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Qantas may ditch Perth for non-stop flights to London over border policy

written by Hannah Dowling | August 26, 2021

Qantas has suggested it could move its hub for non-stop Australia to London flights from Perth to Darwin, due to the uncertainty posed by Western Australia’s “conservative border policies”.

The flag carrier has noted that its non-stop flights between Australia and London are likely to “be in even higher demand” following the COVID pandemic, as passengers attempt to avoid congested airports and long layovers.

As such, the airline is now “investigating” the use of Darwin as a new key transit point between Australia and Europe.

“The airline is investigating using Darwin as a transit point … as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia,” the airline said on Thursday.

Discussions on the option of Darwin, which has been Qantas’ main entry point for repatriation flights, as a new hub connecting Australia and London are continuing, the airline said.

The move is being considered despite Qantas CEO Alan Joyce previously suggesting the airline’s Perth-London 787 Dreamliner service was the “best route on our network”.


For the duration of the pandemic, WA has notoriously and consistently introduced the harshest border restrictions against other Australian states.

WA Premier Mark McGowan recently suggested that even when vaccination targets are met, the state could still restrict entry to travellers from NSW.

“The thing about it is even if you’re vaccinated, you can transmit,” Premier McGowan said on Monday.


Just yesterday, the state introduced unprecedented measures against interstate travellers coming from NSW, which will see nearly no exemptions for travel awarded, and require similar conditions to entry as travellers returning from overseas.

WA moved NSW into its ‘extreme risk’ category for border restrictions, in which very few arrivals will be offered exemptions, and those that are will be required to be vaccinated, present a negative COVID-19 PCR test before travel, and then enter into 14-day hotel quarantine.

Following the COVID pandemic, long-haul direct point-to-point flights are likely to become more appealing to the travelling public, according to industry analysts.

It comes as Qantas continues preparations for the introduction of Project Sunrise, which would see non-stop flights from destinations such as New York and London to Australia’s east coast.

Qantas was due to finalise a deal to purchase the 12 A350-1000s necessary to make the trip last year, but pushed it back due to COVID grounding all international flights.

In February, Joyce argued that Qantas is the only airline in the world with the ability to make ultra-long-haul, Project Sunrise-style flights profitable.

In an interview with Brussels-based Eurocontrol, Joyce said that this is because global airlines would only require a handful of aircraft to fly to Australia, whereas an Australia-based airline would require a bigger fleet allowing economies of scale to kick in.

In March 2020, Qantas agreed to a deal with the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) for its members to fly the London and New York to Sydney/Melbourne routes. However, later that month its order for the 12 A350-1000s was pushed back as the COVID crisis grounded all international flights.

Nonetheless, Joyce reiterated the now-suspended plans could resume later this year, with a view to launching direct flights from London to Sydney in 2024.

“It is a unique opportunity for Qantas because Australia’s so far away from everywhere,” said Joyce “And we could justify a fleet size of a significant amount of aircraft that makes it economic.

“We have three major cities on the east coast in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. And having flights to London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, from those cities, creates a significant sub fleet and economics of scale that we think will work really well.

“So we’re still very keen on it. And we think that’s one of the big things that will change in the next decade, and allow us to have a substantial competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce.”

Joyce said in a separate earlier interview that while the business would “obviously” not put in an order until international markets recover, he was still “very optimistic” about Project Sunrise.

Project Sunrise has not been without its controversies, with AIPA president Mark Sedgwick hinting last year that the COVID-19 crisis played a part in pilots agreeing on a deal to fly the long route.

“This is an incredibly uncertain time for our members, with many stood down from flying on no pay, with no end in sight,” said Sedgwick. “When we return to flying, our expert pilots will be at the helm as part of Qantas’ ultra-long-haul services.”

The vote brought to an end a bitter wrangle between the two camps, with Joyce at one stage threatening to bring in Chinese pilots to fly the aircraft if no deal could be struck.

Comments (13)

  • Bryan


    McGowan’s hard stance on WA border will see the state lose millions’ tourist $, but don’t worry he thinks, as he sells iron ore to China.
    Yeah, & how’s that going? Last heard they don’t want our mineral anymore.

    QANTAS won’t be the only business pulling out of Perth.

  • Rocket


    If they’re going to do that, they may as well move it to ADL and do ADL-LHR, I’m not sure the endurance of the aircraft on such a long sector would be any less if it has the legs to do DRW-LHR direct.

