By Mark Evans
International Flights Resume in Sydney After Nearly 20 Months
On Nov. 1, Sydney Airport welcomed the first international flights under new quarantine-free international travel rules. The first arrival was planned to be operated by Qantas who appropriately scheduled a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Los Angeles. The flight touched down just after 6 a.m. local time.
The aircraft, VH-ZND, is painted in an indigenous livery inspired by a famous aboriginal artist – Emily Kame Kngwarraye. Named “Yam Dreaming,” Australians’ dreams of international travel have finally come true.
Qantas was, however, pipped to the post by a Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 which was given dispensation to land before the 6 a.m. curfew due to fuel reasons. 9V-SHV touched down at 5:18 a.m. local time.
Sydney in the state of New South Wales, was allowed to recommence international flights after the state reached a vaccination rate of 80% in mid-October. Melbourne in the state of Victoria, was also allowed to open up but other states are yet to reach the 80% vaccination milestone.
With the exception of a travel bubble with New Zealand which only lasted a few months, Australians have effectively been locked inside their country since March 21, 2020. Some citizens and permanent residents could return home but arrivals were capped at 6,000 per week for the whole country. This was reduced to 3,000 since June, with passengers forced into two weeks hotel quarantine. So flights only had a handful of people on board with a reported 46,000 Australians stranded abroad. A few managed to gain exemptions to leave the country, due to very strong compassionate reasons, but most applications were denied as Australia isolated itself from the rest of the world.
For the first time since then, those in New South Wales and Victoria are now free to leave the country and can return home without the need to quarantine. Strangely though, with most domestic borders still closed, Sydneysiders can fly to London, but not Brisbane.
Foreigners are still banned from entering Australia, meaning airlines have been slow to return to Sydney. This was noticeable on the first day with only 16 arrivals and 19 departures scheduled according to a press release from Australia’s busiest airport.
The majority of international airlines did continue to operate into Sydney throughout the pandemic, albeit mostly on reduced schedules. This was to meet the growing cargo demand with passenger seats not available on some flights. China Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines actually added additional flights from Taiwan and Hong Kong, and cargo operators also increased their schedules. FedEx now operates several flights a day and UPS sends a Boeing 747 from Honolulu most days.
Some airlines that ceased operations are returning. Most notably, Hawaiian Airlines announced they will return to Sydney on Dec. 15 and American will start operations again in January after pausing its flight since August. British Airways, the only European airline to fly to Sydney, is planning to return on March 27, some two years after last being seen on the kangaroo route via Singapore.
Qantas kicked off operations by launching flights from Sydney to Los Angeles and London and has also reopened its Sydney International First Lounge. Qantas Group Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully said: “The safe reopening of Australia’s borders and our first international flights will be a very special day for the entire Qantas team which is excited to get back flying and help reconnect our customers with family and friends around the world.”
Australia’s national carrier will also start flights to Singapore later this month but with only a few more destinations planned to restart in December it will clearly take some time before the international terminal returns to pre-pandemic levels. According to the airport’s website it handled 16.7 million international passengers in 2018.