Founding of Qantas

November 14, 2018

On 16 November 1920, iconic Aussie airline and institution, Qantas – nicknamed “The Flying Kangaroo” – was founded by three World War I veterans in the outback central-Queensland town of Winton as the “Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services” Limited.

In the 1940s, Qantas linked up with a British airliner to provide flight services from Australia to the UK via Karachi, Pakistan. Qantas serviced the Sydney-Karachi leg – called the “Kangaroo Route” – with the Brits servicing the Karachi-London leg. In 1944, a kangaroo logo was first used on this leg – reflecting the route’s Aussie nickname – which spread to being the proud Qantas symbol we all now know. (See further details below.)

Today, Qantas is Australia’s flag carrier airline with the company slogan “The Spirit of Australia”. Qantas is Australia's largest airline by fleet size, international flights and international destinations and the world’s third oldest airline (behind the flag carriers of the Netherlands’ KLM and Colombia’s Avianca). 

After some difficult periods earlier in the 2010s, Qantas has emerged a strong Australian asset and icon - though, regrettably, under recent management it has also become a flagship for left-wing environmental and social causes.

Celebrate this birthday of Qantas by:

Further details on Qantas and its history

Qantas was founded by three WWI veterans, Paul McGinness (Australian flying ace in WWI), Hudson Fysh (an observer and gunner to McGinness) and Fergus McMaster (gunner and dispatch rider on the Western Front).

Originally situated relatively close to many Queensland and NT airstrips (planes could only fly quite limited distances in 1920), the three veterans moved their Qantas headquarters 180 kms south-east to the bigger centre of Longreach the next year (1921). As technology advanced - including flight ranges - Qantas relocated headquarters again to the state capital of Brisbane in 1930, beginning international passenger flights in 1935. Qantas is now headquartered adjacent Sydney’s Mascot (aka Kingsford Smith) Airport.

McMaster was inaugural Chairman of Qantas and remained its Chairman for 27 years until the company was nationalised in 1947 by PM Ben Chifley and his Labor government – in keeping with their socialist leanings and the union-friendly, nationalising and monopolising opportunities the post-WWII environment presented. (McMaster was knighted in 1941 for his services developing Qantas, and other Qld companies).

Soon after its nationalisation, Qantas became a purely international network, as its domestic network was transferred to “Trans-Australia Airlines” (TAA). TAA was a government-owned domestic network established in 1946. Chifley Labor intended TAA to be a domestic airline monopoly and union stronghold. Qantas later merged with Australian Airlines in 1992 (formerly TAA up until 1986). From 1993, the Keating Labor government began privatising Qantas in tranches, completed by 1997 (with Australian shareholders still having to own at least 51%. The Qantas Sale Act 1992 was later amended in 2014 by the Abbott Coalition Government, to release the legislative hand-cuffs from Qantas and level the airline playing field in Australia.

When competitor Ansett Australia collapsed three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil – with then Virgin Blue (now Virgin) relatively new to Australia (since late 1999) Qantas surged to 90% of the domestic market share. Qantas now enjoys around 65% of the domestic market (including its budget airline, Jetstar – created in 2001) with Virgin around 30% and regional airlines servicing the rest.

During Australia’s 2017 plebiscite campaign on legalising same-sex marriage (SSM), Qantas and its CEO, Alan Joyce, was arguably the most prominent corporate voice and proponent for the “Yes” vote. This included its key sponsorship of the Sydney Mardi Gras and “rainbow roo” float, incomplete SSM solidarity 'rings' worn by flight staff, rainbow lettering and paraphernalia on its aircraft and pride cookies served to its passengers.

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