  • Yes, whilst Qantas had planned to use Perth (YPPH) as its main hub for direct flights to London, Frankfurt, Paris, Rome and other destinations in Europe basically there were huge issues caused by the WA Government in terms of access to the Qantas Terminal, with the fact that Melbourne to London flights were sen as Domestic to Perth and then International from Perth onwards to London.

    It is a great service, but with all the issues now with Access to WA, I for one just love the idea of using Darwin as the most obvious route and with a Government that is so much more inviting to Interational carriers.

    Inbound passengers from Europe have so much to see in the NT and it would be a much better option for inbound tourists. I have worked in both cities, but in my view WA’s premier and Government should now be treated as a backwater by Qantas and other carriers with WA travellers wanting to fly to London having transit via Melbourne or Sydney or Darwin. I for one believe Darwin is an excellent choice. Indeed for quite a few years whilst working in Singapore, I used to fly with Jetstar and SIA Singapore to Darwin with a nights stopover then onto Melbourne and vice versa.

  • MARK


    Think West Australia is hoping , to use Covid for a , , third time lucky , with secession. So Qantas won’t be able to operate internationally out of Perth even if they want to.

  • chris


    The WA Premier is playing the cheapest form of parochial identity politics, he seems to be totally clueless as to the longer term need for the WA population to stay connected.

  • James


    There was a flight to London via Darwin yesterday afternoon, VH-ZNB I’m sure it was.

  • James


    Sorry, it’s VH-ZNA. It not long flew over Abu Dhabi.

  • Adrian P


    Makes sense, an Australian port of entry in the north of Australia provides a better opportunity to service regional Australia and eastern capitals.
    I have proposed before that Broome would make a good location for a port of entry, I acknowledge that Broome is in WA but Premiers unlike airports are temporary.

  • Rod Pickin


    Mark McGowan’s behavior over borders is perhaps the best example of what happens when there is no or a non effective parliamentary opposition. All he has done is tell a good story to the masses prior to the last W.A. election, won by a landslide and now, he can do as he likes, what’s next, President Mark? or maybe he will reincarnate the Hutt River Province, move in and become Prince Mark and stick it up Canberra. Outrageous yes, but it could happen. As for QF utilizing DRW in lieu of PER well, there is a large market of UK expats in W.A./PER area but not sufficient in numbers to maintain an excusive high frequency LHR operation and QF needs a departure point at the moment on the west coast for operational needs. DRW is a natural and I am sure the ops folk in QF are closely looking at all the operational possibilities/probabilities. From a personal passenger’s observation, unless you up the front of the 787 bus why would you subject yourself to extreme discomfort for so many hours in the cattle class section down the back? When it is reinstated, the A380 via SIN from the East with a DOC at SIN from WA timewise is highly competitive, a more passenger friendly A/C and no doubt a financial benefit to the QF bottom line. Qantas is not the only business in the gun at W.A., sure there is a mining potential downturn but what about the Indian Pacific traffic, if and when cruise ships are allowed back in will President Mark permit their entry into Freo or the many other coastal ports?- It’s time for the boss to have a little fireside chat with our Mark and whilst we do that, include Princess Anna too. Currently, both of them are out of line acting only in the interests of their party and not the nation.

  • Anthony


    Great idea Qantas, abandon WA like the rest of Australia should as well. They don’t need anything east of their border and treat the rest of the country with contempt. A great boost for DRW, and likely a more reliable and less self-righteous solution than WA.

  • Aubrey


    LOL at the anti-WA comments. QF was always going to pull out of Perth once Project Sunrise got wings. This was on the cards even as Joyce was bullying Perth Airport to move and duplicate some international ops across from T1 to the QF terminal, paid for by the WA govt no less. Won’t be the first time QF has pulled all international ops out of Perth this century anyway.

  • Gary


    So Alan Joyce wants WA to be more like NSW, the state which has single-handedly grounded more flights than any other. He’s been treating WA with disdain for years anyway well before Covid, with airfares to and within WA way more than similar distances in the east and of course overlooking WA airports for the flight training school.
    The argument about the London flight was between Qantas and Perth airport owners. The WA taxpayer stepped in to allow international flights to leave from the domestic terminal. There’s your thanks WA.

  • Nicholas


    I, along with many others I’m sure, let out a resounding “yes” when we heard of the QF mooted change for the direct QF London Flight to start from Darwin, rather than Perth.

    Uncomfortable as it is, WA or rather specifically its Premier, has only himself to blame for this change.

    This is a man remember, who in the midst of the pandemic, loved cutting his state off so much he floated about having a border to the rest of us, as a permeant feature.

    Premiers need to understand that when they reign with a climate of fear then that there will be consequences.

    WA only has itself to blame on this one….

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