Since Australia closed its borders in March 2020, Qantas has faced significant headwinds. The airline has lost billions of dollars, and thousands of people are out of work. But the Qantas Group fleet remains largely unchanged. In the 12 months to June 30, 2021, the Qantas Group shrunk its fleet by just three planes.
In its annual report, released late last week, Qantas confirmed it had 311 aircraft across the Qantas Group as of June 30, 2021. That compared to 314 aircraft as of June 30, 2020. The Qantas Group includes Qantas, Jetstar, and Qantas Freight.
The majority of the aircraft, 224, flew for Qantas. That includes QantasLink and Network Aviation aircraft. Seventy-eight aircraft flew under Jetstar colors, and nine dedicated aircraft flew for Qantas Freight.
224 aircraft flying under Qantas colors
Flying the Qantas colors were 11 different types of aircraft. They include Airbus A380s, Airbus A330-300s, A330-200s, A320-200s, Boeing 787-9s, 737-800s. 717-200s, Fokker 100s, and Q200s, Q300s, and Q400s.
The workhorse of the Qantas fleet is the Boeing 737-800. Qantas has 75 of the planes, unchanged from the year before. These planes fly domestic routes and normally some short-haul international sectors to destinations like Port Moresby, Nadi, and Wellington.
Qantas took their first 737-800 in early 2002 and the last in late 2018. While the well-maintained Boeings can keep going and going, Qantas is eyeing a replacement program. But last year, they kicked that can down the road until the flying environment and cash flow situation improves.
Qantas also flies 20 Boeing 717-200s, unchanged from the previous 12 months. In the last year, Qantas consolidated their 717 bases to Australia’s east coast. The airline also flies 10 Airbus A320-200 aircraft, up from four the previous year. The extra planes came over from Jetstar and have been deployed into Western Australia to service the lucrative resources sector.
Also primarily doing resources sector work are 18 Fokker 100s, up from 17 the year before. That extra Fokker went to Qantas subsidiary Network Aviation. A decent portion of the 224 aircraft flying under Qantas colors are 50 Q200, Q300, and Q400 aircraft. Flying regional routes for QantasLink, the turboprop cohort includes three De Havilland DHC-8-200 aircraft, 16 DHC-8-300 aircraft, and 31 DHC-8-400 aircraft. The number of QantasLink turboprops is unchanged from the previous 12 months.
What’s not included in the count are the Embraer E190 jets Qantas has begun flying on Central Australian routes between Adelaide and Darwin. Those planes are operating under a wet lease from Brisbane-based Alliance Airlines.
Qantas keeps its bigger planes
Looking at Qantas’ bigger planes, the airline retains 12 Airbus A380-800 aircraft. However, all remain in long-term storage, with the first not scheduled to resume flying until July 2022. There are also 11 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, unchanged from the previous 12 months. Qantas is due three more Dreamliners but had deferred delivery of them. Those three Dreamliners contributed to a large number of white tail aircraft Boeing had to manage recently.
The final aircraft type flying under Qantas colors is the Airbus A330. Qantas has 28 of them, unchanged from the year before. In the A330 family are 18 A330-200s and 10 A330-330s.
The A330s are the unsung workhorses of the Qantas international fleet. The newer Dreamliners and larger A380s get the attention, but the A330s do much of Qantas’ heavy lifting. Many passengers also prefer flying in the older A330s. It is notable that Qantas plans to use these planes to fly between Brisbane and the US west coast in 2022. Formerly the airline had Dreamliners on these routes.
Gone are the Boeing 747-400s. Qantas was down to just a handful of the jumbos in 2020. The last Qantas 747 flew out in July 2020, technically part of the 2021 financial year these latest numbers from Qantas canvas. But Qantas has retired the last 747 before the 2021 financial year began.
Lease returns cause a downsizing at Jetstar
Qantas’ low-cost subsidiary Jetstar had 78 planes as of June 30, down from 87 planes on June 30, 2020. The 2021 count included 11 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, unchanged from the year before. The majority of Jetstar’s Dreamliners remain parked.
Most of Jetstar’s fleet are narrowbody Airbus aircraft. There are around half a dozen Airbus A321-200 aircraft belonging to Jetstar. The remaining Airbus aircraft are A320-200s. The downsizing of the Jetstar fleet is partly due to lease returns. Several aircraft were also transferred from Jetstar Asia and Jetstar Japan to Australia-based Jetstar.
According to Qantas, the ongoing restructuring program at Jetstar Asia has seen the fleet based in Singapore reduced from 18 planes to 13. Four of the planes were redeployed to Australia and one went back to its lessor. A further three Jetstar Asia planes will end up flying in Australia and another is heading back to the lessor. By then, Jetstar will only have eight planes in Singapore.
It is a similar restructuring scenario at Jetstar Japan. They are sending six Airbus aircraft back to Australia to support domestic growth there and reduce costs at Jetstar Japan.
Growth at Qantas Freight
A big Qantas success story in the last year is Qantas Freight. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the growth in online shopping in Australia combined with the loss of freight capacity on canceled passenger flights was good for Qantas Freight in 2021.
In addition to deploying passenger aircraft (notably the Airbus A330s) onto freight runs, Qantas has nine dedicated freighters, including a recently converted Airbus A321-200 plane. This is up from six dedicated freighters in the previous 12 months.
Also new to the Qantas freighter fleet in 2021 are two A321-200s that came delivered as freighters. Still flying from the previous year are four Boeing 737-300s and a single 737-400. There is also a Boeing 767-300 flying for Qantas Freight. It is now the sole remaining 767 flying for the Qantas Group.
Qantas has high hopes for the southern 2021/22 flying season. They want to resume international flying and get their domestic network back on track. When the airline gets past those points, it’ll inevitably revisit its deferred fleet expansion plans. On the horizon are decisions on Project Sunrise aircraft, replacement aircraft for the Boeing 717 and Fokker fleets, and looking to begin phasing out some of the older Boeing 737-800s.