Published on : Monday, February 3, 2020
Australian airlines, Qantas, completed its first evacuation flight from Wuhan. The flight, operated by the Australian Government, touched down at the RAAF Learmonth base at around 08:00 this morning UTC.
Qantas’ first flight from Wuhan has landed earlier today at Learmonth, Western Australia. Photo: Tomas Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons.
Onboard were some 270 passengers, crew, and health officials. 89 of the passengers were children under 16 years of age. The aircraft (VH-OEE) is now heading for Sydney and a deep clean while the evacuees are destined for 14 days quarantine at the Christmas Island detention center aboard smaller aircraft.
The detention center currently houses four detainees, a family of four refugees from Sri Lanka that includes two children under five.
Learmonth is approximately 1,200 kilometres up the Western Australia coast from Perth. The small town is home to a joint civil airport and RAAF base (one of three isolated barebones air bases maintained by skeleton staff). Learmonth also has a 3,047-meter concrete runway that can handle a full Qantas Boeing 747-400.
Learmonth Airport last hit the news when a Qantas A330-300 made an emergency landing there in 2008 following a series of sudden pitch-down maneuvers.
From Learmonth, it is nearly 1,600 kilometers north-west across the Indian Ocean to Christmas Island. The island’s airport has a single asphalt runway that is 2,103 meters long.
Flight tracking software indicates that at the time of writing, no aircraft have departed Learmonth for Christmas Island. Media reports said that passengers will be assessed by health officials before transferring to Christmas Island. This is expected to take a while.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was asked about the charter flight from Wuhan. The flight was originally scheduled to depart from Wuhan at 15:00 UTC yesterday but the aircraft didn’t push back until approximately 21:00. Mr Joyce said;
When questioned about risks to crew and passengers if an infected passenger was accidentally taken on-board, Mr Joyce said;
My Joyce praised his crew who he said all volunteered to do the flight, keen to help their fellow Australians, particularly so because of the high number of children needing to get out of Wuhan.
When asked what impact the coronavirus outbreak was having on Qantas, Mr Joyce said flights to China made up less about two per cent of overall international operations. He went on to say that across the Qantas portfolio, its international operations contributed less to overall profits than either Qantas domestic, loyalty or Jetstar operations. Mr Joyce said;
But the Qantas boss was bullish about his airline’s prospects of getting through the coronavirus outbreak relatively unscathed. He cited Qantas’ healthy balance sheet, cash flows, profitability and a diverse portfolio as buffers against economic shocks like the coronavirus outbreak.