitors are creaming the dullard Aussie with new aircraft types.

    For those on the East coast (the vast majority of the Australian population) the 787-9 service through PER offers no time time advantage, in fact for many would add to the journey time!

    Whether other non stops Europe (e.g. FCO, CDG, FRA) from PER are financially feasible remains to be seen, but note again that no time saved for most travellers and some reports of economy on the PER-LHR flights are unfavourable.

    QF seems to be trending to lower capacity on key routes (replacing A380, 747-400s), which may increase yields whilst allowing price hikes and fewer reward opportunities. The trend is further contraction to being an ever so niche player.

    Meanwhile QF competitors entrench their positions.

    Also consider that one day there will have to be a reckoning for the Emirates Alliance strategy - QF has effectively handed over the vast proportion of its customer base to EK - compare two flights daily to Europe on QF versus about 14 to DXB with connections to dozens of destinations open EK. When the alliance falters QF is in serious trouble.

    Oh and your point about it being savvy not to purchase until profit is undermined by the fact that QF Group merrily DID acquire 787-8s only to assign them to LCC Jetstar and transfer less efficient A330s into the QF fleet knowing that they were relatively older airframes unsuitable for some domestic routes (such as SYD-MEL where 767s used to serve). On the other hand QF has created a financial nightmare for the future, by not otherwise maintaining a program of fleet renewal on key aircraft types (including the 737 domestic fleet).

    Meanwhile, two A330s that somehow escaped the refit program continue to plague passengers on some Australia-Asian routes with a vastly inferior business class product!

    And in other cities, such as Cairns, QF has turned its back on a key market enabling other airlines to explore services (CX, HK Airlines and a couple of China airlines).

    Not to mention a lounge strategy with now appears out of step with route "development": no first lounge in LHR, an overcrowded lounge in SIN as flights rerouted away from DXB with no first, etc.

    Oh, and whereas the A380 are slated to get the newer business class seat, the first class cabin will main largely unaltered during the refit, leaving a 10 year product! How will that stack against the new suites from direct competitor SQ?!

    So maybe rather than just sucking on the teat of the QF PR drivel, a little more critical analysis would be opportune...?

  15. franz chong

    ex adelaide via perth to london has no real time advantages except for the fact coming home you clear immigration/customs at first port of arrival into australia and it's a short transit for the domestic sector home and it's a domestic flight outbound same terminal you arrive in to leave from the country.close to 23 hours based on summer schedules for a 737 ADL/PER/ADL AND 787 PER/LHR/PER.I can have a full day at work and...

    ex adelaide via perth to london has no real time advantages except for the fact coming home you clear immigration/customs at first port of arrival into australia and it's a short transit for the domestic sector home and it's a domestic flight outbound same terminal you arrive in to leave from the country.close to 23 hours based on summer schedules for a 737 ADL/PER/ADL AND 787 PER/LHR/PER.I can have a full day at work and then go Qatar via Doha at night and that takes about the same time using the first connection or about 25 using the 0800 connecting flight getting there around lunchtime or close to it.i know which one i would use a350 adl/doh and either a 787 or 77W OR 380 FOR DOH/LHR.

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MH

Spot on post, platy.

franz chong

ex adelaide via perth to london has no real time advantages except for the fact coming home you clear immigration/customs at first port of arrival into australia and it's a short transit for the domestic sector home and it's a domestic flight outbound same terminal you arrive in to leave from the country.close to 23 hours based on summer schedules for a 737 ADL/PER/ADL AND 787 PER/LHR/PER.I can have a full day at work and then go Qatar via Doha at night and that takes about the same time using the first connection or about 25 using the 0800 connecting flight getting there around lunchtime or close to it.i know which one i would use a350 adl/doh and either a 787 or 77W OR 380 FOR DOH/LHR.

platy

Hmmm..that "huge fanfare" is the QF PR machine doing it's gig with a largely sympathetic and compliant media falling into line. Sucked in fella! Not to mention that the PER-LHR inaugural was one big free for all in business class for media and politicians so most media reviews are hardly representative. The Australia-UK services feature a significant reduction in capacity as an A380 (with first class) is replaced by a 787-9 (with no first class) with half the number of seats as QF9/10 has been rerouted via PER instead of DXB: net loss of 25% capacity on QF metal between Australia and Europe. In the time that QF have launched 787s to two destinations, SQ have managed to launch A350s to 17 destinations! QF's competitors are creaming the dullard Aussie with new aircraft types. For those on the East coast (the vast majority of the Australian population) the 787-9 service through PER offers no time time advantage, in fact for many would add to the journey time! Whether other non stops Europe (e.g. FCO, CDG, FRA) from PER are financially feasible remains to be seen, but note again that no time saved for most travellers and some reports of economy on the PER-LHR flights are unfavourable. QF seems to be trending to lower capacity on key routes (replacing A380, 747-400s), which may increase yields whilst allowing price hikes and fewer reward opportunities. The trend is further contraction to being an ever so niche player. Meanwhile QF competitors entrench their positions. Also consider that one day there will have to be a reckoning for the Emirates Alliance strategy - QF has effectively handed over the vast proportion of its customer base to EK - compare two flights daily to Europe on QF versus about 14 to DXB with connections to dozens of destinations open EK. When the alliance falters QF is in serious trouble. Oh and your point about it being savvy not to purchase until profit is undermined by the fact that QF Group merrily DID acquire 787-8s only to assign them to LCC Jetstar and transfer less efficient A330s into the QF fleet knowing that they were relatively older airframes unsuitable for some domestic routes (such as SYD-MEL where 767s used to serve). On the other hand QF has created a financial nightmare for the future, by not otherwise maintaining a program of fleet renewal on key aircraft types (including the 737 domestic fleet). Meanwhile, two A330s that somehow escaped the refit program continue to plague passengers on some Australia-Asian routes with a vastly inferior business class product! And in other cities, such as Cairns, QF has turned its back on a key market enabling other airlines to explore services (CX, HK Airlines and a couple of China airlines). Not to mention a lounge strategy with now appears out of step with route "development": no first lounge in LHR, an overcrowded lounge in SIN as flights rerouted away from DXB with no first, etc. Oh, and whereas the A380 are slated to get the newer business class seat, the first class cabin will main largely unaltered during the refit, leaving a 10 year product! How will that stack against the new suites from direct competitor SQ?! So maybe rather than just sucking on the teat of the QF PR drivel, a little more critical analysis would be opportune...?

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