Qantas has completed its longest-ever repatriation flight from Buenos Aires to Darwin, which landed Friday night after 17 hours and 25 minutes in the air.
The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, VH-ZNH, took a departure from Buenos Aires as QF14 at 12:44 pm local time on Tuesday and traveled entirely in daylight for the nearly 18-hour trip.
The flight entered Australian airspace on Wednesday at 5:28 p.m. AEDT and landed in Darwin at 6:39 p.m. local time, having to skirt the edge of Antarctica on its trip from Argentina.
The Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner flew 15,020 kilometers, which is 522 kilometers longer than the airline’s longest regularly scheduled passenger service from London to Perth and one of Qantas’ longest ever flights.
QF14’s landing also marks the first time Darwin has welcomed non-stop flights from every inhabited continent.
There are only a few global hubs that are well-positioned to accept nonstop flights from every continent, with Doha, Dubai, and London among them.
The South American repatriation trip had 107 passengers, as well as four pilots and a crew of 17 cabin personnel, engineers, and ground crew. The people on board have already commenced their 14-day quarantine in Howard Springs.
According to Qantas, the voyage was uneventful, with average headwinds of up to 35km/h and temperatures as low as -75°C — when flying over Antarctica, of course.
Airlines rarely fly over Antarctica because it was mainly prohibited until 2011 due to the continent’s remoteness from any emergency landing zone.
However, carriers flying beyond the South Pole are not unheard of, with some of Qantas’ pre-COVID trips to South America adopting this detour.
The airline stated that a team of flight planning analysts spent over a month doing comprehensive route planning over the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica based on weather and wind conditions.
Qantas has a proud history of pioneering ultra-long distance flights due to Australia’s geographical closeness to the rest of the world, according to Captain Alex Passerini, 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 already completed some of the world’s longest commercial flights, including two non-stop flights between Sydney and London.
Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNJ Longreach landed in Sydney as QF7879 in November 2019 after a 19-hour, 19-minute flight from London Heathrow.
It arrived 30 years after the first nonstop trip from London Heathrow to Sydney, which occurred in August 1989, when Qantas transported 747-400 VH-OJA City of Canberra home. It took 20 hours, 9 minutes, and 5 seconds to complete that flight.
Meanwhile, Qantas continues to plan for the launch of Project Sunrise, which would see nonstop flights from New York and London to Australia’s east coast on a regular basis.
Qantas was supposed to finalize a deal to buy the 12 A350-1000s needed for the trip last year, but it was held back owing to COVID halting all foreign flights.
Nonetheless, Joyce stated that the now-suspended plans might be resumed later this year, with direct flights from London to Sydney beginning in 2024.
Joyce stated in February that Qantas is the only airline in the world capable of making ultra-long-haul, Project Sunrise-style flights profitable.
Joyce stated in an interview with Brussels-based Eurocontrol that this is due to the fact that global airlines only require a small number of planes to travel to Australia, whereas an Australian-based airline would require a larger fleet, allowing economies of scale to step 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.”