American Airlines has resumed operations in Australia for the first time since August, with the first LA-Sydney flight touching down on Thursday morning.
Flight AA73 departed from LAX at 11:02pm on Tuesday, 4 January local time, as the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner began its 14.5-hour journey across the Pacific Ocean for the first time in 128 days.
The aircraft, registration N835AN, then touched down at Sydney Kingsford Smith International slightly ahead of schedule, at 8:40am on Thursday.
The return leg, flight AA72 from Sydney to LAX, departed Sydney at 11:43am, and is expected to land in California around 5:40am, also on Thursday 6 January.
The airline will maintain a schedule of one return service between LAX and Sydney scheduled per day for now.
The carrier, considered the world’s largest in both passenger carriage and fleet size, pulled out of the Australian market entirely at the end of August, after the Australian government slashed arrival caps by half, in order to gain control of its then-raging COVID-19 outbreak.
In July, when American made the call to halt operations into its sole Australian destination, Sydney, the airline said it was forced to send empty or near-empty planes across the Pacific in order to meet changing Australian health guidelines.
“On certain days in July and August, the Australian government has advised that we’re not able to transport customers on the route due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” an American spokeswoman said at the time.
The airline later confirmed it would suspend all Australian flights for at least two months, from 1 September until 31 October, “due to the ongoing travel restrictions surrounding the coronavirus”.
Then, in September, the airline placed its LAX-Sydney route back on the schedule for 6 January and chose not to pull this date forward.
However, American customers have been able to travel to and from Australia via its codeshare agreement with Qantas.
The return of American Airlines to Australian shores highlights the increasing confidence of foreign airlines in the Australian market, despite the fact that currently, tourists are not yet being welcomed.
It comes after numerous warnings that foreign airlines may opt not to return to Australia in the short-to-medium term, given the uncertainty posed by the confusing and ever-changing nature of travel restrictions.
In September, the Australian Airports Association (AAA) flagged serious concerns over the industry’s inability to adequately prepare for the restart of international flights, given that airlines need to prepare schedules well in advance.
“Some international carriers are either already drawing down capacity or preparing to withdraw from Australian ports altogether,” the association said, noting this could have a “significant” impact on Australia’s reopening plans.
“Given the aviation industry has long [six to 12 months] lead times for carriers and airports to re-establish international routes, significant planning will need to occur now to ensure airports and airlines are ready.”
AAA chief executive James Goodwin said, “If [airlines] don’t know what the rules or protocols will be for Australia eight or nine months from now, we could lose them for 2022. Then we’re looking at 2023.”
“The reality is, when we are ready to open up, we may not have as many airlines as we were used to. We may find airfares will be more expensive and we may find we have difficulty getting tourists into Australia.”