Where is Qantas flying right now, well not over Afghanistan

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Officially Qantas is flying pretty much nowhere. Domestic flights had got back almost to normal until current outbreaks and lockdowns emptied the departure and arrival boards. The Sydney-Melbourne route was one of the busiest in the world, it certainly isn’t at the moment.

Look at the Qantas website and the official report is ‘All Qantas international flights, excluding certain flights between Australia and New Zealand, are currently suspended, due to government restrictions.’ Since the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble is currently seriously deflated there’s not much happening there either.

The reality, however, is that there are lots of Qantas international flights in operation, it’s just that you can’t book them with Qantas. Want to fly London-Darwin (Northern Territory), Frankfurt-Darwin or Delhi-Darwin – all non-stop flights which certainly weren’t happening pre-pandemic – and you need to contact DFAT, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, and enquire about ‘repatriation flights’ bringing Australians stranded overseas back home. The flights to Darwin are particularly popular because of the quarantine hotel facility at Howard Springs just outside Darwin. Any lucky Australians allowed to return home have to go into 14 days quarantine on arrival and quarantine rooms are in very short supply.

▲ My Qantas 787 Dreamliner in Perth

All these repatriation flights are non-stops and are often very long range. Pre-pandemic Qantas were operating Perth-London and London-Perth every day and I posted on that flight, when I took it in 2019, and later on why I didn’t intend to take it again. The Great Circle Distance between London and Perth is 7,829 nautical miles or 14,499km, which is slightly longer than London-Darwin at 7,491 nautical miles, 13,873km. Pre-pandemic Qantas was talking about even longer flights like London-Sydney or New York-Sydney. That’s all on hold of course, but conceivably long haul non-stops could be more popular one day since stopping or transiting anywhere at the moment is likely to involve testing, vaccinating or quarantining headaches.

Other surpising places or routes for Qantas have included Istanbul-Darwin and, soon, Santiago-Darwin. Qantas flights on these unusual routes can be found with the wonderful website or app FlightRadar24. Just put in the registration of the aircraft and its recent operations pop up, my Perth-London flight was on VH-ZNG and I came back on VH-ZNB. There were some even stranger recent Qantas operations like 16,185km from Brisbane to Vieux Fort with VH-ZNF and then a few weeks later 14,871km from Bridgetown to Dhaka with VH-ZNJ! Why one earth would Qantas be flying to Saint Lucia and Barbados, both in the Caribbean, and then on to Bangladesh? Cricket, the Australian cricket team was playing the West Indies and then Bangladesh.

▲ Flight PYTHN52 a 60-year-old USAF RC135W, registration 62-4138 over Kabul in Afghanistan.

Where Qantas – or any other airline – won’t be flying at the moment is over Afghanistan. The London-Darwin or Frankfurt-Darwin flights would have routinely flown over Afghanistan, I’ve taken that route a number of times myself. Right now the only aircraft in the air over Afghanistan will be military aircraft. That USAF RC135W Rivet Joint, the military reconaissance version of the old 707, had flown to Afghanistan from Doha in Qatar on the Gulf, and was flying back and forth around Kabul at 1715 Kabul time (515pm) on Tuesday 17 August.

◄ An hour and a half later it had made a lot more circuits.