Early years


In November 1920, Australian Flying Corps veterans Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh envisaged an air service connecting Australia to the world. They had recently completed the first overland air route survey of northern Australia by Model T Ford. Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd was registered as a business on 16 November 1920. Founding chairman Fergus McMaster wrote that Qantas was “inspired by the spirit of ANZAC”. The first Qantas air routes provided vital connections for the people of western Queensland who responded with enthusiasm by purchasing shares and travelling by air.

The founder’s vision was constantly on the horizon, they were pioneering a new form of transport, not just an airline. The ‘NT’ in Qantas represented their ambition to fly overseas via Darwin in the Northern Territory as the main aerial port of entry at the time. From joyriding and charter work based at Longreach in western Queensland, a route network soon developed with safety as the highest priority. The vision for overseas expansion was achieved in 1935 with services between Brisbane and Singapore taking three and a half days using DH86 aircraft and linking with other air routes to Europe and Asia. From 1938, Qantas Empire flying boats began services between Sydney and Singapore introducing full cabin service and modern comfort.   


Gallipoli veterans Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh meet while serving with No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps in Palestine, during the First World War.


McGinness and Fysh complete an overland airfield survey between Longreach and Darwin along the route to be used by aviators competing for a ₤10,000 prize for the first flight from Britain to Australia. Prize is won by Ross & Keith Smith after arriving at Darwin in December.


Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd (Q.A.N.T.A.S) formed at Winton, Queensland with two aircraft on 16 November. Joy-flights and charter work are the mainstays of the business. Grazier Fergus McMaster provides vital guidance and becomes the first Chairman.


Operations moved to Longreach and Qantas built a hangar that still exists. The first Qantas aircraft is an Avro 504K built in Sydney.


The first scheduled mail and passenger flights from Charleville to Cloncurry in November. First passenger was 84-year-old Alexander Kennedy.


S.M. Bruce became the first Australian Prime Minister to use an aircraft for official travel. He flew in a Qantas aircraft from Winton to Longreach after a storm cut roads.


The first Cloncurry-Mt Isa-Camooweal service carried fresh butter and ice to inland residents.


Arthur Baird, Qantas chief engineer, starts a project to build Qantas DH50 aircraft under licence at Longreach. Qantas is one of the few airlines to have built and operated its own aircraft.


Arthur Baird starts training apprentices at Longreach. Qantas builds a hangar at Eagle Farm airfield in Brisbane and opens a flying school. Trains Dorothy Reis, the first female pilot in Queensland.

The first regular Qantas Cloncurry-Normanton service begins. It carried fresh fish from Normanton for sale at market prices.


Qantas was contracted to operate the first flying doctor service on behalf of Reverend John Flynn’s Australian Inland Mission. Beginning in May from a base at Cloncurry, the service flew 225 patients in its first year of operation.


A Qantas Charleville-Brisbane service begins, bringing the route network to 2,380 kilometres.

Qantas pilot Lester Brain finds the Kookaburra aircraft missing in the Tanami Desert. Pilots Keith Anderson and Bob Hitchcock had died of thirst after setting off to search for Charles Kingsford Smith and the Southern Cross.


The rapidly growing airline moved its head office to Brisbane. Hangars and maintenance operations were established at Archerfield.

Qantas had flown its first one million miles or 1.6 million kilometres.


Negotiations with Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm’s Australian National Airways and Norman Brearley’s West Australian Airways sought a joint Australian airmail operation to partner with Imperial Airways. Disagreements led to Qantas approaching Imperial Airways and becoming the sole Australian carrier for the new UK-Australia passenger and airmail service.


Qantas Empire Airways Ltd was formed with joint Qantas and Imperial Airways ownership. QEA was to operate the Singapore-Australia leg of the Empire Air Mail service.


A Qantas four-engine DH86 flew from Brisbane to Singapore, the airline’s first overseas flight. The first overseas passenger to travel from Singapore was Lady Edwina Mountbatten in April.


Qantas services to Singapore are doubled to twice weekly as planning begins for a UK-Australia flying boat service.


A Short Empire flying boat ‘Centaurus’ touched down on the Brisbane river at the end of a route survey flight. An estimated 50,000 people turned out to see the new aircraft when it visited Sydney.


Two Qantas Short Empire flying boats arrived at Rose Bay, Sydney.

The first Sydney-Southampton flight departs from Rose Bay. Qantas crews flew as far as Singapore where Imperial Airways took over the service to the UK.

Qantas moves its head office to Sydney and hires its first flight stewards.