Hi Fly repatriation mission one of the longest A340-300 passenger flights ever flown

Apr 14, 2020

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The COVID-19 outbreak continues to wreak havoc on the aviation industry, with airlines parking planes and cutting back or completely suspending their operations. Rapidly-changing flight schedules have made it difficult, if not impossible, for stranded travellers to return home, and coronavirus-related restrictions have only exacerbated the problem.

Governments have turned to repatriation flights to transport citizens back to their home country when commercial options are no longer available. On 11 April 2020, one of these flights, operated by a Hi Fly Airbus A340-300, made history as one of the longest-ever passenger flights on that aircraft model. Clocking in at 16 hours and 16 minutes, the chartered plane flew nonstop from Montevideo, Uruguay (MVD) to Melbourne, Australia (MEL) — a journey of 6,700 nautical miles (7,710 statute miles).

The 112 people on board had been stranded for over two weeks off the coast of Uruguay on the Aurora Expeditions cruise ship Greg Mortimer, after nearly 60% of its passengers tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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As reported by Australia’s SBS News, Aurora Expeditions chartered the Hi Fly aircraft to evacuate 96 Australians and 16 New Zealanders after Uruguay’s government initially refused to let passengers disembark from the cruise ship. The Greg Mortimer had been anchored in Montevideo since March 27 after its 16-day Antarctic cruise was cut short due to the spread of coronavirus on the vessel.

Hi Fly, a Portugal-based airline, operates a fleet of Airbus A320, A330, A340 and A380 aircraft on a wet-lease basis and has played a key role in repatriation and humanitarian flights in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. As part of the airline’s emergency COVID response, all repatriation flights are stocked with masks, safety suits, aprons, gowns, disinfectants, gloves and biohazard bags. Upon arriving in Melbourne, passengers were transferred to a hotel to begin 14 days of quarantine.

Related: Wet leasing explained: Why some flights are operated by another airline’s plane and crew

The specially-equipped aircraft that operated this repatriation flight, 9H-SUN, departed Montevideo at 4:44 a.m. GMT 11 April, and arrived in Melbourne at 9 p.m. GMT. The flight passed over to the Antarctic border — and while transoceanic flights in the Southern Hemisphere are rare, the A340 is well suited to this type of operation. With four engines, it’s not subject to ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) which other long-haul aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 must take into consideration. Under ETOPS, twin-engine aircraft must operate within a certain distance (in minutes) of a suitable diversion airport in the event of an engine failure.

(Image courtesy of FlightAware.)

The Hi Fly charter joins the list of unusual coronavirus-related repatriation flights, which includes the longest flight ever operated by Austrian Airlines (a 17-hour Boeing 777 flight from Vienna to Sydney) and El Al flights to Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru and Australia — the first time the airline has flown to any of these countries.

Stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 travel news by bookmarking TPG’s coronavirus hub page.

Featured photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images.

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