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Airlines are Operating Unusual Flights due to COVID-19

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Tom Goward | 21/04/2020

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With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, airlines around the world have been operating some interesting and unusual flights to Australia in order to get their citizens home. This article covers some out of the ordinary flights from Australia that have emerged due to the Coronavirus crisis.

Qantas non-stop from Darwin to London

On March 24 2020, Qantas operated the first-ever non-stop commercial flight between Darwin and London. Normally, Qantas operates its flagship QF1 service with a stopover in Singapore, but that wasn’t an option after Changi Airport unexpectedly closed doors to transit passengers. Instead, Qantas decided to operate the Airbus A380 service into Darwin. As shortest direct track from Sydney to London passes over the Northern Territory, Darwin was the ideal place for the necessary fuel stop. Unlike the normal Singapore stopover where passengers can stretch their legs, passengers on these flights were forced to remain on board during the 90-minute (scheduled) stop in Darwin. The Au flight then flew onwards to London with an average flight time of 16 hours and 46 minutes.

Hi Fly Montevideo to Melbourne

On April 11, a chartered Hi Fly Airbus A340-300 departed Montevideo, Uruguay on a repatriation flight to Melbourne. The aircraft, 9H-SUN was carrying 217 passengers, 128 of which had previously tested positive for COVID-19. The flight was operated for Aurora Expeditions to repatriate Australian passengers and crew from the cruise ship Greg Mortimer. With a flight time of 16 hours and 16 minutes, this flight also made history as one of the longest A340-300 passenger flights. It’s four engines make the A340 is ideally suited for this type of flight, as the aircraft is not subject to Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards, or ETOPS, like long-haul twin-engined aircraft are. Under ETOPS, twin-engined aircraft must fly within a set distance in minutes of a diversion airport in case of an engine failure.

EL AL Perth & Melbourne to Tel Aviv

EL AL is the flag carrier of Israel and one of Qantas’ partner airlines. The airline has never operated commercial flights from Israel to Australia but was due to start trial flights to Melbourne from over April and May. However, those plans were cancelled with the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Although EL AL did operate two repatriation flights from Melbourne (LY86) and Perth (LY88) to Tel Aviv. In total, the two flights brought 410 Israeli citizens home, 180 from Melbourne and 230 from Perth.

LY88 departed Perth on March 24, with a flight time of 14 hours 12 minutes to Tel Aviv. The flight was operated by 4X-EDI, a 1.4 year-old Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

LY86 departed Melbourne on April 2, with a flight time of 17 hours 20 minutes to Tel Aviv. The flight was also operated by a Boeing 787-9, this time the 0.9 year-old 4X-EDK.

Austrian Airlines Sydney to Vienna 

Although Austrian Airlines doesn’t normally fly to Australia, on March 31 the airline flew a Boeing 777-200ER from Vienna to Sydney to repatriate Austrian citizens. The direct flight was the longest in Austrian Airlines’ history, at over 16,000km with a flight time of 17 hours and 55 minutes. Passengers were packed in tight, with over 300 Austrian citizens on board an aircraft which has a capacity of 306. Because of this, OS1028 had to make a stop in Penang before continuing continued to Vienna. During this stop, the aircraft was refuelled, the crew was changed and medical supplies were picked up.

KLM Sydney to Amsterdam

KLM flew to Sydney for the first time in 20 years on April 4, as part of its mission to bring around 1,900 Dutch citizens home. The aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, departed Sydney the following day for Amsterdam via Kuala Lumpur. It is understood that passengers remained on board during the Kuala Lumpur refuelling stop, meaning upon arrival in Amsterdam passengers had spent around 23 hours in their assigned seat.

LOT Polish Airlines Sydney to Warsaw 

In early March, LOT Polish Airlines started its #LOTdoDomu (LOTtoHome) operation to bring Polish nationals home. One of these flights by the Polish flag carrier was from Sydney. On March 28, a LOT Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner departed Sydney bound for Warsaw, the capital city of Poland. The aircraft stopped in Singapore to refuel before continuing to Warsaw with a total flight time of 18 hours 50 minutes.

Condor Australia to Germany

On March 30, German airline Condor flew around 800 passengers from Perth to Frankfurt. The travellers had previously spent days onboard the cruise ship The Artania which was stranded off the coast of West Australia coast in a stand-off with authorities. Condor operated four Boeing 767-300ER aircraft via Phuket bound for Frankfurt.

Condor has also operated a number of other B767-300ER flights to Germany from other parts of Australia including Melbourne and Sydney. Most of these flights have stopped in Condor’s temporary Phuket base.

Bonus: Scheduled repatriation flights

EgyptAir Sydney Cairo

EgyptAir is scheduled to operate into Sydney from Cairo in late April using one of the airline’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. The planned operation is as follows:

– 25 April: MS3054, departing Cairo 6:45am, arriving Manila 11:30pm

– 26 April: MS3055, departing Manila 12:30am, arriving Sydney 10:10am

– 27 April: MS3056, departing Sydney 1:00pm, arriving Cairo 10:55pm

Iberia Sydney to Madrid 

Spanish national airline Iberia plans to operate a repatriation flight from Sydney to Madrid on April 30, departing Sydney at 4.10pm. The flight is scheduled to stop in Bangkok to pick up additional passengers before continuing onwards to Madrid. The aircraft type for this flight is unknown, although Iberia is currently operating A330s and A350s for many of their long-haul repatriation flights.

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Tom Goward

Tom is a Hobart-based writer with a passion for aviation and travel.

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