21 April 2020

Canberra Airport humming as US Dreamliners make quick stopover

| Ian Bushnell
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United Airlines Flight 839

United Airlines Flight 839 from Los Angeles on the tarmac in Canberra on Thursday morning. Photo: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

A couple of big birds dropped into Canberra this morning (16 January) as stormy weather disrupted flights into Sydney.

The diversion of two US airliners added to the already busy times at Canberra Airport, which has been playing a key role in bushfire fighting efforts since October.

American Airlines AAL73 and United Airlines UAL 839, both flying from Los Angeles to Sydney, were in Canberra for about 45 minutes today before heading back to Sydney.

Both aircraft were Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which are mid-sized long-haul jets seating between 242 and 330 passengers.

United Airlines flight path

The United Airlines flight was in a holding pattern over Sydney and then diverted to Canberra on 16 January. Photo: flightradar24.com.

Canberra Airport Head of Aviation Michael Thomson said the airport had International Diversion Agreements in place with a number of airlines which allows them to land in Canberra.

Since the fire season started, the airport has seen an array of aircraft besides its domestic services and the international carriers, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways. In early October Canberra Airport began serving as the Portable Firefighting Airbase, operated by ACT Emergency Services Agency and located on the Fairbairn side of the airport.

Refuelling and refilling at the Portable Air Base for Large Aerial Tanker

Refuelling and refilling at the Portable Air Base for Large Aerial Tankers at Canberra Airport. Photo: ACT Emergency Services Agency.

Mr Thomson said this fire season the airport had accommodated multiple firefighting aircraft including large air tankers, Boeing 737s, a Hercules C130, MRH90 Navy Helicopters, an RJ85 fire bomber and C17 Globemasters.

Canberra Airport will also soon be a base for an American DC-10, one of four overseas Large Aerial Tankers promised by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The DC-10 and an MD-87 also from America, and two C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft from Japan will be based in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and rotated where needed.

A NZ Air Force helicopter

A NZ Air Force helicopter at Canberra Airport for bushfire support. Photo: Canberra Airport.

Mr Thomson said Canberra Airport served a huge region.

“We are the only curfew-free airport between Melbourne and Brisbane so this facility can operate, uninterrupted, to protect the wider region and give the Canberra and regional community the best support we can have during bushfire season, and the length of our runway is critical to facilitating the planes on the front lines of bushfires,” he said.

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