Friday’s national cabinet meeting of state and territory leaders had to be postponed due to a “technical problem” with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Boeing 737-700 BBJ.
The undisclosed fault meant the PM was unable to fly from Cairns to Sydney for the meeting, and couldn’t dial in remotely because he didn’t have access to a highly secured connection required for sensitive discussion.
It was reported he was set to announce an increase in Australia’s arrival caps and further use of the NT Howard Spring’s facility.
The RAAF 737-700 BBJ, A36-001 msn 30829, is one of two used by government ministers and operated by No. 34 Squadron from Defence Establishment Fairbairn in the ACT.
The BBJ holds a crew of six (pilot, co-pilot, and up to four crew attendants) and can carry up to 30 passengers 11,390 kilometres, enabling them to reach Hong Kong or Tokyo from Canberra. Both planes were delivered in 2002 and feature meeting room, working space and communications facilities.
The PM had been in Queensland to campaign for Liberal candidate Deb Frecklington in the state election but had to return to Sydney to virtually attend the meeting.
On Thursday, Australian Aviation reported how the federal government was planning to announce on Friday that it was 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.