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Live: Longest Qantas repatriation flight departs Buenos Aires

written by Hannah Dowling | October 6, 2021
At time of writing, QF14 is the most-tracked flight on Flightradar24.

Qantas’ 18-hour repatriation flight from Buenos Aires to Darwin is now underway, marking one of the carrier’s longest-ever flights.

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, VH-ZNH, took off from the Argentinian capital at 12:44pm local time as QF14, and began its 18-hour journey, bringing stranded Australians in South America back home.

At nearly 14,700 kilometres, it will be one of the longest flights ever performed by Qantas, and will notably be flying past the South Pole on its way from Argentina back to Australia.

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The flight is expected to touch down in Darwin just before 7pm local time, at which point passengers will be processed at the airport and sent on their way to the Howard Springs quarantine facility to undergo their mandatory 14-day quarantine.

You can track the flight here.

It comes after reports surfaced that passengers of the Buenos Aires-Darwin repatriation flight have been struggling to find their way to Argentina in time to board the flight.

Passengers booked on the flight have said Argentina’s strict border controls have made it nearly impossible to get to Buenos Aires from other parts of the continent, despite the Australian government promising to assist.

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“I don’t know why DFAT chose Argentina in the first place,” Adelaide resident John Herriot told the ABC.

“It’s quite ironic that the flight back to Australia was quite easy to sort out, but now a two-hour flight from Chile to Argentina is now becoming a nightmare.”

At time of writing, QF14 is currently travelling over Antarctica, and has completed roughly half of its marathon trip, according to Flightradar24.

Plus, the flight has already nabbed the top spot on the website’s ‘most watched’ flights, with over 1000 curious aviators keeping a watchful eye over Qantas’ longest repatriation.

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.

This Buenos Aires-Darwin repatriation will beat out the airline’s longest commercial route (Perth-London) by just 185 kilometres.

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

However, this route is now set to be rerouted to become London-Darwin, at least temporarily, due to Western Australia’s “conservative border policies”, which will see flight time reduced to 16 hours and 52 minutes, for a total of 13,855km.

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

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.

Qantas has previously performed some of the longest commercial flights in history, including two history-making non-stop flights between Sydney and London.

In November 2019, Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNJ Longreach touched down in Sydney as QF7879 at the end of a 19-hour, 19-minute journey from London Heathrow.

Its arrival came 30 years after the first nonstop flight from London Heathrow to Sydney, which took place in August 1989 when Qantas ferried 747-400 VH-OJA City of Canberra home. That flight took 20 hours 9 minutes and 5 seconds.

Meanwhile, Qantas also continues preparations for the introduction of Project Sunrise, which would see regularly scheduled 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.

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.

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.

“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.”

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11 Comments

  • Oliver x Benson

    says:

    Love to know how much fuel she will consume over that distance and staff required.

    • Vannus

      says:

      Fuel tanks filled to the gunnels, very little pax baggage, if any at all, in hold, maybe strictly weight limited cabin bags instead.
      Minimum 4 Pilots, & cabin staff on rotation, enough for safety requirements of such a lengthy flight.

      No matter what, QANTAS will be adhering 110% to every rule, & regulation of said flight.

      It’s not be judged by its’ peers as the ‘World’s Safest Airline’, 8 years’ in a row now, for nothing!

  • Adi Mandelbaum

    says:

    Thanks for the article, my parents Iche Meie and Sulamita Mandelbaum are in this flight at the moment. I can say that the Australian Consular in Bogota and the Australian Embassy in Buenos Aires were fantastic and very helpful, in organising not only the flight, but the assistance given along the way.

  • Vannus

    says:

    What a wonderful flight-path home for those Aussies!

    To get a view of Antarctica, from the air, on a QANTAS day-trip, is the most fabulous experience I’ve ever had flying!

    Welcome home to all on board!

  • Marum Katze

    says:

    How much is the flight costing them?
    I heard figures of $17,000 or more + quarantine costs.

    Curious….Marum.

    • Adi Mandelbaum

      says:

      Hi, economy was US$1,500; premium economy was $U3,500 and Business was $6,000
      Quarantine is apart at AU$2,500 per person.

  • AJMoko2

    says:

    Why such a long flight, as opposed to the most direct .. is it because the pilots wanted the chance to fly over Antarctica?

    • Vannus

      says:

      Wow! What odd thinking!

      You need to ‘brush up’ on WORLD geography, especially ‘curvature of the earth’ section.

      Flights travelling to/from here, from other Southern Hemisphere countries’ choose the South Polar route.
      This has been done for years’.
      Same goes for flights to/from South Africa, fly a fair way down, & across the Southern Ocean.

      It’s comparable to flying from western USA to Europe, & vv, close to the Arctic Circle, tracking up to, & beyond Greenland.
      Or from S E Asia to Europe via the North Polar route, flying over the very top of Russia, again near the Arctic Circle.

      Again, these routings’ have been flown for decades’, it’s NOT new whatsoever!

      Have done these various flights’ several times, & they’re just the best, & BTW, the quickest routing.

      Pilots’ do NOT choose where they fly an aircraft, this is done by the Airline’s Scheduling & Planning Dept, which in QANTAS is huge, befitting a world-wide carrier, so the ‘seeing of Antarctica’ is just supplemental.

  • Zarg

    says:

    Great circle route flying on the globe is actually the shortest!

  • chris

    says:

    Get hold of an old fashioned globe and stretch a piece of string, holding one end over BA and the other end over Darwin and see where it takes you….

  • Ashley

    says:

    The 787 aircraft which has done this monumental flight is named ‘Great Barrier Reef’.

    With such an iconic Aussie name, it must’ve been a thrill for the POB to see its’ name, prior boarding!

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