Why Qantas is now running non-stop Darwin-London Airbus A380 flights

Qantas swaps Singapore for Darwin as the stopover city on its flagship Sydney-London route.

By Chris Chamberlin , March 24 2020
Why Qantas is now running non-stop Darwin-London Airbus A380 flights

Strange times call for strange measures, as Qantas' flagship Airbus A380 to London adopts Darwin rather than Singapore as its stopover, before continuing for almost 17 hours straight onto Heathrow.

It's the first time the Top End will host the red-tailed superjumbo on a commercial flight, and the first time that Darwin and London will be linked by a direct service – let alone Qantas’ prized QF1/QF2 route.

Qantas scrambled to activate Darwin as its 'Plan B' over the weekend as Singapore unexpectedly closed its borders to transit travellers, leaving the airline to find a new stopover city where the superjumbo could refuel before setting off on its marathon second leg.

Darwin has a geographical advantage for the lumbering Airbus A380 – the shortest direct route from Sydney to London happens to track over the Northern Territory, making the NT capital the perfect place for the obligatory fuel stop without deviating far from that optimal route.

However, unlike the previous Singapore stopover of QF1 and QF2, all passengers will stay on board the A380 during its 90 minutes in Darwin – this is a quick 'gas and go' stop.

For the same reason, Qantas isn't selling the Sydney-Darwin or Darwin-Sydney legs on their own: or indeed, Darwin-London or London-Darwin.

The Kangaroo Route hops via Darwin

This unique take on the Kangaroo Route will last for only a handful of days, ahead of Qantas grounding all international flights by the end of March.

QF1 from Sydney to Darwin is wheels-up at 5pm, reaching the NT capital at 9:15pm local time after a journey of 5hrs 45min. Then, it’s onwards to London at 11pm, touching down at 6:15am the next calendar day after spending 16hrs 45min in the air.

The journey back is a little shorter, with QF2 jetting to Darwin in 16hrs 10min – pushing back at 10:05pm local time in London to reach Darwin at 11:45pm the next calendar day.

Concluding the flight after a 90-minute transit, QF2 from Darwin to Sydney takes to the skies at 1:15am and pulls into Sydney at 7am, after that final 4hr 15min hop.

As Qantas prepares to suspend international flights in response to the coronavirus crisis and various government restrictions impacting international travel, the last QF1 departure from Sydney is currently set for Thursday March 26, with the final QF2 leaving London on March 27, before these flights are paused.

Ironically, in the late 1930s, Darwin was one stop on Qantas' Sydney to Singapore Empire Class flying boat service – a trip that used to take four days, although the 16 passengers enjoyed “the most luxurious saloons ever prepared in an aircraft” spread over a series of tiered cabins including a smoking room and bunk-like sleeping berths.

Read: The way it was: Sydney to Singapore in 4 days by flying boat

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 616

Given it is the quickest route between SYD and LHR with a stop, you have to wonder why QF are thinking of routing QF1/2 through PER when DRW seems to make more sense though given the current situation, it is anybody's guess when SYD-PER-LHR will happen

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 509

There will not be the joining passengers that Perth has and it is pretty hopeless as a hub as not that many want to stop there as Singapore

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 110

Because demand was down at the time and Perth as a city 15 times bigger than Darwin provides its own passengers. It's called economics, not just what is most convenient for people in Sydney

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2011

Total posts 84

It's the shortest, not necessarily the quickest

Qantas

22 Oct 2012

Total posts 271

Unfortunately, today's QF1 has been cancelled. It appears to be about 90% full, so I expect that there will be a lot of very anxious pasengers wondering when or if they'll get home to the UK.

From what I can see, the only QF1 cancellation today is the Singapore-London leg (given the aircraft won't be flying there). Sydney-Darwin and Darwin-London remain scheduled.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 353

FR24 is showing SYD-SIN-LHR as cancelled, which it is. This is where FR24 sometimes falls down with irrops. It hasn't yet put the SYD-DRW-LHR into the system at all.

QF is showing SYD-SIN-LHR as cancelled, but SYD-DRW-LHR as flyting, albeit with a slight delay ex SYD (now departing 1800).

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 343

Just Pray they don't need to divert for any reason once out of Australian waters. If they divert do they then need to self Isolate for 14 days?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jul 2012

Total posts 119

That pretty much applies to any international flight to any destination that Qantas (or any airline) may want to operate.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 104

I would have thought that an un-scheduled self-isolation at an un-scheduled re-fuelling stop (Pardon all the 'Un-' in this post), wouldn't be needed if those pax stayed on the plane as per Darwin. But that thought is laced with ignorant assumptions (on my part).

