Qantas is one of the world’s best known airlines, carrying over 4 million passengers annually and consistently ranking among the safest carriers. But, as so often happens, this global dominance grew from small beginnings.
Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited (QANTAS) was registered in the Gresham Hotel in Brisbane, Australia, on 16 November 1920.
The new company was founded by former Australian Flying Corps officers W Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, with financial backing from Fergus McMaster, a grazier. Arthur Baird, a gifted engineer who had served with Fysh and McGinness, also joined the company.
They purchased two biplanes and set up an air taxi and airmail service between Charleville and Cloncurry in Queensland.
In 1925 the Qantas route expanded, now covering 1,300km. And in 1926 the company oversaw the production of its first aircraft, a De Havilland DH50, capable of carrying four passengers.
Qantas staked a further claim in Australian history in 1928 when it agreed to lease an aircraft to the newly established Australian Aerial Medical Service, the Flying Doctors, to provide medical treatment in the outback.
By the winter of 1930, Qantas had carried more than 10,000 passengers. The following year it extended its vision beyond the Australasian continent when it linked up with Britain’s Imperial Airways to provide the Brisbane to Darwin portion of an Australia to England airmail route.
In January 1934 the two companies joined together to form Qantas Empire Airways Limited.
It wasn’t just mail that Qantas wanted to have a hand in transporting overseas. In 1935 it completed its first passenger flight from Brisbane to Singapore, taking four days. But with demand soon on the rise, they needed to increase capacity and looked to flying boats to provide it.
A thrice-weekly flying boat service between Sydney and Southampton was set up, with Imperial and Qantas crews sharing the route by changing over in Singapore. The flying boats accommodated fifteen passengers in sumptuous luxury.
But World War Two brought an abrupt halt to the heady days of luxury travel. The Singapore route was severed in 1942 when Japanese forces seized the island. The last Qantas flying boat escaped the city under cover of darkness on 4th February.
Post-war Qantas embarked on a programme of ambitious expansion. New aircraft were purchased, including the new Lockheed Constellation. New routes opened up to Hong Kong and Johannesburg, and a weekly service to London was established, nicknamed the Kangaroo Route.
In 1954 Qantas also began passenger services to the United States and Canada. By 1958 it operated in 23 countries around the globe and in 1959 became the first airline outside the United States to enter the jet age when it took delivery of the Boeing 707-138.
The Boeing 747 jumbo jet expanded Qantas’ capacity further and the extra room was put to good use in 1974 when Qantas flights evacuated 4925 people from Darwin after it was struck by a cyclone.
Expansion continued at a rapid rate, helped in 1992 by the Australian Government’s approval of the acquisition of Australian Airlines, making Qantas the foremost Australian carrier.
From humble beginnings, the Qantas fleet now numbers 118 aircraft, flying between 85 destinations. Its first aircraft carried just two passengers, today the largest aircraft in its fleet, the huge Airbus A380, has a capacity of 450.
Image: Qantas 707-138 jet airliner, 1959 ©Qantas
More images and information on the Qantas heritage site