World's longest flight record-holder, Qantas 'City of Canberra' 747-400, retires

Qantas Airways 747-400 aircraft VH-OJA holds the world record for the longest ever commercial flight, non-stop from London to Sydney in 20 hours, 9 minutes and 5 seconds in August 1989.

Now, the retired aircraft in early March will undertake its shortest-ever flight, from Sydney to Illawarra Regional Airport in Shellharbour, NSW, with an expected flying time of just 10 minutes.

That is expected to be VH-OJA's final flight, with the aircraft poised to be the first 747-400 in the world to be preserved for public display.

Qantas is donating the aircraft, also known as "City of Canberra" to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS), as flagged by Fairfax Media earlier this month. The facility is home to the largest collection of both flying and static heritage aircraft in Australia, including an old Qantas Lockheed Super Constellation.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said it was important for such an iconic aircraft to be on display as a reminder of the role Qantas had played in aviation history.

"Qantas has been responsible for a lot of aviation firsts and many of them have centred on endurance and reliability," he said. "The record breaking flight of this Boeing aircraft was a technical and symbolic achievement because it showed what was possible with the latest generation of aircraft and that spirit of innovation still drives us today."

The flight in 1989 required the plane to minimise weight and use a special high-density fuel. While it was categorised as a commercial flight, the jumbo carried only 23 people, including the crew. 

Deputy Premier and Minister for Tourism and Major Events Troy Grant said VH-OJA would be a boon for regional tourism in the state.

"Coffs Harbour has the big banana, Ballina has the big prawn, and now thanks to Qantas, Shellharbour has the big Boeing 747," he said.


The flight from Sydney to Shellharbour will be the first time a Boeing 747 has landed at the regional port. The Qantas pilots operating the final flight will undertake special simulator training to prepare for the delivery and the airline is working with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to finalise approvals for the special landing.

However, South African Airways in 2006 managed to land a 747SP on a runway only 1463 metres long to be preserved at an aviation museum, even though Boeing manuals recommended a minimum landing distance of 1800 metres. The distance required for take-off is longer, meaning it is highly unlikely VH-OJA will ever fly again.

The official handover of VH-OJA will take place on March 15 to coincide with the HARS monthly open days, but the day of the actual flight has not yet been released. It is likely to depend on the weather conditions, as the runway would need to be dry to minimise the stopping distance.

The official handover will take place on March 15 to coincide with the HARS monthly open days.

Qantas has been gradually retiring its older 747-400 fleet, but the other aircraft have been retired to the Californian desert for sale or to be scrapped for parts.

VH-OJA's last commercial flight was from Johannesburg, South Africa to Sydney earlier this month. The aircraft flew 13,833 sectors during its 25.3 years in service, carrying 4.1 million passengers in the process. In total, it flew nearly 85 million kilometres, which is the equivalent of 110.2 return trips to the moon.

Qantas also currently flies the world's longest commercial route, from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth in the US. The flight covers 13,800 kilometres and takes a little more than 15 hours. Qantas originally flew 747s on the route, but switch to A380 superjumbos, the world's largest commercial plane, in September last year.