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.
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.
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.
“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.”