Australian flag carrier Qantas is facing the prospect of adding a fuel stop to the world’s third-longest flight. The airline is taking steps to avoid flying over Iraq or Iran, following this morning’s crash of a Ukrainian Boeing 737. The extra distance required to divert means the airline will need to add a refueling stop in Asia to the outbound service, or offload a massive 90 passengers to reduce weight.
Avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace
The world’s third-longest flight is looking to lose its appeal as Qantas is forced to add a refueling stop to its Perth to London service. The Australian carrier has taken the decision to reroute QF9 and QF10 away from Iranian airspace following the crash of a Ukrainian Boeing 737 in the early hours of this morning.
QF9 and 10 usually traverse a large portion of Iranian and Iraqi airspace on their mammoth 14,500km flight. However, following the FAA’s decision to ban US airlines’ flying in Iranian and Iraqi airspace after this morning’s crash, Qantas has announced it will avoid flying over both these nations until further notice.
Instead, as of today, the flights will reroute over Afghan airspace, following a similar path to flights leaving Australia’s west coast that typically refuel in Singapore en route. The detour is expected to add some 40 to 50 minutes of flight time to the trip.
Can Qantas make the trip?
The added distance and time involved in the diversion has some serious repercussions for Qantas’ nonstop service. Although 50 minutes of flying time might not sound like a lot, the 787-9 Dreamliner was already flying towards the edge of its operational range with the direct Perth to London service.
As such, there will need to be adjustments made if Qantas wants to keep the service fully occupied. A spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald that QF9 may need to be operated with a fuel stop in Singapore or somewhere similar in order to continue flying with a full load. The other option, they said, would be to offload around 90 passengers from the flight in order to reduce weight.
Losing 90 passengers would not be good news for QF9 or for Qantas. Not only would it leave a bunch of travelers disgruntled and requiring compensation from the airline, it would also make the trip less profitable, something that Qantas would clearly be keen to avoid.
The more logical solution would be to add a fuel stop on the way to London, something which a Qantas spokesperson backed up when talking to Executive Traveler today. According to the publication, the airline is “looking at temporarily routing QF9 through Asia until we’re able to return to our normal flight path through the Middle East.
“This would mean a fuel stop in a city like Singapore or Hong Kong but it would enable us to still carry a full load of passengers on these heavily-booked flights, and minimize disruption that way. We’ll reach out to passengers directly if there’s any change to their booking.”
QF10, the return London to Perth service, will continue to operate as normal, said the airline. This is on account of favorable tailwinds when traveling in the other direction.
What does this mean for the world’s third-longest flight?
QF9 and 10 could see a negative impact from a forced stopover, in particular for those originating in Melbourne. Passengers typically connect from MEL to Perth, a three and a half hour trip, and then fly onwards for over 17 hours to reach London. Putting another stop in would make this a two-stop itinerary, adding significant time to the trip.
Melbourne fliers would likely find it more convenient to take one of the direct MEL to SIN services and then pick up either QF9 or QF1 in Singapore, rather than make the trip to Perth first.
Perth fliers, on the other hand, are unlikely to drop off the flights, as this is the only direct service to London. However, putting a refueling stop on the route takes away what made this flight unique and gave it such high load factors despite being more expensive than the alternatives.
With a fuel stop on route, QF9 would be up against competing services from the likes of Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and Qatar/British Airways codeshares, which often work out a lot cheaper. This could force Qantas to cut its prices in order to maintain load factors, depending on how long the diversion stays in place.
What do you think? Should Qantas just sell 90 fewer seats on QF9 and keep it direct? Or add in a fuel stop and go head to head with cheaper services from other airlines? Let us know in the comments.