Qantas airstairs come a full circle

30 November 2020

Airstairs come full circle after 60 years

In the 1950s as Qantas moved their fleet into the jet age, they enlisted Hastings Deering to find a way to get passengers on and off the new craft: now more than 60 years later the company is again helping them commemorate history.

The arrival of the ‘Super Constellation’ aircraft had Qantas engineer George Roberts looking for a way to embark and disembark passengers safely, turning to the then New South Wales based Hastings Deering to engineer and build ‘airstairs’. 

Hastings Deering had a reputation as power systems experts, they also made all the ground-handling equipment Qantas used from 1952. So, the ‘airstairs’ were borne and later brought into use by TAA and Ansett-ANA in 1964 when they introduced the jet Boeing 727. Sales were also made to Pan American, Air New Zealand and Malaysian Airlines.

Qantas Founders Museum CEO Tony Martin said their build was state of the art for its day because the stairs were to be used by Qantas in different parts of the world, so the availability of parts globally was a big consideration.

“This was the start of the heyday of flying,” Tony said. “To be transportable in a DC-3 or DC-4 freight aircraft, the stairs were designed to be easily disassembled and when complete, there were hydraulic feet for stability and the stairs were in two sections so they could be raised or lowered to suit different types of aircraft.”

As aircraft changed and so too technology, the airstairs were decommissioned, some sold off to collectors, while others languished in old hangers or paddocks. Fast forward to today and when three sets of badly deteriorated stairs were donated to the Qantas Founder Museum, the committee again turned to Hastings Deering who offered to restore them.

For Hastings Deering the restoration brings their relationship with Qantas full circle.

Hastings Deering Central Queensland Area Manager Peter Martin said his team jumped at the opportunity to be part of the restoration project.

“It’s hard to believe it was 60 years ago, when we built the first ‘airstairs’ after George was given the challenge by Qantas Airways Chairman Sir Hudson Fysh,” Peter said. “A usual day for most of our team is working on large mining machines so this was a real labour of love. There was a lot of pride in everyone who worked on them, right down to making sure we sourced the exact same colour paint, all these years later.

“It was estimated less than 20 examples were ever constructed and driven out of the Hastings Deering workshops.” 

The air stairs are already a feature at the Longreach Qantas Founder's Museum: in time for the airline's COVID- delayed centenary celebrations in 2021. While the first two sets are a static display, Hastings Deering will fully restore a third set to working order.


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