In March 2015, Qantas’ first Boeing 747-400 was greeted by onlookers as it made its final flight to Shellharbour Airport.
It has been eight years this month since Qantas flew one of its Boeing 747s to a regional airport 62 miles south of Sydney. Back in March 2015, the airline’s first Boeing 747-400, registered as VH-OJA and named The City of Canberra, made the 15-minute hop from Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD) to its final resting place at Shellharbour Airport (WOL).
The City of Canberra’s final journey
A crowd of thousands was present to cheer on The City of Canberra as the aircraft landed on Shellharbour Airport’s short and narrow runway. At just 1,800 meters in length, the runway is less than half the length of that of Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, and its 30-meter width was dwarfed by the Boeing 747-400s mighty 64-meter wingspan.
In preparation for the challenging landing, the pilots spent 25 hours in the flight simulator. The aircraft’s arrival can be seen in the following video:
Today, Shellharbour Airport, serving the city of Wollongong, offers commercial flights to just two destinations, both courtesy of Link Airways – Brisbane (BNE) and Melbourne-Essendon (MEB).
VH-OJA – a brief history
VH-OJA was delivered new to Qantas in August 1989. Throughout its 26-year career with the airline, the Boeing 747-400 operated over 13,000 flights and carried over four million passengers. The aircraft’s final passenger flight took place on January 13th, 2015, from Johannesburg (JNB) to Sydney.
Photo: Ryan Fletcher | Shutterstock
Following The City of Canberra’s retirement, Qantas went on to operate the Boeing 747-400 for a further five years, until July 2020, when the pandemic brought forward the type’s retirement. Today, the airline’s long-haul services are operated by the Airbus A330 (both the -200 and -300 variants), Boeing 787-9, and Airbus A380.
The carrier also has 20 Airbus A321XLRs and 12 Airbus A350-1000s on order. The latter are expected to join the fleet from 2025, and will be deployed on Qantas’ ultra-long-haul project sunrise routes.
A record-breaking delivery flight.
The City of Canberra has a history of attracting attention. The aircraft’s delivery flight made the headlines in 1989, when it flew non-stop from London Heathrow (LHR) to Sydney. At the time, this set a new record for the world’s longest flight by a commercial aircraft – decades before project sunrise was conceived.
The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society
VH-OJA is now being cared for by the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS), which is based at Shellharbour Airport. Today, HARS runs tours of the aircraft, allowing members of the public to experience the mighty Boeing 747-400 up close and personal. The visit involves carrying out activities normally reserved for qualified crew members, such as arming and cross-checking the doors, making announcements over the PA system, and going through the pre-departure checklist with a pilot.
HARS boasts Australia’s largest collection of historical aircraft. In 2017, John Travolta donated his Boeing 707 to HARS. However, delays in delivering the aircraft, exacerbated by pandemic-related travel restrictions, have meant that the Boeing 707 is yet to arrive at Shellharbour Airport.
Did you fly on VH-OJA, or another of Qantas’ Boeing 747-400s? Which route did you travel on? Share your memories and experiences by commenting below.
- IATA/ICAO Code:
- Airline Type:
- Full Service Carrier
- Brisbane Airport, Melbourne Airport, Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport
- Year Founded:
- Alan Joyce