On 22 July the last Qantas Boeing 747-400 departed Sydney Airport on its final flight to retirement in the Mojave Desert in California, so ending almost 50 years of pairing between the airline and its faithful work-horse.
As flight QF7474 circled a victory lap over Sydney’s beaches and then headed out over the Pacific, plane spotters on internet flight trackers noticed that it seemed to be on an erratic course and possibly in trouble. In fact, using 75 navigation waypoints the flight path was accurately describing a huge rendering of the Qantas kangaroo as a salute and parting message: 275km wide and 250km high.
Sadly, it was now heading into well-earned retirement and closing an historic aviation chapter.
Sadly for me too, as 747 aircraft had accompanied me for twenty-two years of loyal service with the Flying Kangaroo up until 2000. Starting as a French-speaking flight attendant in 1977, in two years I had flown on 747s across the international network, before moving into corporate jobs. And then luckily found myself type-cast as a French specialist, with postings as area manager in Papeete (Tahiti) during the Rainbow Warrior period mid 1980s, and then in Paris.
The Papeete 747 operated three flights weekly between Sydney and Los Angeles. The combi variation had the rear third of the main deck converted into a large cargo hold, which often carried valuable race horses just behind the passengers.
My proudest 747 memories occurred in Paris in 1993 when Qantas introduced three weekly services via Frankfurt, Bangkok, Singapore to Sydney. I welcomed the first arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport and then at the Australian Embassy with help from Charles (Heidsieck). In 1995, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War One, we transported the remains of an Australian Unknown Soldier from the battlefields in the Somme to Canberra’s War Memorial.
Unfortunately our milk-run service had too many stopovers adding to route costs, so after two years of operations, although revenue earnings from ticket sales in France had doubled, the route was nevertheless deemed uneconomic and Paris got the chop.
In 1998 Qantas 747-400 services returned to Paris thrice weekly, but this time with a superior, single stopover in Singapore. We were dominant market leaders to Australia in a very competitive French market. Our local commercial efforts had been recognised and rewarded.
So, I hope the old 747 Spirits of Australia find new owners, or fly again forever in aircraft heaven.
Adieu et bonne chance!