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Qantas hints at keeping London flights in Darwin after WA U-turn

written by Hannah Dowling | January 27, 2022

Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (James D Morgan/Qantas)

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has said the airline may look to commit to extending its Darwin-London route, in light of Western Australia’s uncertain border reopening plans.

An announcement could come in the coming days, as the airline works on its “backup plan” for both domestic and international operations to WA, Joyce said.

It comes after WA Premier Mark McGowan announced last week that his government would no longer reopen its domestic and international borders on 5 February as previously planned.

McGowan said the decision was made due to the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than its predecessors. No new date has been set for the border opening.

It also comes after Qantas was forced to cut its planned domestic capacity by a further 10 per cent through to March, due to WA’s delayed reopening, and said it would put its plans for a restart for Perth-London flights “under review”.

Speaking on 6PR Radio, Joyce said that without being offered any idea of a new reopening plan, or anticipated date, the airline is going to be forced to consider once again committing to options that circumvent the hard border.

“Without knowing when we can assume the borders will open up again, what do we do and how do we plan for that?” he asked.

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“For example, the Perth-London service that we were planning to restart in April … without the certainty of knowing that WA will be open in April, the question we have is: do we keep it going over Darwin?

“Because we need to make a commitment to Darwin, because hotels are filling up … we need to base crew in whatever port we are going to be operating from, and if we lose that option, we won’t have a London service.”

Currently, Qantas has an agreement in place with the Northern Territory to temporarily reroute its direct Australia-UK flight through Darwin Airport until “at least” April 2022.

The Qantas boss said his airline, along with other businesses, rely heavily on certainty in order to make appropriate plans in advance.

“Supposedly the fifth of February was locked in, and like all businesses, we’ve got ready for that day.”

Joyce explained how the airline brought all of its staff back online from stand down, and reactivated aircraft, in order to cater to Western Australia once the border opened on 5 February.

“In the first week alone from when the border was supposed to open, we had 20,000 people booked to travel,” he said.

“That was stories of grandmothers who haven’t seen grandkids, parents that haven’t seen their kids for two years … so I think you could imagine the disappointment that that caused.”

Joyce said even if Premier McGowan did set a new date, the airline and other businesses won’t be able to trust that the WA government will commit to that date, given the fact that they had previously committed to 5 February.

“Even if we get that commitment, could something change again, given what happened on the fifth of February?

“It just creates a vacuum, and it creates uncertainty for all businesses … I don’t think that’s good for the state or for the country.”

The Perth-London flight has been in limbo since WA shut its international borders in 2020 and imposed some of the strictest domestic border restrictions in the country.

Qantas confirmed in September that it will “temporarily” reroute its flagship London-Perth service to fly via Darwin until “at least” April 2022.

The airline previously suggested that it might opt to reroute its direct flights between Australia and London via Darwin, as opposed to Perth, in light of Western Australia’s “conservative border policies”.

Then, in October, Qantas hinted that Perth could permanently lose its exclusive status as a transit hub for flights between London and both Sydney and Melbourne, depending on demand.

In a pointed statement, the carrier said it would watch how the new route performs and would remain “open-minded about what it could lead to down the track”, suggesting Darwin could become a more permanent fixture.

Joyce previously said that if the route generates “good interest and good traffic” it could be in addition to the Perth layover.

Comments (14)

  • Vannus

    says:

    Time QANTAS gave WA the big heave-ho.

    Its’ boss has proven, multiple times, it’s all about him, not his populace.

    DRW is more convenient to this Country’s East Coast residents’ anyway.

  • Geoff Herbert

    says:

    Can we assume the Darwin route is marginally shorter than through Perth?
    Darwin seems to offer earlier entry into a great circle route Northwards.

  • Ross

    says:

    Id definitely prefer Darwin, hopefully qantas doesn’t keep chasing the WA government and makes a s permanent shift to Darwin

  • Planedude

    says:

    Darwin makes a lot of sense. Perth not so much.
    As Vannus says Darwin works as a hub to east coast, that is SYD, MEL, BNE, and CBR.
    It also works as a hub into Asia, should it be needed.
    One would think Darwin could be sold as an interesting lay over to foreign tourists, Perth, not so much.

    • jdjdfgh

      says:

      Ummmmmm, Darwin has a population of 147,000! It’s basically a country town! And what is there that is of interest to foreign tourists? And why would it be a hub to Asia? When I go to Asia, I definitely do not want to transit through Darwin. Have you ever gone into Darwin and had a look around? There is not a lot there.

