Qantas has dropped plans to bring back its pioneering nonstop link between London Heathrow and Perth before Christmas, in response to Western Australia’s strict Covid policies.
The Australian airline instead hopes to re-route its QF10 service via Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT), with flights continuing to Melbourne.
In a statement issued on Monday the carrier announced: “Qantas will temporarily reroute its flagship Perth-London service until at least April 2022 due to the latest WA border settings and assumptions.”
At present the number of travellers allowed to enter Australia is extremely low, with no tourists permitted and a strict quota system for those with residence rights.
While the national government in Canberra is planning a gradual re-opening of travel in line with the vaccination programme, Western Australia has maintained a near-Covid-free status.
State leaders in Perth continue to impose tight restrictions on movements within Australia, as well as internationally.
The airline said: “Qantas is in detailed discussions with the NT government and Darwin airport to assess operating the direct London flight from Darwin.”
The NT capital has become the sole Qantas destination from Heathrow because it serves the Howard Springs mining camp, just 10 miles southwest of Darwin airport. This is a quarantine facility, recently renamed the “Centre of National Resilience” and holding up to 850 people as they isolate for two weeks.
Qantas believes that demand for a nonstop UK-Australia link will be higher than ever due to concerns about intermediate stops in the coronavirus era. But the airline said: “If this service can’t operate through Darwin, it will instead fly Melbourne-Singapore-London until at least April 2022.
“A decision on the exact routing is likely to be made within the next two weeks.”
The Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, said: “We look forward to operating this flight via Perth again when circumstances allow.
“We’re in regular discussions with all the states and territories, and will continue to make adjustments, including increasing flying as soon as border settings allow.
“The pace of the vaccine rollout means we’re still on track for international flying to restart from 18 December onwards.”
Flights are set to begin a day later from London. A separate link will operate from Heathrow via Singapore to Sydney.
Both London departures will be initially operated by Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
Perth was chosen in 2018 as the destination for the groundbreaking 17-hour scheduled flight from Heathrow because of its large population of two million – many of whom have strong family links with the UK.
In contrast, Darwin is little more than a large town (population 132,000, the same as Hastings or Grimsby) with significant numbers of people of Aboriginal and Asian heritage.
The direct Heathrow-Darwin distance is 8,620 miles, almost 400 miles closer than the link to Perth. Wind considerations aside, aircraft can fly a more direct route, mainly over Russia, Kazakhstan and China, rather than having to fly around hotspots in the Black Sea region and the Middle East.
The Perth nonstop continued to Melbourne, but a link via Darwin is more direct – saving 130 miles, and barely 50 miles longer than the shortest distance between London and the Victorian capital.
Qantas is still working on Project Sunrise: the prospect of ultra-long-haul flights connecting London with Sydney – a direct distance of 10,573 miles.
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