Amanda Jackson and Sharif Paget, CNN
(CNN) — After 50 years of flying, Qantas’ last remaining Boeing 747 passenger jet departed Australia for the final time on Wednesday and left a special message for everyone in the sky — a drawing of the airline’s iconic kangaroo logo.
The flight path of Flight QF7474 traced the logo in the sky after it took off from Sydney Airport for the US, where the jumbo jet will be retired, Qantas, Australia’s biggest airline, said in a statement on Wednesday.
«This aircraft was well ahead of its time and extremely capable,» said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce in a statement. «Engineers and cabin crew loved working on them and pilots loved flying them. So did passengers. They have carved out a very special place in aviation history and I know they’ll be greatly missed by a lot of people, including me.»
The 747 is being replaced by more fuel-efficient aircraft with better range, like the 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350, according to Joyce. While the fleet was set to be retired this year, Qantas said the pandemic decimated travel globally, which moved up the retirement by six months.
The travel industry has taken a huge hit as countries have gone on lockdown and limited traveling to curb the spread of Covid-19. Earlier this month, British Airways retired its fleet of 747s four years ahead of schedule because of the pandemic.
People gathered at Sydney Airport to bid farewell to the plane, which received a water salute before departure. The plane was loaded with cargo bound for Los Angeles before the aircraft goes into storage at a boneyard in the Mojave Desert, according to the Qantas press release.
Joyce said it is hard to overstate the impact the 747 had for a country like Australia. The aircraft’s size helped lower airfares for a nation that is far away as Australia.
The 747 «put international travel within reach of the average Australian and people jumped at the opportunity,» Joyce said.
The flight was commanded by Capt. Sharelle Quinn, the airline’s first female captain.
«I have flown this aircraft for 36 years and it has been an absolute privilege,» Quinn said in the press release.
Quinn said 747s have carried more than 250 million passengers for Qantas, including a number of rescue missions for Qantas over the past 50 years. The plane brought home a record 674 passengers out of Darwin following Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and flew medical supplies in and tourists home from the Maldives and Sri Lanka following the massive tsunami in December 2004.
Most recently, it was used in February to bring hundreds of stranded Australians home from Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus pandemic began.
Qantas took delivery of its first 747 in August 1971, the same year the first McDonalds opened in Australia, according to the airline.
«It has been a wonderful part of our history, a truly ground-breaking aircraft and while we are sad to see our last one go, it’s time to hand over to the next generation of aircraft that are a lot more efficient,» Quinn said.
Before heading out over the Pacific Ocean, Qantas said that the flight was scheduled to flyby Sydney Harbor and the HARS Museum where it will dip the wings in a final farewell to Qantas’ first 747-400, which is on display there.