As one of the oldest airlines in the world, and the largest in Australia, Qantas has a fascinating history! It is a story of growth – starting with two small biplanes opening up the outback and expanding to become a major long haul operator of the 747 and A380. This article shares some of the highlights of this close to 100 year history.
Inspiration for flying in Queensland
The story of Qantas starts with two former military aviators, Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness. They served as an observer and pilot pair in the Australian Flying Corps.
Following service in the First World War, Fysh and McGinness worked for the defense department surveying an air race route from Longreach in Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory. This arduous journey by land took them 51 days and left the pair convinced of the possibilities of an air service linking locations in these remote regions.
The pair raised funding to start a company initially offering an air taxi service, as well as leisure and sightseeing flights. Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited (soon abbreviated to QANTAS) was formed in November 1920 in the town of Winton. Its headquarters would move a few years later to the more central town of Longreach. The first aircraft (by 1920) were two biplanes – an Avro 504K and a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2E.
Starting a scheduled service
The first move to a regular airline service came in November 1922 with a government contract to operate a mail service between Charleville and Cloncurry.
Passenger service began on the same route in 1924, with the introduction of de Havilland DH50 aircraft with four seats in an enclosed cabin. This single route was extended 400km from Cloncurry to Camooweal in 1925, and to Normanton in 1927. Qantas also began production of its own aircraft (under license from De Havilland) in Longreach. Between 1926 and 1928 they built seven DH50 and one DH9 aircraft.
The route network would reach the coast in 1929, with an extension to Brisbane using new DH61 aircraft on the Charleville-Brisbane service. Soon after, the company headquarters would move from Longreach to Brisbane.
Expanding internationally – in partnership with the UK
Overseas expansion began in 1934, when Qantas and Imperial Airways (a predecessor of British Airways) jointly formed Qantas Empire Airways Limited (QEA). This name lasted until 1967 when the airline was renamed to Qantas Airways, as it remains today.
QEA initially flew a scheduled service from Brisbane to Darwin. Service extended in 1935 to Singapore using a DH86, with Imperial Airways offering further service to the UK. They introduced the Shorts S23 Empire flying boat on the route in 1938 to meet growing demand. This was, by now, a three times per week service, taking nine days…