Qantas will temporarily operate its flagship A380 service from London to Sydney via Darwin from Tuesday. It will be a short-lived appearance for A380 in the skies over Darwin, with Qantas about to ground its entire international fleet. But for a few days at least, the first-ever nonstop flight between Darwin and London will score a footnote in aviation history.
Darwin is a city with a population of only 132,000. It is the capital city of the Northern Territory and has a reputation as a freewheeling frontier town. Its airport normally sees flights to Indonesia, Singapore, Dili, and around Australia. London will be a glamourous new addition to Darwin’s departure board.
A Qantas spokesperson told Simple Flying the stopover in Darwin was because of Singaporean Government travel restrictions.
QF1 and QF2 will stop to refuel in Darwin
According to Qantas, the plane will refuel in Darwin, a procedure called gas and go. The impacted flights are QF1 and QF2. The outgoing flight will depart Sydney at 18:00 and arrive in Darwin at 21:15 local time. The aircraft will depart Darwin at 23:00 and arrive at London Heathrow at 06:15 the following morning.
The return flight will push back from Heathrow 22:15 and arrive in Darwin at 23:55. After a refuel, the A380 will depart Darwin at 01:15 to arrive in Sydney at 07:00.
The expected flying time between Darwin and London is 16 hours and 20 minutes. The return flight, pushing into the winds, will be a slightly longer 16 hours and 45 minutes.
Qantas thinks this is the first time there has been a nonstop commercial flight between Darwin and London.
A normally busy airport goes quiet
Normally, the Qantas A380 would be parking alongside quite a few other planes. Darwin Airport has an unusual midnight rush hour. Domestic airlines send flights north to Darwin to utilize aircraft after the busy early evening peak down south. Between midnight and 02:00 a swag of flights arrive and depart. The returning red-eye flights south make their destinations in time to join the morning peak.
But things are quieter at Darwin Airport these days. The two major domestic airlines in Australia have slashed flights, heavily impacting on regional airports like Darwin. The reduced schedule is likely to be cut even further this week. The Northern Territory government has closed their borders and is now imposing a mandatory 14 day self-isolation period on all arrivals, decimating remaining demand for flights into the Northern Territory.
Qantas winds down its international services
Darwin will only host the A380 for a week. Qantas is shutting down its scheduled international network by the end of March. The informal advice is that flights may be down for several months. Qantas is in discussions with the Australian government regarding operating some ad hoc strategically important international services after this date, but this has not yet been nailed down.
In the meantime, the Qantas A380 will make for an unusual sight at Darwin Airport and the London flights will mark a new footnote in aviation history – only the second-ever Australian city with a direct link to London.