Qantas Unveils Its Shortest International Flight

Australian airline Qantas likes to make a splash about new and resuming international routes. Los Angeles, Singapore, London – Qantas will make sure you know they’re back. But last week, Qantas locked in another more unassuming international route that’s distinctive for several reasons.

Qantas makes flights to Dili permanent

Qantas officially added Dili (DIL), the capital of Timor-Leste, to its route map last week with flights from Darwin (DRW). Since last April, the airline has been flying between the two cities once a week using Boeing 737-800 aircraft via an Australian Government essential air services contract. But that contract has run its course, and flights to Dili now need to prove their commercial worth without the cushion of government aid. However, Qantas is prepared to have a point on this.

QF351 pushes back from Darwin at 13:30 local time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the short one hour and 20-minute flight to Dili, landing there at 14:20 local time. After less than 60 minutes on the ground, QF350 rolls down the runway at Dili at 15:10 before touching down in Darwin at 17:00.


What makes the Darwin – Dili route unusual?

So what’s unusual about this service? It’s a short route at 450 miles (725 kilometers) between two fairly unremarkable destinations. But let’s start ticking the boxes. Qantas usually brags about its longest international routes, but this is Qantas’ shortest international route. The flight is also the only international route Qantas operates with an Embraer E190. Qantas says the aircraft’s size, range, and economics make this otherwise unviable route viable.

Because more? Disregarding the Darwin – London flights, which are only temporary, this service is the first new permanent Qantas international route from Darwin since 2008. The route also bucks a long-term trend of Qantas dropping short-haul international routes to small islands in the neighborhood . Think that’s not the case? When’s the last time Qantas ran regular commercial services into places like the Cocos Islands, Tahiti, the Solomons, and Port Vila?

Embraer E190 Qantas

Qantas will use an Embraer E190 jet on the Darwin – Dili route. Photo: Embraer

Much needed connectivity for Dili’s Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport

The route is also unusual because it provides much-needed connectivity to Dili’s Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport. The number of passenger flights in and out of DIL each day can generally be comfortably counted on one hand. Qantas is now operating three return flights a week from Darwin, picking up to five weekly return flights in July. Also flying into Dili is Airnorth with daily flights from Darwin and Sriwijaya Air flying several times a week from Denpasar.

“We’re excited to be officially adding Dili to our route map and helping to build the incredibly important links between Australia and one of our closest neighbours,” says QantasLink Chief Operating Officer Petrea Bradford. “Travelers from Timor-Leste will also be able to seamlessly transfer through Darwin to the Qantas Group’s extensive domestic and international network.”

Well, yes, but aside from those temporary London flights (currently due to wrap up in June), good luck hitching a Qantas international flight from Darwin to anywhere else.

However, the Darwin – Dili route does demonstrate that those Embraer E190s are finding a nice niche at Qantas. The airline is wet leasing the planes from Brisbane-based Alliance Airlines. So far, they’ve been exclusively deployed onto domestic routes, including many new domestic routes where passenger numbers are too light to work on Qantas’ domestic staple, the Boeing 737-800. Down the track, the Embraer may also facilitate the return of Qantas services to some long-abandoned nearby international destinations

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