Huge increase in repatriations with 24 confirmed for December and January

written by Adam Thorn | December 3, 2020
Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND arriving at Alice Springs. (Victor Pody)
Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND arriving at Alice Springs. (Victor Pody)

Qantas has confirmed it will operate 24 new repatriation flights in December and January, including to the previously speculated France and Germany.

The airline also expects to operate further flights to return stranded Australians “as quarantine capacity becomes available”.

The news was confirmed during the business’ market update on Thursday morning and follows earlier promises made by Foreign Minister Marise Payne that more flights would be forthcoming.

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Qantas said it will utilise its 787 Dreamliners, which have a capacity to carry around 170 passengers.

The airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, said, “International travel is likely to be at a virtual standstill until at least July next year and it will take years to fully recover, which means we’re carrying the overhead for billions of dollars worth of aircraft in the meantime.”

Currently, 36,000 Australians have formally registered to come back, but the industry body representing international airlines estimates the number could be as high as 100,000.

Last week, the last of four government-supplemented Indian repatriation flights departed from India on Friday and landed in Darwin the next day.

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Around 180 passengers are now undertaking 14 days of isolation at the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

The Boeing 787-9, VH-ZND msn 63390, departed Delhi at 6:38pm on 27 November as flight QF112 and landed at Darwin at 7:27am on Saturday.

The government supplemented London-Darwin flights were made possible after the federal government increased the capacity of the NT’s quarantine facility.

The use of the Howard Springs facility essentially adds another 250 spaces per week onto the nation’s controversial arrival caps, which stand at slightly over 6,000.

Critics have argued the arrival caps have hindered Australians’ ability to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices. Restrictions were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.

The flight from India is reported to have cost $1,000 for a ticket alongside a $2,500 charge for the time spent in isolation. Previously, 787-9s have taken those from India home on 26 October, 10 November and 23 November. The four India flights compare to three from London and one from South Africa.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has told a Senate committee it was “working through the logistics” of scheduling more flights to return Australians home.

“We haven’t yet announced from where they will come but they will be announced shortly,” DFAT’s Tony Sheehan said. “And we will have some further flights scheduled immediately after Christmas.”

Last week, Australian Aviation reported how the industry body representing international carriers said most airlines stopped selling tickets to stranded Australians “months ago” due to the country’s international arrival caps.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) has predicted that more than 10,000 of those who have registered to return will be left overseas by the end of 2020 – with the actual number attempting to get back far higher.

“There have been welcome increases in the total permitted arrivals each week, including the planned initial re-opening of Melbourne Airport, bringing permitted arrivals into the major capital city airports to about 6,000 per week from early December,” said the organisation in a statement. “It is not enough, however, to meet the demand that exists.”

BARA, which has made numerous interventions over the last few months, said official waiting lists don’t tell the whole picture of how many Australians are stranded abroad. It has previously estimated the actual figure to be as high as 100,000.

“The number of Australians overseas seeking to return home before the end of 2020 but now without an option to do so far exceeds the immediate waiting list of at least 10,000,” BARA said.

“This is because to meet the tight international passenger arrival caps, which were implemented with very short notice, many international airlines were forced to stop selling tickets some months ago.

“This means that the estimated immediate waiting list of 10,000 Australians overseas after airlines have booked flights to the permitted caps, does not include those who have been unable to book a ticket or join a waiting list”

The industry group again called for Australia to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when more domestic borders reopen.

“Based on the data available to BARA, the re-opening of domestic borders could permit an additional 2,000 international arrivals each week through the reallocation of domestic quarantine capacity to international arrivals,” said executive director Barry Abrams.

A full list of completed ‘second-batch’ Qantas repatriations are as follows:

LONDON

The first flight from the UK was a Boeing 787-9, VH-ZND msn 63390, which left Heathrow as flight QF110 at 11:54am on Thursday, 22 October and landed in Darwin at 11:53am the next day, with no stops.

The second was a Boeing 787-9, VH-ZNK msn 66075, which left Heathrow on 7 November as flight QF110 at 11:48am and landed the next day at 1:03pm with no stops.

Finally, a Boeing 787-9, VH-ZNK msn 66075, left Heathrow on 11 November as flight QF110 at 9:05am and arrived the next day at 10:38am with no stops.

INDIA

A Boeing 787-9, VH-ZNC msn 39040, departed Delhi at 9:13pm on 26 October as flight QF112 and landed at Darwin at 9:46am on Tuesday.

