Australian flag-carrier Qantas will fly its flagship Airbus A380 from Sydney to London Heathrow (LHR) via Darwin in the Northern Territory in what will be the first-ever direct flight between the two cities. The flight, which has been called an emergency ‘Plan B’, was dreamt up after the normal routing via Singapore became impossible because authorities in the City State closed Changi airport to all foreign passengers including those in transit.
While Qantas plans to suspend all international flights at the end of March because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the airline has committed to operating flights between Sydney and London until that point in order to bring home as many stranded citizens as possible.
Over the weekend, Singapore’s national development minister said measures to “significantly tighten” the country’s borders would be introduced after a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases in Europe, North America and around the world. Despite being one of the first places to identify a Coronavirus case outside mainland China, the country has so far only had a total of 509 confirmed cases.
All short-term visitors, including those only passing through Singapore’s Changi airport in transit, have been banned as part of the new controls. Only Singaporean citizens, along with work pass holders who are employed in an “essential” industry, along with their dependents will now be able to enter Singapore until further notice.
The announcement came without warning or notice and took many in the industry by surprise.
Qantas has used Singapore as a stopover for its QF1 and QF2 flights between London and Sydney since 2018 after a four-year stint going via Dubai. However, even Dubai International Airport (DXB) will be closed to transit passengers from Wednesday night, meaning that Qantas’ options to operate its flagship route were extremely limited.
The near 17,000 km journey between Sydney and London would be impossible to operate direct on an Airbus A380.
The new routing will see the London-bound service fly for around 5 hours and 45 minutes to Darwin where passengers will remain onboard for a technical fuel stop. The flight will then continue for nearly 17-hours to London. According to Executive Traveller, the return flight will be slightly shorter but no doubt just as gruelling.
Qantas intends to ground all international flights at the end of March and the initial suspension will last until at least June. However, the airline may operate some special repatriation services, including to London, although negotiations between Qantas and the Australian federal government are ongoing.
British Airways, which also uses Singapore as a stopover base for its service between London and Sydney, has applied for a special exemption from the Singaporean government to continue flying to Changi on a “fuel and go” basis. Passengers would not be allowed off the plane and none of the cabin doors would be opened.
The authorities have not yet granted the exemption.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.