Qantas turns 100, with special place in hearts of Australians

It has been 100 years since Australia’s national airline Qantas was founded, making it one of the oldest continuously-operating airlines in the world, with a special place in the hearts of Australians.

To mark the occasion, one of Qantas’ planes made a 100-minute celebration flight over Sydney, including a low pass of the Harbour Bridge, in a gesture of appreciation for the longevity.

Qantas first took to the skies in Australia’s remote outback in the wake of World War I, in a country rattled by the weight of the war and looking to carve out its destiny in the modern age.

It would become much more than a means of travel, acting as a vital connection to the outside world for the island nation, separated by vast oceans and thousands of kilometres.

“Distance has always defined Australia. Between our cities and regional towns, and from the rest of the world. Qantas prided itself on closing that gap,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said.

The airline was founded by Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh who served in the Australian Flying Corps during WWI, along with local grazier Fergus McMaster, to conquer the “tyranny of distance” which restrained the development of such a vast continent.

Named the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS), its first services shuttled mail and occasional passengers between remote outback towns.

With advances in technology the appeal and desire for air travel took off and by the 1930s Qantas was flying passengers to its first overseas destination Singapore.

Taking off and landing on water, Qantas’ fleet of “Flying Boats” operated out of Sydney Harbour, technically the country’s first international airport.

During the Second World War, multi-stop flights to as far away as England maintained secure lines of communication and proved the airline’s strategic importance, leading Qantas to be nationalised.

In 1974, when Cyclone Tracy devastated the Australian city of Darwin, Qantas set a record for carrying 674 people on a 747 in an effort to evacuate the city as quickly as possible.

During the mid-1990s the company was privatised, with the Australian government selling its stake in Qantas and investors rushing in to claim a part of the airline.

When COVID-19 hit, Qantas was on track to post a yearly profit of over one billion Australian dollars (728 million U.S. dollars), putting it in a position of relative financial security, even managing to post a profit for the last financial year, roughly half of which was engulfed by the pandemic.

However, in order to save the airline, Qantas was forced to slash at least 6,000 jobs, standing down many more without pay and grounding most of its fleet of aircraft.

Limited domestic services have helped keep some of Qantas’ planes in the sky, with Australia’s relative success in suppressing the virus offering the opportunity for interstate travel, which is expected to increase as long as infection rates remain low.

Despite Australia’s international border being effectively closed, Qantas has flown over 100 repatriation flights during the pandemic, helping stranded Aussies get back home.

The airline’s board maintains that through its swift and decisive actions minimising financial losses, they have ensured that the flying kangaroo will be ready to return to the skies for good when the time comes.