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Qantas’ longest repatriation flight to go via the South Pole

written by Hannah Dowling | September 23, 2021
Qantas 787 Dreamliner in-flight (Qantas)

Qantas is gearing up to perform one its longest-ever flights connecting South America and Australia – via the South Pole.

According to a report by Executive Traveller, the Flying Kangaroo will endeavour on a nearly 18-hour trip on 5 October, when it performs a repatriation flight from Buenos Aires in Argentina to Darwin.

At nearly 14,700 kilometres, it will be one of the longest flights ever performed by Qantas’ 787 Dreamliner, and notably, will be transiting over Antarctica on its way home.

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It’s quite rare for airlines to perform flights over Antarctica, as it was largely banned up until 2011 due to the continent being so far from any emergency landing point. 

However, it is not unheard of for carriers to fly over the South Pole, with some of Qantas’ pre-COVID routes to South America taking this shortcut. And Qantas is no stranger to non-stop long-haul flights, particularly on its Dreamliners.

The airline’s longest commercial route (Perth – London) beats out its Buenos Aires – Darwin repatriation by just 185 kilometres.

With a total distance of 14,498 kilometres, the flight time clocks in at 17 hours and 20 minutes.

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Qantas has said previously that its non-stop flights between Australia and London are likely to “be in even higher demand” after the COVID pandemic, as passengers attempt to avoid congested airports and long layovers.

However the airline 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 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”.

Meanwhile, Qantas also 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.

12 Comments

  • Vannus

    says:

    Took the QANTAS Antarctica day-flight a few years’ ago.
    What a fabulous experience.
    We got down to 10,000’ for 3 hours’ sightseeing.

    The camaraderie on board was amazing, with folk just talking to each other, in their common time together.

    The flight was approx 14 hours’ return, & 11,670klms flown.

    A flight I’ll rejoice in for the rest of my life!

    • Oliver x Benson

      says:

      Many years ago I wintered at Casey Base in Antarctica and to see a white 747 with the red Kangaroo on its tail and flying about what seemed to be 1-2000 feet and doing 3 circuits above the base was a sight to behold and knowing home was only 3 hours away, but I won’t see it for 15 months was an amazing site.
      Oliver

      • Vannus

        says:

        That surely was a wonderful sight for you, Oliver!

        One time I’d spent a month overseas, & when I stepped onto my QANTAS 707-338C for my flight home, it felt like I was there already, especially when the Steward said ‘G’Day’!

        To see the big white ‘Roo empanage anywhere in the world makes ones’ heart flutter, methinks.

  • Kristen Spinner

    says:

    Thinking of you always.
    Stay strong.
    For every downturn there is an upward flight on it’s way. .
    Hopefully aviation comes back stronger soon.

  • I think Joyce is correct – I always go for non-stop flights even with the added expense of business class to make it comfortable. The disruption of deplaning at odd hours in odd places, and reboarding and searches and security is really such a pain! I don’t expect it to become better post-COVID!

    Disclosure: I’m a QF shareholder but my holding is insignificant!

  • Jaimie Hunt

    says:

    This is a massive joke, I like how qantas has covered up this whole flight by saying it’s a new record and look at this nothing else, when in fact, qantas has picked a closed country to run a Dfat flight to try and “help australians back home” where they then told us to book flights to a closed country and haven’t helped at all, the stress of all these Aussies trying to get home means nothing to them and they just want to show off that they can do a long flight. Why not instead of doing a long flight, they help the Aussies out and run it from a country that is actually open and everyone can get to.

    • Warwick

      says:

      QANTAS does NOT choose the Country from which it’ll operate a Repat flight.

      This is decided by the Australian Fed Govt, as they are the charterer of the aircraft, & as such, they dictate all the arrangements to QANTAS.

      The QANTAS aircraft just flies to/from the Country it’s told to do so by the Fed Govt here.

      Your lambast of the Airline is unwarranted, erroneous, & disgusting, because you’ve no idea the protocols’ of the charter of a QANTAS aircraft.

    • Lindsay

      says:

      You’re obviously not aware that westward bound flights from South America normally fly down towards Antarctica, then onwards westerly.

      That flights to South Africa from here, & on the return, fly a good distance down over the Southern Ocean, towards Antarctica.

      This has been done by airlines’ for many years’, it’s nothing ‘new’.

      In the Northern Hemisphere, flights from Western America to Europe track up, & over Greenland, pretty close to the Arctic.
      Again, this is nothing ‘new’, having been done for nigh on 40 years’.

      Before you comment, in future, it’d be a good idea to check a few facts.

  • Ray Lee

    says:

    Well done Lindsay, I totally agree with you, Qantas is without doubt the best safest Airline in the World, Australia be proud of the fact?

    • Lindsay

      says:

      Yes, Ray, I for one, am very proud of our National Carrier!

      To think it was started in the outback by two returning WW1 aviators’, & a grazier, to become a world-leading airline, & the safest, is absolutely fabulous IMHO.

      ‘Tis a shame many people here don’t appreciate it, only thinking of their own hip pockets.

      The humanitarian work it does is totally awesome. Think flying fire fighting crews & their equipment, when needed during the horrendous bushfires’ this Country experiences.

      Think flying many medicos’ & their equipment to Bali, after the bombing, CHC after the earthquake, THAI cave rescue, Japan & Indonesia after tsunami there, & various close neighbouring islands after cyclone effects.

      QANTAS will never ‘blow its own trumpet’, but these are the things that it does, & it should be known.

  • Ross Eastwood

    says:

    After spending 9 weeks away in England/Scotland from my home in Melbourne, as the Qantas aircraft I was travelling in flew over north/western Victoria on its last leg of our flight, Qantas staff played Peter Allen’s song, “I always call Australia Home” . I, and a lot of the other passengers, shed an emotional tear. I have never felt so proud to be an Aussie. Ross Eastwood

  • Bruce Robinson

    says:

    The route of this flight was over 1000 km from the South Pole!! Not over it or even close to it. The route approximately followed the great circle between Buenos Aires and Darwin. So no point in flying further south adding extra distance not to mention non compliance with ETOPS requirements.

    I have flown SYD to JNB a few times and the route was often over the ice or close to it. Of course flights from Europe and the Eastern USA to destinations in Asia often fly close to the North Pole. One of the SQ New York to Singapore non stop flights which I flew was a bit over 19 hours in all business class with lie flat beds etc was good but long enough for me, so I will not be on any of the QF 22 or 23 hour non stops even in First, but certainly never in economy!!

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