Air Pacific's first foray into long-haul flights was an expensive failure, however the airline wasn't to be denied and tried another tack. Although upgrading capacity to 747s may at first glance have seemed unwise the new arrangement was a big success in no small part to its new partnership with Australia's national carrier Qantas.
Air Pacific of Fiji has a colourful and interesting history that has been covered previously at this site. The airline's early history from the 1950s to 1984 was covered in this entry:
I also looked at the airline's first attempt at long-haul travel when investigating the history of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 used in operating it. See here:
In 1985 Air Pacific signed a ten year management agreement with Qantas in an attempt to stem the massive $4-7 million annual losses. The turnaround was astonishing with the very next year 1986 recording a profit of $100,000. One of the factors in this change appears to have been the confidence that came with the Qantas name enabling Air Pacific to gain travel agent business.
Replacing the DC-10 on the long-haul service were a series of Qantas 747-238Bs. The first, VH-EBK, entered service in April 1985. It wore the full striking colour scheme of Air Pacific consisting of successive bands of yellow, orange, magenta and deep blue on the rear fuselage, the latter encompassing the whole tailfin. On the tail was painted the company logo of a stylised jumping Marlin. EBK had asilver belly but later examples would have a white belly and small Qantas titles worn under the much larger Air Pacific ones.
By the end of the 1980s Qantas was taking delivery of new 747-338s and 747-448s so the series 200s were increasingly surplus to their needs. In September 1990 Qantas announced the sale of its 200s to various leasing companies. Various Qantas series 200s saw service with Air Pacific so there was always a single 747 available.
The odd aircraft out was VH-EEI, a 747-123, that had never seen service with Qantas but had last been with Highland Express as G-HIHO. Although the aircraft was technically leased by Qantas it entered service between Sydney and Nadi on April 27, 1988 in Air Pacific colours.
Below: VH-EEI - the sole 747-100 operated
In 1987 Qantas had taken a 20% stake in the airline costing it $3.5 million. The timing wasn't especially opportune as that year there were two military coups! It appears the coups were a result of a perception that the government was dominated by Indo-Fijians. The second coup saw the end of the monarchy and the overall result was much civil unrest, a disruption of the key tourist traffic and economic difficulties caused by the emigration of Indo-Fijians. Many airlines withdrew service at this time so the presence of Air Pacific was more important than ever and there doesn't seem to have been an issue with the 747 operations.
In the years following the coups Air Pacific gained further strength and had a record $11 million operating profit in the 1989/90 period. About 300,000 passenger per annum were being carried and a 767-200 and a pair of ATR-42s formed the rest of the fleet alongside the 747.
Services to the continental USA began in 1994 when Los Angeles was added, following Continental Airlines abandonment of its South Pacific network. Air Pacific also tookover services to Melbourne from Qantas.
In 1998 Qantas increased its share in Air Pacific from 17.45% to 46%. By this time the 747 fleet consisted of a pair of ex-Qantas 747-238Bs that had been registered in Fiji. Prior to this there had been a short lease of an Air New Zealand 747 during 1996. These 747s wore a far less colourful livery as seen above.
The new century would bring further turmoil in Fiji with multiple coups, however Air Pacific would be able to survive, in part no doubt due to the wise stewardship of Qantas, which had enabled the airline to grow impressively while at the same time still record profits. In 2003 the last 747-238B was retired and a pair of ex-Singapore Airlines 747-412s would takeover the long-haul network and continue the Jumbo's tenure in Fiji for a further decade.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: