Tuesday, May 1, 2012

CQ Plane Spotting Historic Spot - Boeing 717s at Central Queensland Airports

To celebrate the anniversary of the inception of CQ Plane Spotting Blog, I have decided to start a series of Blog posts that look back in time over the 'history' of aviation and the like in Central Queensland.  The first "Historic Spot" looks back  in time to have a look at the interesting history of Boeing B717-200 operated services in Central Queensland, given the recent introduction of QantasLink Boeing B717-200 services in Gladstone, Rockhampton and Mackay Airports.  

The Boeing B717-200 aircraft were introduced into Australian skies by Impulse Airlines.  Impulse Airlines was an independent airline in Australia which operated regional and low cost trunk services between 1994 and 2001.

Impulse Airlines was originally based in Newcastle, and the airline operated a network of regional routes throughout New South Wales to Melbourne, Coolangatta, and Brisbane. The airline initially operated a fleet of Beechcraft 1900 aircraft, and later expanded to become the first Australian operator of the BAe Jetstream 41. Impulse Airlines was affiliated with the Ansett frequent flyer programme and its flights had designated AN flight numbers.

In June 2000 Impulse Airlines acquired the Boeing B717-200 jet aircraft, and commenced operations as a low-cost airline on Australia's trunk eastern seaboard routes in direct competition with Qantas and Ansett – having ceased its previous affiliation with Ansett. Services initially operated between Sydney and Melbourne and quickly expanded to include Brisbane, Newcastle and Hobart.

Impulse airlines initially flew five B717-200 aircraft, taking up familiar (company) registrations of VH-AFR and VH-SMH, as well as VH-IMP, VH-IMD, and VH-LAX.

The airline gradually began to phase in three more B717-200s, as well as a catchy blue livery with a cockatoo on the tail of its aircraft.  B717-200 aircraft VH-VQA and VH-VQB were painted in the striking cockatoo colour scheme.

Sadly though, Impulse Airlines didn't last as an independent regional airline and in April 2001 Impulse and Qantas came to an agreement where Impulse would wet lease all their services to Qantas. 

The agreement was for Qantas to market the routes and give Impulse a cash injection with a further option for Qantas to buy out the company. Qantas exercised that option in November 2001, and Impulse was absorbed into the QantasLink group of subsidiary regional airlines. Subsequently, the Impulse Airlines livery was phased out, and the B717-200s were repainted into QantasLink colours.  Qantas deployed the Impulse Airlines operated B717-200 aircraft on regional services, with Queensland services being launched to Mackay and Rockhampton (where B717-200 VH-VQC is pictured).  

Over the years, the QantasLink B717-200 fleet was expanded with several new aircraft and second-hand aircraft from the United States entering service.

Plane spotters then started to notice that the B717-200s were losing their QantasLink livery, and in May 2004, the QantasLink - Impulse Airlines operated - services ceased operations.  That same month, the Impulse Airlines fleet of B717-200s were  used as a vehicle upon which Qantas' low-cost airline JetstarAirways was launched.  Jetstar started operations in May 2004.

Jetstar operated a mixed fleet consisting mostly of the B717-200 aircraft, as well as new Airbus A320-200 aircraft.  Some of Jetstar’s initial services in Australia included flights between Brisbane and Rockhampton and Mackay (as shown below).

Jetstar also used a couple their B717-200s as a flying billboard to promote some Australian companies by painting their aircraft in striking liveries.  VH-VQH was painted gold and wore short-lived titles promoting a men’s deodorant.  It eventually wore Christmas/New Year colours, and later was noted wearing titles for ‘Domino’s Pizza’.

VH-VQJ advertised a pair of hire car companies – with different liveries applied to the port and starboard sides of the aircraft.  These photos were taken at Mackay Airport shortly after I arrived back in Mackay from Brisbane in July 2005.

As the Jetstar fleet of Airbus A320-200 aircraft grew, their need for the B717-200s declined.  Three aircraft were offloaded to Hawaiian Airlines, while five aircraft were placed into open storage at Tamworth Regional Airport - as VH-YQJ (ex VH-VQJ) is shown below.  

Eventually, these stored B717-200 aircraft were offloaded and joined the National Jet Systems (now Cobham Aviation Services) fleet in West Australia, where, in late 2005 they commenced B717-200 operations on behalf of QantasLink on various West Australian regional routes.  The B717-200 aircraft also fly to through the Northern Territory and to Cairns in Far North Queensland – as shown below.

In March this year, QantasLink start flying B717-200 services to Gladstone, Rockhampton (pictured), and Mackay from Brisbane.  

So far, CQ Plane Spotters have caught VH-NXN and VH-NXQ in the region, however, Qantas has recently acquired two new B717-200 aircraft for Cobham Aviation to compliment the growing need for regional jet services across Australia.  These Cobham Aviation-operated services on behalf of QantasLink are contracted until 2018.

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