australian aviation logo

Qantas’ longest repatriation flight touches down in Darwin

written by Hannah Dowling | October 7, 2021

VH-ZNH touches down in Darwin after performing the longest Qantas repatriation flight from Buenos Aires (Qantas)

Qantas has officially completed its longest-ever repatriation flight connecting Buenos Aires to Darwin, which touched down last night after 17 hours and 25 minutes in the air.

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, VH-ZNH, took off from the Argentinian capital at 12:44pm local time on Tuesday as QF14, and travelled entirely in daylight for the entire near-18-hour trip.

The flight crossed in Australian airspace at 5:28pm AEDT on Wednesday and landed in Darwin at 6:39pm local time, after skirting the edge of Antarctica on its way from Argentina.

The Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner travelled a total distance of 15,020 kilometres, making the trip 522 kilometres further than the airline’s longest regularly scheduled passenger service from London to Perth, and one of Qantas’ longest ever flights.

The arrival of QF14 also marks the first time that Darwin has welcomed nonstop flights from every inhabited continent.

There are few global hubs that are well-placed to accept nonstop flights from every continent, with others including Doha, Dubai and London.

A total of 107 passengers were on board the South American repatriation flight, plus four pilots and a team of 17 cabin crew, engineering and ground staff. The passengers onboard have now begun their 14-day quarantine at the Howard Springs quarantine facility.


According to Qantas, the flight saw smooth conditions, with average headwinds of up to 35 kilometres per hour and temperatures as low as minus 75 degrees – when flying over Antarctica of course.

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 past the South Pole, with some of Qantas’ pre-COVID routes to South America taking this shortcut.

The airline said a team of flight planning analysts spent over a month conducting extensive route planning based on weather and wind conditions across the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica.

Captain Alex Passerini said Qantas has a proud history in pioneering ultra-long haul flights due to the geographical location of Australia to the rest of the world and this one was no exception.

“Qantas has always stepped up to a challenge, especially when it comes to long-haul travel, and this flight is an excellent example of the capabilities and attention to detail of our flight planning team. There were some truly spectacular views as we tracked across Antarctica, which was an extra bonus for our passengers who were very glad to be coming home.”

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, nine minutes, five seconds.

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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Each day, our subscribers are more informed with the right information.

SIGN UP to the Australian Aviation magazine for high-quality news and features for just $99.95 per year

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.