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Howard Springs quarantine ups international capacity

written by Adam Thorn | October 15, 2020

Virgin Australia’s B737-800 VH-YFU departing nearby Darwin (Sid Mitchell)

The federal government is expected to announce on Friday that it is increasing the capacity of the NT’s Howard Springs quarantine facility to allow more Australians stranded abroad to return home.

The deal will allow it to hold an additional 500 travellers per fortnight and will coincide with additional commercial and charter flights from both London and India.

The news comes a month after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack urged state premiers to lift the cap on how many Australians can return home from 4,000 to 6,000.

The restrictions limiting the number of Australians who could fly home at any one time were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.

Critics have argued that the decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.


The plans, seemingly briefed to the ABC, would see the Howard Springs Facility, 25 kilometres south of Darwin, used to accommodate 1,000 international returnees a month.

The announcement will coincide with eight Qantas Dreamliner flights, starting next week, helping to return ex-pats alongside flights from the Defence Force.

London flights would cost $2,000 and the Indian ones $1,000. Both would be supplemented by the federal government but returnees would have to pay $2,500 each for the right to quarantine.

The ABC also speculates that there will be an announcement of a further increase of the arrival caps.

Last month, Australian Aviation exclusively revealed how the industry body representing international airlines warned the government its members would have no choice but to stop flying to Australia if arrival caps aren’t increased.

In a significant hardening of its position, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said its members “cannot be expected” to “continue indefinitely with such flights on a commercial basis”.

“A target average of at least 100 passengers per arriving flight, while still difficult financially, is far better than 30 or less,” added BARA executive director Barry Abrams.

The organisation’s third statement in short succession came after it argued the government should allow flexibility on quarantine for those who arrive from areas with fewer COVID-19 cases. It had previously said it would take its members six months to return all citizens stranded abroad if the current cap system wasn’t relaxed.

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Comments (2)

  • As reported a few weeks ago, it seems that Qantas is accepting one of the three remaining Boeing 787 Dreamliners that Boeing has been building for the airline.

    This week Boeing Airframe Number 1019 Qantas VH-ZNL had its first acceptance flight on 12th October. I wonder if this is the aircraft that will be used to fly the first group of passengers from London to Darwin, bearing in mind that all other 11 787-9 Dreamliners are currently in various stages of storage in Australia.

    Boeing Airframe Number 1035 – VH-ZNM was flown from Seattle Everett to Victorville in California and placed into Long term storage on 17th September 2020.

    Boeing Airframe Number 1051 VH ZNN was rolled out on 15th September at Seattle Everett and is in Pre-Flight Preparation. Perhaps that aircraft too will be heading to Victorville for long term storage.

  • Douglas


    Andrew, are ZNM and ZNN painted in the Qantas colours and logo?

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