20 Jan 2017

Total posts 38

On a side note, I thought it may be a positioning flight, but VH-OQI (QF6017) has now been going for 18.5 hours since taking off from Sydney last night.

Looks like it may be heading to Dresden for maintenance or refurb? either way will be pushing the 20+ hour mark when it gets there.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Dec 2016

Total posts 54

@Lps988

yes, i saw that too. It just landed after a 19hr 15min trip to Dresden. Impressive what a difference an empty shell of a plane can do to get there like that.

@UpUpAndAway

As the stop in Darwin is, they're not getting off the plane because NT has a state lockdown excluding "foreigners" from entering. If they did have to divert to Paris for example for an extra bit of fuel, they would have to do the same.

Whats interesting is that there would have to be extra relief crew scheduled on the flight to allow for the longer planned distance. Unless they are allowed to swap crew in Darwin which likely wouldn't be the case.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2015

Total posts 6

Paxing crew is considered essential travel. Crew were pre-positioned to Darwin for the initial inbound and outbound services.

24 Mar 2020

Total posts 1

Another possibility for a refueling stopover is the Australian territory of Christmas Island. Rated for big planes. They were going to make it an space centre! Give the wonderful islanders something else to do for a crust other than detention. It is a truly beautiful spot.

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 71

Christmas Island not a viable option with a 2103m runway and often warm ambient temps reducing take off performance. Unless there was a light loading on the A380, they would need longer than that (usually 2900m ), and chances are an A380 would be above the allowable pavement loading. Also no practical supply / storage of large volumes of Jet A-1 fuel. DRW ticks all the boxes, and interestingly DRW-LHR is only 42 miles longer than SYD-DFW.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 958

Darwin also has a long runway which was funded by NASA as an emergency landing strip for the space shuttle.

Hello

I am new here, so hello all.

Where are the QF1 / QF2 flights, I cannot find them anywhere on Qantas.com on any dates I try to search for, I get a message to say "No flights found on my travel dates".

Ex LHR 8th April and Ex Sydney 26th April.

What is the schedule for QF1 / QF2? Cannot find this anywhere either.

Thanks, Jack

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 509

Jackson you missed the end of March bit in the article. After that qantas is grounded hence no April flights. I expect there will be special flights through April bringing people home, but these will be on an ad hoc basis subject to government approval.

Ah, seems I did miss that. Thanks PatrickK

24 Mar 2020

Total posts 1

With thousands of Australian Citizens trapped in the UK and Europe and thousands of UK Citizens trapped in Australia then the UK and Australian Governments will need to provide a basic air service between the UK and Australia. The obvious thing to do is for the Australian Government to requisition a Qantas 747-400 and the UK government to requisition a British Airways 747-400 and let those two aircraft each provide services between the UK and Australia.

As these aircraft will be operation under military conditions they can use the UK Indian Ocean Base of Diego Garcia as a refueling stop. This avoids using any other airport which could cause logistical and political issues. Using Diego Garcia as refueling stop will allow the aircraft to operate with a full load of passengers and perhaps just as important a full load of cargo. These passengers should pay for their own fares and not the Australian and UK taxpayers. A suggested amount would be AUD$1000.00 for an economy one way flight. With a full load of passengers and cargo then these flights should cover their costs.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jul 2012

Total posts 119

And why would a sane government ever want to do that???

They already have more than enough on their plates dealing with the friggin coronavirus.

Why not leave flying to airlines, especially now it appears that Qantas seems to have found a reasonable alternative to Singapore as a refuelling point???

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 509

Diego why a 747 and not a A380. I am not sure requisition a plane is the right word they can just ask qantas and guarantee paying them like they did to Wuhan. They may not need the tighter quarantine measures they did on that flight as they now have faster tests. Also why use Diego Garcia when they can use Darwin as they are now.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 104

Oh trust me Diego, trust me when I say that regardless of anything to the contrary said by well-meaning Q personnel, at $10,000/pax on 90% seated it would probably be one of the most profitable flights in Q's history of operations. If AJ could get those RevPax, he's pepper that route from here to eternity.