      For the time being, it makes sense while WA is closed but otherwise it makes no sense. Long term, flights to London from the east coast will go non stop when QF gets their A350s. and the flights from Perth will resume eventually as there are over 2 million people living in Perth.

  • DARREN MARKS

    says:

    i agree goodbye Perth

  • Peter Hodgkinson

    says:

    Thanks again for giving us your wisdom, Mr Vannus (or Boeing 707-138B, if you prefer). It looks as if you have been joined today by your right wing friends in attacking the Labour Premier of WA, who, contrary to your comment, has done everything possible to protect his populace from the scourge of Covid. You should also bear in mind that this is not the 1960s and Darwin is no longer needed as a technical stop for Boeing 707s and Comets. Neither is it really needed as a hub for the Oz east and south coast when Singapore can perform this role much better. Also, Darwin cannot nearly generate the level of local joining traffic which Perth can and therefore cannot provide the cost economies which would be available through Perth. Mr Joyce should curb his impetuousness and go back to serving Perth when flights are allowed.

    • Timothy

      says:

      …’when flights are allowed’ you say, very tellingly.

      The ways things are going with mcclown currently, that maybe a long time into the future.

      Neither QANTAS CEO Mr Alan Joyce, nor his airline are going to sit around twiddling their thumbs whilst WA’s premier decides what to do with his hijacked state.

      There’re other business opportunities for the airline, whilst PER & WA are missing out.

  • Peter Hodgkinson

    says:

    Come off your high horse Timothy! This is not a political forum, so you should confine your comments to aviation, if indeed you have anything useful to say.

  • John

    says:

    Yes please leave it in the NT !

    Don’t reward the hermits, maybe lock them out from the rest of the country or the world until 2024?

  • Paul

    says:

    Singapore still seems to me to be the logical hub. Especially when you consider the cost of carrying fuel on the long haul.

  • The QF 787 flight PER/LHR was a winner from the beginning and will again be so, when SAFE to do so.
    Cant understand why people put business before health, got me beat on that one.

    The vast majority of us WA folk are MORE than happy to be kept safe and alive by our premier and government, crikey, get a grip people, look at the numbers of COVID casualties on the east coast, compared to WA.
    We do have an advantage of isolation, large land mass and small population of course, all helping to keep us safe.
    HERMIT KINGDOM eh! a cheap shot, used by lazy journalists day after day !.I dont thinks so, we are just getting on with our lives here almost without restrictions. I know I’d rather be living here rather than Sydney or Melbourne….and yes we have family there, new grandkids to see, but prepared to wait til safe to do so.
    If DRW is such a great place, why didnt QF operate through there from the beginning ?
    Nothing at all against Darwin city or airport. The distance difference is around 500kms shorter via DRW.
    QF preferred PER because of all the intrastate on carriage it attracted, commercial decision there, and rightly so.

  • Peter Hodgkinson

    says:

    It is sad that most commentators here want to play politics rather than to contribute arguments related to aviation. To you I say you are wasting your time advocating cutting WA loose and pushing it into the Indian Ocean! A moment’s reflection will tell you that ROO (rest of Oz) needs WA more than the reverse. What will happen to iron ore exports, almost all of which are sourced in WA? Also, Mr McG is IMMENSELY popular in WA, precisely because he has looked after his population so well, unlike the conservatives in NSW. Of all the comments under this thread only those of jdjdfgh and my own address the relative economics of QF serving LHR through Perth rather than DRW. Much as I dislike the management of QF because of their lack of morality and respect for their workforce, Joyce does tend to get the economics right – that is why he had a preference for going through Perth, rather than Darwin. in the first place.

  • The reason QF chose PER as the launch pad for the UK, is one of short and straight track, and two, commercially a winner, as QF hopes to feed the intrastate on- carriage on to it. The QF MEL/LHR flight will return to PER, when our WA government deems it safe to do so. DRW is just a temporary substitute while WA sorts out its border policies.
    The overall distance difference whether you op via PER or DRW is around 400kms by my calculations ( DRW shorter).

    And we are not a HERMIT KINGDOM by the way, a very much over used cheap shot, used a lot by lazy media and TV journalists. We in WA are enjoying very close to normal life here, why take the risk, however of course, at some stage the hard border will have to come down.

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