The first non-stop A380 service between Australia and the United Kingdom has touched down at London Heathrow this morning. In doing so, Qantas flight QF1 clocked up two aviation milestones. Besides being the first non-stop A380 service between the two countries, it was the first non-stop service between Darwin and London.
As we reported yesterday, Qantas usually operates QF1 and the return QF2 service between Sydney and London via Singapore. While it’s possible to operate non-stop flights between Sydney and London, as last year’s Project Sunrise research flights showed, it is not yet possible to make non-stop flights commercially viable. The now delayed Project Sunrise aims to overcome this hurdle.
Singapore stopover suddenly a no-go for Qantas
In the meantime, the flight has to stop somewhere, and Singapore is the usual choice. For a time, Qantas was stopping over in Dubai owing to their “relationship” with Emirates. That romance has not necessarily soured but both airlines have since seen each other’s morning bed hair and Qantas sensibly went back to stopping over in Singapore – which pleased nearly everyone.
And that went fine until Singapore clamped down on border entry this month. That culminated in Singapore banning transit traffic, meaning Qantas needed to stopover somewhere else.
They could have gone back to Dubai. But the UAE has also closed its airports to foreigners and transit flights too.
Before the closures picked up the pace, there was a rumor that Qantas would send an A380 through Darwin. Frankly, I discounted it. When Qantas announced it would operate two daily Dreamliners from Perth to London, I saw the Darwin rumor as a furphy. Alas, a week is a long time in the current climate, the Perth flights are about to be suspended, and the wild Darwin rumor came true.
Why did Qantas choose Darwin over Perth?
Ultimately, Qantas had little choice but to find a stopover on their own shores. The closest Australian cities to London are Perth and Darwin. Perth is 7,818 nautical miles distant and Darwin is 7,481 nautical miles away. A full Qantas A380 has a range of approximately 8,200 nautical miles.
On the face of it, it would be a better business proposition to touch down in Perth and pick up and drop off some passengers there. Perth has about ten times the population of Darwin. But the stopover was what Qantas likes to term a “Gas and Go” – strictly refueling, with no passengers getting on or off.
Qantas is also embroiled in a spat with Perth Airport over fees and would happily deprive that airport of further fees and the free publicity this flight has driven.
But the key reason Qantas choose Darwin is that it is a more direct route. While the difference in distance between either Perth or Darwin and London isn’t much, Darwin is closer to Sydney (1,701 nautical miles) than Perth, and Darwin is under a more direct track to London.
Less flying time and less fuel in these straitened times are suddenly important to Qantas.
And the publicity-hungry airline wouldn’t object to the free PR their offbeat stopover has generated. Anything that doesn’t involve a grounding, suspension, or bankruptcy is good news this week.
The return flight, QF2, is heading back to Sydney via Darwin today. This will only be a short-lived detour. Qantas is suspending all its international services next week. Right now, it’s just trying to get people home.