21 Aug 2019

Total posts 48

Scheduled stop in 2007 when flying QF to Mumbai. December in Darwin was interesting. Just humid and hot when sticking my head out of the transit lounge. The Mumbai service is long gone now. Looking forward to the day when I can get back onto QF1 or 7

29 Mar 2017

Total posts 6

Qantas flight listing is quite confusing as they would list QF1 and 2 (SYD/SIN/DRW) as being cancelled but reinstating it as QF1 and 2 (SYD/DRW/LHR) but leaving the original listing as being cancelled. I know as I flew the first QF2 from LHR under the new arrangement. The message first started with cancellation and there was a stream of messages about working on rebooking for the new flight.

The government needs to improve their work at Darwin as the UK based crew (LHR to DRW leg) were held on the plane for more than an hour before they were cleared to leave and be replaced by the Australian crew for the Darwin to Sydney leg resulting in the plane being an hour and half late. Looking at the flight status, the QF1 leaving on 24 March also had a similar delay.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Mar 2013

Total posts 1

When life is back to running again, I really hope that Qantas will consider this route as a normal route - there are an awful lot of people who travel, who don't just live in Sydney or melbourne. Please consider those who live in the northern regions of Australia, who have currently to fly to the bottom then turn around and almost retrace their flightpath back over Australia.

06 Nov 2018

Total posts 6

While it would be good to do that, the economics of doing so don't stack up as in 'normal times' there would not be enough passengers joining the flight in DRW to make it profitable. What the government should do is subsidize local flights from DRW to compensate people in those areas and ensure equity.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 28

Lumbering A380? Compared to what?

Chris, Would this be the only scheduled flight to ever overfly Asia without stopping?

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 509

In First Perth London overflies Asia; (South and West Asia).

Jr1
Jr1

26 Mar 2020

Total posts 1

HI. You can see the struggle Q is having with the times by the confusion around QF1. Sources vary, is it Darwin or (still) Singapore? Is it 7pm (still) or 9pm or now 10pm wheels up. With a 4hr country mile to travel before the harassed desk clerk can clarify and no latte on offer while you wait, this is shaping up to an ultra marathon. Well better pack my valise and dip the fuel tank ready for starting out.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 509

JrI the article says

'QF1 from Sydney to Darwin is wheels-up at 5pm, reaching the NT capital at 9:15pm local time after a journey of 5hrs 45min. Then, it's onwards to London at 11pm, touching down at 6:15am the next calendar day after spending 16hrs 45min in the air. The journey back is a little shorter, with QF2 jetting to Darwin in 16hrs 10min – pushing back at 10:05pm local time in London to reach Darwin at 11:45pm the next calendar day.' Not reports of an extra hours delay in Darwin coming back as the crew need to be checked before they can come off. Im not sre where you heard that singapore had recommenced given this week is the last.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 May 2013

Total posts 21

To physically achieve A380 refueling in Darwin only takes 30 minutes, with passengers staying on-board. If the ground crew have no experience with A380's this might become 45 minutes for the first 1-2 times. Why oh why is Qantas making this into a massive 90 minute stopover and wasting so much valuable time and causing so much extra discomfort to all the passengers? So stupid!

29 Mar 2017

Total posts 6

Read my comment.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 509

There is the full crew change as well with handover to keep within their flight hours, plus some more catering or at least getting rid of the rubbish. Allowing 90 minutes makes sense as it is usually two hours.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2015

Total posts 6

Northbound the DRW-LHR leg would require more than 200T or 250,000lt of fuel to be uplifted in DRW. That will take at least 60 to 80 minutes depending on the capabilities of the refuelling system. 90 minutes from parking the brakes to pushback will be a minimum northbound but probably achievable southbound.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jul 2012

Total posts 119

Darwin is not a particularly slot constrained airport (and neither is Heathrow nowadays, I guess).

Considering that all passengers are already on board, Qantas should be able to take off from Darwin as soon as they are ready to, without waiting for the full 90 minutes.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 May 2013

Total posts 21

patrickk, those tasks need not take 90 minutes.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 509

I have been on flights where they had to rush to beat curfew and yes they do take that long.

16 Aug 2017

Total posts 6

I just returned to Aus on the first QF2 via DRW. After the UAE stopped transit (along with the rest of the world), for a while I thought I wouldn't be coming home for weeks or months.

Apparently 300 bags didn't make it due to weight restrictions.

Thank you Qantas, and thanks to the crewe, many of whom volunteered I think, really - thanks, and hope to see you back soon.

16 Aug 2017

Total posts 6

And thanks to ET for reporting this, seeing it on Twitter got me home.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 299

A friend of mine has just been hit with a one way £2500 economy ticket to get home to Sydney on Qantas!! I think it's absolutely disgusting that Qantas are price gouging like this during these trying times!!


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