Eagle-eyed planespotters have spied a Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner in Pakistan. VH-ZNK landed in Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon after a 4,964 mile (7,989 kilometer) nonstop flight from Darwin.
Why is the Qantas Dreamliner in Islamabad?
Qantas has been running a steady series of repatriation flights from various points around the globe. Recently, the airline said it would operate 90 repatriation flights over 90 days. Repatriation flights have arrived in Australia from Delhi, London, Frankfurt, and Johannesburg in the last few days. Qantas has also previously operated repatriation flights from Pakistan.
But given the recent events in neighboring Afghanistan, is this a flight targeting stranded Australian citizens, permanent residents, and visa holders in especially dire straits? Social media chit-chat suggests the flight is operating to relocate people evacuated from Afghanistan.
Simple Flying has contacted Qantas and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to ask why VH-ZNK headed to Islamabad. We haven’t heard back before the publication deadline.
Alert: Qantas 🇦🇺 Boeing 787-9 is due into Islamabad within the next hour. A very rare flight into Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/E21ljqshJy
— Mohammed Firaas (@raisinganchor) September 15, 2021
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After arriving in Darwin on Tuesday morning from Delhi, VH-ZNK took off for Islamabad on mid-morning Wednesday. The plane tracked over Brunei, overflow Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and southern Myanmar before heading out over the Bay of Bengal.
Crossing the Indian coastline near Brahmapur, VH-ZNK tracked towards the Pakistani border north of Jodhpur before turning north and skirting the Pakistani side of the border, passing near Lahore before swing back onto a more northwesterly path for the final run into Islamabad. VH-ZNK landed in Islamabad just before 16:00 local time on Wednesday.
Most of these special flights return to Darwin (but it isn’t always the case). There is a large quarantine center just south of Darwin. We’ve also asked where the plane is returning to.
Qantas keeps its Dreamliners flying
The flight history of VH-ZNK is a good example of Qantas putting its 787-9 Dreamliners to work. Despite Qantas suspending its scheduled international flights, its fleet of Dreamliners remains in the air flying a combination of domestic flights, cargo flights, and repatriation style flights. The Dreamliners aren’t necessarily flying every day, but they are flying most days. It keeps the planes moving and, more importantly, Qantas employees in jobs.
This month, VH-ZNK has operated two return flights to London. The first of those flights operated Darwin – London – Darwin. While jumping off from Darwin, the second of those flights did not return to Australia via Darwin. That flight went London – Perth – Sydney.
After a few days in Sydney, the Dreamliner headed back to Darwin. After a brief spell there, VH-ZNK set off for Delhi. Qantas is operating a steady series of repatriation flights from the Indian city. Having dropped a planeload of passengers back in Darwin, VH-ZNK headed off to Islamabad.
The growing importance of Darwin for Qantas
The plane’s constant presence in Darwin also reflects the airline’s newfound appreciation for Australia’s northern outpost city. The quarantine facility at nearby Howard Springs drives that presence. However, the 3,354 meter runway, airport infrastructure, and (relative) proximity to Asia and the Middle East also help.
When regular international flying normalizes, Qantas can operate nonstop from Darwin as far afield as Europe. That’s something they are considering doing, swapping their usual Perth – London flights for Darwin – London flights.
In the meantime, it’s likely the passengers on the Qantas flight out of Islamabad will just be happy to be onboard. Simple Flying will update this story as further information becomes available.