Qantas passengers were forced to spend seven hours on a 787-9 sat stationary on the runway because Newcastle Airport is unable to accommodate longer-haul international arrivals.
The aircraft, VH-ZNJ, was flying from Santiago to Sydney but had to divert to the northern NSW city to avoid a storm.
However, Newcastle is set for a major runway and terminal upgrade that will enable it to support larger aircraft such as the Dreamliner in 2024.
The SMH reports Qantas staff fetched passengers McDonald’s and drinks in the early hours of the morning. The aircraft was unable to refuel immediately, and there was no accommodation in Newcastle or suitable immigration facilities at the airport.
Passengers were eventually allowed off into the terminal, and the flight departed just before 10 am this morning.
Qantas said the storm affected several airlines and required flights to be diverted to other destinations.
“This included our flight from Santiago to Sydney which diverted to Newcastle. Qantas customer support team members travelled from Sydney to Newcastle to assist customers in the terminal through the night,” said the airline.
“We understand that this would have been a frustrating experience for our customers and an uncomfortable night, and we thank them for their patience and understanding of the impact the storms had on flights into Sydney.”
Other diverted services included one from Wellington to Coffs Harbour, Christchurch to Brisbane and Tongatapu to Canberra.
The 787, VH-ZNJ, departed Santiago at 2:22 pm on 17 February as flight QF28 and was diverted to Newcastle. It then departed Newcastle at 9:52 am and landed in Sydney at 10:22 am on Sunday, despite being due to arrive at 5:50 pm the night before.
Australian Aviation reported in April last year how both major political parties committed to funding a $55 million upgrade of Newcastle Airport’s terminal before the federal election to make it ready for longer-haul international flights.
Santiago to Sydney on QF28 diverts to Newcastle for a sleepover! We were stuck on the Newcastle tarmac for 7 hours after the 14 hour flight from Chile. pic.twitter.com/4GhuIO3rsr
— mediawisemelbourne (@mediawisemelb) February 18, 2023
It came after the airport also secured a separate $66 million to rebuild its runway so it could handle heavier and larger widebodies. The funding was then confirmed in Labor’s federal budget later in 2022.
Pre-COVID, Newcastle would operate seasonal flights to New Zealand, but the twin revamps will open up its network and bring an additional 850,000 visitors to the Hunter and Northern NSW region over the next 20 years.
Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock said last year the investment has the potential to transform the city from a regional centre to a global destination.
“Our work to get Newcastle Airport international ready is already underway. Enabling works in our car parks are moving ahead, and construction of the new international terminal will be underway early next year,” he said.
“Conversations are also progressing with some of the world’s leading airlines. We recently attended the World Routes conference in the USA, where we continued conversations with our key stakeholders across the tourism and aviation sector and started new ones.
“This follows successful delegations to Singapore and Vietnam earlier this year. Our ambition is to connect to a significant Asian or Middle Eastern hub by 2024.”
Newcastle Airport is thought to be on track to be international-ready by 2024, with both airfield and terminal works scheduled for completion early that year.