Australian giant Qantas has confirmed it will no longer operate its ultra-long-haul flights from Australia to London via Perth in Western Australia, or via Singapore. The carrier confirmed in the Australian evening today that it has reached an agreement with the Northern Territory government to route all the flights via Darwin instead.
Darwin confirmed as jumping-off point
As previously rumored, Qantas will not operate via Perth when it resumes its iconic ‘Kangaroo route’ flights to London. However, it has opted to abandon its Singapore stopover too. The flights, taking off from Sydney and Melbourne, will now make a stop in Darwin before embarking on the long trip north to the UK. This was expected, as the Western Australia COVID safety protocols look set to take longer to relax.
Today, Qantas has confirmed that it has concluded talks with the Northern Territory (NT) government, and had reached an agreement to reroute its services. Speaking earlier today, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said,
“The Kangaroo route is one of the most iconic on the Qantas international network. We are delighted that Darwin will play a vital role in Australia’s post-pandemic reopening to the world.”
The Sydney-Darwin-London routing will begin service on November 14th, while the Melbourne-Darwin-London flights will start later, on December 18th. Qantas notes that Melbourne could be brought forward depending on conversations with the government of Victoria.
In line with NT protocols, early passengers on the flights will not be allowed to deplane in Darwin when arriving from London. Their transit will be limited to the airport terminal, although it is hoped that will change soon. Passengers will be expected to be fully vaccinated, to be symptom-free, and to present a negative COVID test before departure at both ends.
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Will Perth come back?
Qantas has invested heavily in its facilities at Perth. The airline has built lounges, improved gate access, invested in check-in areas and security screenings, and various other infrastructure improvements. By 2013, it had committed to investing AU$100 million ($73 million) in the airport. To walk away from that would be a significant loss to the Qantas Group.
But the relationship between Qantas and Perth hasn’t always been rosy. The airport has been keen to hike its charges, pushing Qantas to move to Terminal 1 with the other international airlines, rather than operating out of T3, where it benefits from lower taxes and fees. Things came to a head in January 2019, when Perth Airport took the extraordinary step of suing the airline over alleged unpaid charges.
Although things appeared to have cooled in the chaos of 2020, 2021 saw the two entering court to battle it out over alleged underpayments of more than AU$2 million. While Qantas has conceded that it has not paid everything it has been asked, the airline maintains it is the victim of a greedy airport. The case is ongoing.
The move to Darwin has been said to be temporary, but given all the bad blood between the parties, there is always the possibility that the move could be permanent. Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner is clearly hoping that it will be, commenting that,
“The convenience of this route will mean tapping into brand new markets for tourism and business. It will also open up new opportunities for developing the aviation skills sector here in the Northern Territory. I thank Qantas and the Darwin International Airport for working with us to turn this direct route into reality, which will mark a real turning point for the nation as we work towards the next stages of the National Plan.”
The official word from Qantas is that Darwin will remain the routing point until at least next April. After that, flights are scheduled to return to Perth once more. However, the airline notes that,
…Qantas will watch how it performs and is open-minded about what it could lead to down the track.