The first of Qantas’ second batch of government-supplemented repatriation flights departed London on Thursday bound for the Howard Springs quarantine facility.
The Boeing 787-9, VH-ZND msn 63390, left Heathrow as flight QF110 at 11:54am on Thursday and is due to arrive in Darwin at 11:35am on Friday, with no stops.
It comes just a week after the government announced it was to increase the capacity of the NT’s quarantine facility and charter a new round of repatriation flights from both London and India.
The move came after thousands of Australians in the UK argued they were struggling to book flights home due to ‘arrival caps’ reducing availability and increasing prices.
The flight carried around 175 passengers, all of whom had to pay $2,000 for a ticket alongside a $2,500 charge for the time spent in isolation.
The use of the Howard Springs facility essentially adds another 250 spaces per week onto the nation’s controversial arrival caps, which stand at around 6,000.
The ‘arrival cap’ 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.
The industry body representing international airlines previously estimated that more than 100,000 Australians are stranded abroad looking to return home, with 30,000 alone in London.
Earlier this week, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) also urged NSW to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when the NSW-Victoria border reopens to allow more stranded Australians to return home.
“BARA understands that at present, each week some 1,600 people undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine when they enter New South Wales from Victoria,” said BARA in a statement. “If, when the requirements on arrivals from Victoria are eased, this domestic quarantine capacity were allocated to international flights, it would make a big difference.
“Expanding the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone into all Australian states and territories and a regulatory framework that permits the commercial provision of quarantine services would also benefit Australians stranded overseas.
“Some 20 flights from NZ have been arriving in Brisbane each month carrying about 500 passengers who go into quarantine. That number could now go to Australians stranded in other overseas countries if the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone was expanded to Queensland.”
In September, Australian Aviation reported how hundreds of expats stranded in London due to Australia’s arrival caps branded moves by the local high commission to help as “too little, too late”.
The Australian high commission’s latest initiative included dispatching teams to Heathrow to personally help those who find their flights cancelled or delayed at the last minute.
We’ve deployed an @AusHouseLondon support team to Heathrow Airport.
They‘re helping to facilitate Australians returning home, and deliver support in the event of disruption.
It’s tough to head home right now: but we’re determined to help and support however we can. pic.twitter.com/FbU8mSRf4f
— George Brandis (@AusHCUK) September 7, 2020