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Storms and ILS problems send 2 LA–Sydney flights to Canberra

written by Jake Nelson | January 16, 2024

Canberra Airport from above. (Image: Seth Jaworski)

Two flights from Los Angeles to Sydney were diverted to Canberra on Monday due to poor weather and technical issues at Sydney Airport.

United Airlines flight 839, on board the 787-9 N19951, and American Airlines flight 73, on board the 777-300ER N730AN, chose to divert to Canberra rather than hold at Sydney, which was having technical difficulties with the instrument landing system at runway 16L.

Passengers on both flights were allowed out into the terminal at Canberra, which does not have a full-time Border Force presence, as its only international flights are a three-times-weekly Fiji Airways service to Nadi which operates on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

With both the United and American crews out of hours, United used coaches to transport its passengers to Sydney, while American chose to wait for a relief crew before heading back to Sydney by air.


The issue with Sydney’s ILS, which was related to the glide path component, affected the landing capacity of runway 16L, causing delays that were compounded by heavy rain. Domestic flights were also affected, with Qantas flight QF426 from Melbourne diverting to Canberra to refuel before taking off again for Sydney soon after.

“The fault does not impact flights taking off from runway 16L or landing on any of [Sydney Airport’s] other runways. The reduction in capacity led to airborne delays for some aircraft flying into Sydney on Monday morning, and two international flights elected to divert to Canberra,” an Airservices spokesperson said.

“Our team are working to fix the issue as soon as possible. In the meantime we are working with airlines to manage incoming traffic and minimise delays for passengers.”

This is not the first time in recent months that Sydney-bound passengers were diverted to Canberra due to severe weather, with a Rex flight from Brisbane in early December spending the night in Canberra after it was unable to secure a curfew dispensation to land in Sydney after midnight.

The plane had been unable to divert to Melbourne as an alternate or return to Brisbane, as its crew would have been outside their regulatory duty limitations, and as no buses were available to transport passengers to Sydney so late at night, some were forced to sleep in the terminal at Canberra.

A previous incident in 2014 had also seen a United Airlines flight divert to Canberra, which resulted in passengers being held on the tarmac for eight hours due to a lack of immigration processing capability at the airport.

Sydney and Canberra Airports have been contacted for comment.

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