Qantas may have to add a Singapore stopover on what should be its direct service between Perth and London Heathrow, the first and currently only non-stop regularly scheduled flight between Australia and Europe. The warning was issued as rising tensions in the Middle East led the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue several flight restriction notices known as NOTAM’s overnight.
The NOTAM’s cover the airspace over Iraq and Iran, as well as the waters of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. Qantas flight QF9 from Perth to London, along with QF10 which flies in the opposite direction would both normally route directly across this region.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf escalated dramatically overnight after Iran launched ballistic missiles at two U.S. air bases in Iraq. Tehran has also threatened to launch missile attacks on Israel and the United Arab Emirates. A number of foreign carriers have decided to reroute many of their flights that would ordinarily fly over Iraq and Iran over fears a stray missile could hit a commercial plane.
The news was first reported by the Australia-based Executive Traveller which described plans by Qantas to leave at least 90-seats vacant on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner service between Heathrow and Perth. With an average flight time of over 17-hours on its QF9 service, the dogleg around Iran and Iraq could add up to an extra two hours to the flight time and push the Boeing 787 beyond its maximum range with a full load of passengers.
Blocking out up to 90 seats would mean an overall reduction of nearly 40 per cent on the 236 passenger capacity three-class configured aircraft. Qantas reports that the service normally operates with a load factor of over 90 per cent – a performance level that Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce revealed last year had made the route almost immediately profitable when it launched in March 2018.
#FAA Statement: #NOTAMs issued outlining flight restrictions that prohibit U.S. civil aviation operators from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. pic.twitter.com/kJEbpPddp3
— The FAA (@FAANews) January 8, 2020
“Almost every flight is full and it turned a profit almost immediately, which is rare for new services because they have start-up costs and it normally takes time to build demand,” Joyce explained last March.
In a statement o ET, a spokesperson for Qantas said the airline was looking at “temporarily routing QF9 through Asia until we’re able to return to our normal flight path through the Middle East.”
“This would mean a fuel stop in a city like Singapore or Hong Kong but it would enable us to still carry a full load of passengers on these heavily-booked flights, and minimise disruption that way,” the spokesperson continued.
“We’ll reach out to passengers directly if there’s any change to their booking.”
No changes have yet been made and the QF10 from London would likely continue to fly non-stop because of high tailwinds that cut the flight time to under 16-hours. If Qantas does add a stopover in Singapore, it would be necessary to swap over crew’s in both Singapore and Perth before it continues on to Melbourne.