SYDNEY, July 22 (Reuters) - Qantas Airways Ltd chief executive Alan Joyce signed the carrier’s last Boeing Co 747 jet at Sydney airport on Wednesday, shortly before it was due to fly to the Mojave Desert for a retirement brought forward by the coronavirus pandemic.
The journey marks the final flight for a Qantas 747 after 49 years of service with the Australian airline, which had previously planned to work the 747-400 fleet through to the end of the year.
The four-engine plane with less favourable economics than newer-generation 787s and Airbus SE A350s had fallen out of favour even before the pandemic hit but Qantas, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and KLM have hastened retirement plans due to the lack of international travel demand.
Qantas has grounded most international flights until at least July 2021 due to Australian government travel restrictions.
Joyce, who headed up a farewell gathering at Sydney Airport, said Qantas had sold the 747 leaving on Wednesday and five others to General Electric Co. The final jet will deliver a load of freight to Los Angeles before flying on to the Mojave.
Boeing, which has in recent years been manufacturing the latest version of the 747 primarily as a freighter, and its suppliers signalled the end of the plane when they set the final number of parts it would need for the programme at least a year ago.
Qantas was once the world’s only airline with an all 747 fleet. There are only 30 747 passenger jets left in service globally and 132 in storage, according to aviation data provider Cirium, with freighters accounting for 93% of the type still flying.
Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc operates two 747-8 freighters on behalf of Qantas through a wet lease arrangement.
Qantas has also sent its 12 A380 super-jumbos to the Mojave on the expectation they will not return to the fleet for at least another three years. (Reporting by Jamie Freed; editing by Jane Wardell)