How Perth Airport Could Become The Gateway To South America


In part one of our Perth Airport series, we discussed how the Western Australian airport is quickly becoming a hub for travel to Europe. But new developments in trans-antarctic flights have opened the possibility for the airport to be the link between South America and Asia too.

Perth could become the new hub for travel between Asia and South America. Photo:

What are trans-antarctic flights?

Trans-antarctic, or South Pole flights, are direct routes from Australia or New Zealand to Africa or South America. The quickest way is directly south and up the other side.

Different polar routes. The first during the 1960s with closed airspace, then the North Pole today and the South Pole. Source: Wikimedia

Currently, not a single airline operates a direct South Pole flight. Many airlines come close, such as South Africa to Australia which flies along the coastline of the Antarctica. But none have been scheduled to fly over the vast icy land. Only scenic flights do the area justice.

And they don’t need to. The ocean winds off the coast of Antarctica are some of the fastest in the world, and any aircraft that comes close gets the literal equivalent of a speed boost.

But one regulation hampers airlines ability to operate in this region of the world. ETOPS, or Extended Operations, is the regulation that forbids aircraft to fly more than a certain number of minutes away from the nearest airport, depending on how many engines they have. Thus, a twin-engined 787 has less ETOPS reach than a 747 or A380.

For South Pole flights, there are not exactly any airports nearby that could land a twin-engine aircraft, and thus 747s and A380s are mainly used. There are some cases of a 777 or 787 flying (such as below) but they generally take slower routes that fly further north.


However, it gets a little worse. Right at the heart of the South Pole is the world’s only no-go ETOPS 330 no-fly area. This means it is over 330 minutes to the nearest airport.

What routes currently fly south?

Currently, several airlines operate routes from Australia to destinations that go near the polar region:

  • Qantas flight QFA63/QFA64, from Sydney to Johannesburg-O. R. Tambo
  • Qantas QFA27 and QFA28 fly nonstop between Sydney and Santiago de Chile, the most southerly polar route.
  • Previously, QANTAS flight QFA17/QFA18 between Sydney, Australia and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • LATAM flight LAN804/LAN805 between Melbourne, Australia, and Santiago, Chile (You can see a review of it here)
  • Air New Zealand flight ANZ30/ANZ31 between Auckland, New Zealand and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Some current Transantarctic routes. Source: GCMaps

What about Perth?

Perth is in a unique situation, essentially it is directly in between South America and Asia.


Airlines such as Norwegian have started to look at flying directly from South America, via Perth, to Singapore. This would dramatically cut down the time it takes for holidaymakers to reach the idyllic shores of South East Asia, and open up trade and commerce between the two regions.

The route from Buenos Aires to Perth as the crow flies. The grey area represents the world’s only ETOPS 330 no-fly area. Source: GCMaps

To put it into perspective, it currently takes up to 2-3 flights from South America to Perth and even more to reach Singapore.

If this proved to be a success, Perth would be right in the middle of a new trans-antarctic shaped traffic diamond, with flights direct to Europe, South America, Asia and domestically to Australia.

According to local paper, over a million passengers fly between South America and Asia every year. A new route would only take 14.5 hours including a layover in Perth.

Further destinations such as Indonesia (with the very popular Bali), Thailand, China, and Japan would easily become within reach.

What do you think? Would you fly over the South Pole to save a few hours?