A Boeing 787-9, VH-ZNC msn 39040, departed Delhi at 8:26pm on 10 November as flight QF112 and landed at Darwin at 9:12am the next day.

A Boeing 787-9, VH-ZNC msn 39040, departed Delhi at 6:42pm on 23 November as flight QF112 and landed at Darwin at 7:14am the next day.

The Boeing 787-9, VH-ZND msn 63390, departed Delhi at 6:38pm on 27 November as flight QF112 and landed at Darwin at 7:27am on Saturday.

SOUTH AFRICA

A Boeing 787-9, VH-ZND msn 63390, departed Johannesburg at 6:25pm on 13 November as flight QF114 and landed in Perth the next day at 8:55am.

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17 Comments

  • Ian

    says:

    170 seats sold only ?

    Why ?

    Suncorp was full for state of origin, so why can’t they fill aircraft ?

  • Grant

    says:

    This is very good news!
    The repat flights’ need to continue as long as there are Oz citizens’ wanting to come home.
    Maybe other quarantine accommodations’ can be used, to increase weekly numbers’?

  • Joe

    says:

    and how about the Aussies left behind in other countries ?
    not good enough, open the caps – find a way NO OTHER COUNTRY HAS LEFT PEOPLE BEHIND

  • Mark

    says:

    I realise this is an aviation website, not political, but the fascination with repatriation flights is a bit odd. There are thousands of empty seats into Australia already each week (probably each day) and often the repatriation flights are quite expensive. This makes it very tricky for people overseas who already have flights booked on other airlines, which could bring them home if there was an increase in the arrival caps.

    Has there been any reasoning behind the levels that the caps are set at?

    • Abigail Taylor

      says:

      The flight caps are set by each State according to quarantine capacity for each state, because Scott Morrison, our PrimeMinister failed to initiate a Federal Repatriation program like all other countries in the world. The caps restrict the number of passengers coming into each state, hence commercial flights are coming in with between 10-30 passengers, the highest bidder wins the seat, hence people are repeatedly bumped of flights and have to wait for refunds before attempting a rebooking. Repatriatrion flights ARE GUARANTEED as long as you have a Negative Covid test 72 hours prior. The problem is actually trying to get DFAT to offer you a flight Guaranteed, rather than sending out an email to multiple stranded citizens at 04:00am in the morning and then it becomes “First to respond” gets the Economy seats, everyone else pays Business or First class” . Of course if you then test Postive, you lose your seat and hence flights coming in with less than registered caps.
      The Qantas website to book the flights use special codes sent in the DFAT email, it is clunky and has issues and most of the time you just can’t get in to even try and book. It is no wonder that 12 months later, we now have 50,000 registered with DFAT to return to Australia. We need a FEDERAL Repatriation Program NOW , more Outback Quaratine Stations, More Repatriation Flights, Better DFAT Communications, Better Qantas online booking for flights.

  • Mew Tang

    says:

    I think it’s based on the capacity of quarantine hotels in each city consider the fact that they will need to stay for 14 days.

  • David

    says:

    Mark the caps are there simply because the quarantine procedures are difficult. Only this week we have had a worker test positive at one of the Sydney hotels, which could be a catastrophe if it spreads and causes border closures again.
    It’s a difficult and expensive process bringing people home, with aeroplanes typically flying one way empty.

  • Ben

    says:

    I would surmise that the caps are set because only certain facilities are approved for quarantine purposes… it’s not like you can just pick any old hotel to stay at. The repat flights don’t take away from the airlines per se, because most land in Darwin that hosts very little international traffic anyway (compared to the main four international ports of BNE, SYD, MEL and PER). Once MEL opens again it will improve the numbers slightly.

    However I think the main issue with this whole debacle is the administration of it by the government. The caps themselves are not the main problem. It’s when you set a cap of say 500 pax/day and then have no other controls, so the 35 odd airlines that fly to Australia then just go for it?? It would likely work a LOT better if they allocated the capacity to an airline or group of airlines… say Monday is QF day, Tuesday is for the ME3, Wednesday for the US airlines… etc… Then when you are sitting in QF Ops you can look at the 500 seats and work out where you are sending your 3 787’s which can be mostly full! But they government in a misguided attempt to be hands off has created a system where ALL the airlines fly most days with stuff all pax because of the caps and then these flights are frequently cancelled because the airline can’t justify running a jet with just 35 people on it, no matter how much cargo they can stuff in.

  • KKM

    says:

    how to get ticket, where is the schedule?

