Qantas’ third repatriation flight from London in a month has just touched down in the northern Australian city of Darwin. The Boeing 787-9 departed from London Heathrow on Wednesday morning (local time) and after 15 plus hours in the sky, landed in Darwin mid-morning on Thursday (local time).
Australia’s national airline has operated several repatriation flights since early October. In addition to running flights from Delhi, this is the third such flight that has originated in London. With strict limits on how many people can enter Australia, tens of thousands of Australian citizens have been stranded overseas for months. Now Qantas is coming to the party and getting a few of them home in time for Christmas.
QF110 is being operated by VH-ZNK, one of the eleven 787-9 Dreamliners Qantas has in its fleet. Most of those Dreamliners are in long-term parking, but the airline has kept a handful back to operate ad hoc flights such as today’s and next week’s special centenary flight. VH-ZNK is Qantas’ latest Dreamliner, only coming into service in December 2019.
Last week, the same plane operated another repatriation flight between London and Darwin.
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London and Darwin is a rare city pairing
The pairing of the two cities by any airline is unusual. Until earlier this year, there had never been a nonstop flight between London and Darwin. Earlier this year, as borders began shutting and people scrambled to relocate, Qantas briefly operated its flagship QF1 / QF2 A380 service via Darwin.
Darwin Airport also serves as a military base and hosts a lot of USAF activity. The airport has a 3,354-meter runway that can easily handle the biggest planes. Even so, the A380s passing through were quite the local sensation.
This time, the plane is a more prosaic Dreamliner. With the Qantas A380’s in long term storage in California and their Boeing 747s pensioned off, the Dreamliner is now the flagship plane at Qantas and what they roll out for long flights like QF110.
The Dreamliner has a range of around 14,000 kilometers. Today’s nonstop flight is pushing towards that limit. However, QF110 is lightly loaded. The plane can carry 236 passengers, but Qantas told Simple Flying there are just 157 adults and 10 infants onboard.
That’s in addition to the four tech crew and ten cabin crew.
Qantas repatriation flights operated on a cost-recovery basis
While the airlines that have maintained scheduled services into Australia (Qantas has not) have been accused of price gouging when it comes to ticket prices, Qantas is pricing fares out of London from just US$1567, operating these repatriation flights on a cost-recovery basis.
“As the national carrier, this is something we are proud to do,” says Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.
While the passengers on today’s flight are surely happy to be back home, it’s not quite over yet. These flights are excluded from Australia’s international arrivals cap, but all passengers still have to go into self-funded quarantine for 14 days. That’s going to happen at Howard Springs, a former miner’s camp thirty minutes drive out of Darwin.
This is the last scheduled repatriation flight from London, although Qantas has indicated it is happy to put on more in conjunction with Australian Government assistance. There are further repatriation flights scheduled from Delhi later in November and flights from Johannesburg planned.
Today’s 787-9 will continue onto Sydney as a scheduled Qantas domestic service, offering paying passengers the rare chance to enjoy a Dreamliner ride on a domestic flight within Australia.