Passengers traveling on Qantas' direct flight between Santiago, Chile, and Sydney, Australia, embarked on an extraordinary journey on July 14th. Instead of the usual route across the Southern Pacific Ocean, the aircraft took a more southern path, flying over the coast of Antarctica. This change in route was necessitated by strong headwinds along the regular path, which would have increased the flight time and fuel consumption.
Qantas operates a four-weekly service between Santiago's Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) and Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD), typically taking around 14 hours. Normally, the flight traverses the southern regions of the Pacific Ocean. However, due to the prevailing headwinds in that area, the decision was made to venture further south. By flying to 74.17°S instead of the usual 70°, the aircraft was able to avoid the strong headwinds, ensuring a smoother and more efficient journey.
On this particular flight, passengers were unable to witness the awe-inspiring sight of the frozen continent. The Antarctic winter meant that darkness persisted throughout the day. Had it been the Southern Hemisphere summer, with extended daylight hours, passengers would have been treated to a remarkable view.
The flight was operated by VH-ZNM, a two-year-old Boeing 787-9 specially assigned to this route. This aircraft is ETOPS (Extended Operations) certified, allowing it to fly a certain distance away from suitable diversion airfields. This certification ensures that even in the event of engine failure, the aircraft can continue to fly safely. Qantas' 787s are ETOPS 330 certified, meaning they can operate on a single engine for up to 330 minutes before needing to land at an emergency airport. With this certification, the only area off-limits in Antarctica is the central part of the continent.
It's worth noting that Qantas has previously flown across Antarctica during summer charter flights, providing passengers with breathtaking views of the Antarctic Coast and its mountains when the continent experiences all-day sunlight. The airline also offers services for those eager to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).
Furthermore, during the pandemic, Qantas operated its longest commercial flight at the time. Departing from Buenos Aires Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE), the flight flew directly to Australia's Northern Territory, landing at Darwin International Airport (DRW). This flight took a slightly more southern route across the frozen continent than the recent QF28 journey. Darwin served as the primary entry point during the pandemic, requiring mandatory isolation for repatriated citizens as per government regulations.
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