    • Adam Thorn

      says:

      Good questions and I’m on it!

      Thanks,

      Adam

  • Scott carpenter

    says:

    It has been a nightmare trying to book tickets , I’m in Cambodia and the cap has made it so much harder , because of the pruce of tickets , next flight out 31.1.21
    Thats $3800 business class only because the goverment has no say in who the airlknes sell tickets too
    Now the Department of Social services has cut my pension , because they say there are flights into Australia your not trying to get home , theg are unhuman

  • Paddy

    says:

    Many countries have caps of number of citizens returning, some like the Philippines closed their doors to all including citizens for months.

  • Ben Bro

    says:

    4 British pay came into Sydney 2 weeks ago via Tokyo to see their dying parent .
    Strange how Aussies are finding it hard to get back .
    Are they waiting for a freebie from the government ?

  • Julius Repper

    says:

    Why not accomodate Incoming quarantine-bound passengers on idle cruiseships?

    Consider following scheme:
    • Use large cruise ships presently out of business. There should be plenty of them up for grabs
    • Arriving passengers would be lodged in cabins of ships, anchored off-shore
    • Transfer from airport e.g. first to Circular Quay, from there by ferry to ship
    • These ships boast all needed facilities to cater to all passengers and staff needs
    • Any 1400 cabins would ramp up daily quarantine capacity by 100 individuals; 6000 cabins would double current load, which now sits at 500/day for Sydney (as per the government-allowed 6000 international arrivals – Sydney’s allotment being 3500 – weekly, this divided by 7 days)
    • No doubt conditions would be much more pleasant than in CBD hotels. Somehow comparable to the Howard Spring quarantine facility in Darwin
    • Cost of lodging lower than the AUD 3000 presently charged? Possibly …

    It would definitely be a win/win situation for all entities/persons involved. Here are some of the advantages, just to name a few:
    • Inactive vessels would give cruise ship companies a big financial boost
    • Airlines currently operating passenger-capped flights (50 only) could hike their capacity in short order; in the process ticket prices could see a dramatic fall
    • Needless to say, many more Australians/residents stranded around the world would have a better chance to see their loved ones rather sooner … than later

  • Kerrillee

    says:

    Many empty seats but that makes no difference. Speaking first hand my husband was due to return to Australia the day the borders closed in March 2020. He has been trying since then to return but the airline constantly cancels his flights (approx 8 cancellations). Most recently, his January-2021 flight was cancelled, and on the weekend his March-2021 flight was cancelled and he is now due to return in May – 2021 but there is the possibility of that flight being cancelled also. For some it seems the only way to return is via Repatriation Flights as confidence has been lost in the commercial airlines. They are impossible. He has been registered with SmartTraveller since June-2020 requesting assistance but haven’t heard a thing, not even a phone call.

  • Jack Chomley

    says:

    I would be doing whatever it takes, right down to hopping countries to get home on rusty old freighters that sail the seas……

  • Merrall Gillam

    says:

    I am an 80-year-old Australian female, stranded in Costa Rica (Latin America). Inarrived here in Jan.2020,and my return flights (from CR to San Francisco, and SF to Sydney) were cancelled when both Australia and Costa Closed their borders in March. To get back to Australia, I would have to flynto the US, and get a flight from there. But all commercial flights to Australia are costing US$15,000 or more (with all cheaper internet bookings being cancelled by the airlines a day or two before the flights). So I can’t take the risk of getting stranded in the US because, on my old-age pension, Incouod not afford accommodation there. But, as far as I can make out, the Australian government has not (will not be) organising any Qantas Charter flights from the US. All the assistance being provided is for expats in the UK, and Australian-Indian immigrants ‘stranded’ in India. The Costa Rican government has given an automatic extension of visas, several times, up to March 2nd, for foreigners whomgot stranded here when the CR border was closed on March 18. But now, as of March 2nd, the foreigners who got stranded here can only continue to stay if they pay for very expensive local insurance to cover hospitalisation and quarantine. For foreigners Over 70, the rate is doubled. So, if I want to take the new possibility, of extension to June, I have to pay about $300 per month, or I will be deported. If I’m deported, and I cannot get a flight to Australia unless I pay at least US$15,000 for a Business-class ticket, I don’t know where I will end up! Probably Panama, where the covid-19 cases have spiked since they opened up to foreigners flying in. I wish that Morrison would pay some attention to Australians stuck in the America’s, instead of only in the UK, India (mainly) with the odd Qantas charter flight from other Asian countries, such as Japan.

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