Qantas is assessing the operation its new Australia-Dallas, Texas, route after a jumbo jet ran low on fuel trying to make the non-stop leg to Brisbane yesterday and had to land on a Pacific island to fill up.
Pilots landed the Boeing 747-400ER in Noumea for an unscheduled pitstop after battling stronger than expected headwinds after leaving the US, a Qantas spokesman said.
"They [the pilots] made a decision that it was better, as a precaution, to divert to Noumea and take more fuel on board, rather than continuing," said spokesman Thomas Woodward.
"As a result, they had to divert to Noumea to refuel, which led to a two-hour delay getting into Brisbane," he said.
Headwinds in May have been "unseasonably strong", he said.
Qantas began flying the non-stop route between Australia and Dallas, Texas, only two weeks ago.
The airline knew it was stretching the range of the Boeing 747-400ERs to make the 13,816-kilometre trip, one of the longest non-stop routes in the world and the longest flown by 747s.
The outward leg to the US leaves Sydney and makes the journey, with the assistance of tail winds, direct in 15 hours and 25 minutes.
But coming back to Australia the planes take 16 hours and are scheduled to arrive in Brisbane first for refuelling — headwinds increase fuel consumption and shorten the airliner's range — before heading for Sydney.
The Dallas route is the new jewel in Qantas' network and bolsters its alliance with American Airlines, but the incident has the Flying Kangaroo looking closely at how the route will operate in to the future.
"We're a few weeks into the new route and we'll keep monitoring it," Mr Woodward said.
"We're gaining as much operational experience and getting as much data as we can from the flights but it's too early to draw any conclusions.
"If it becomes an ongoing issue, we'll obviously look at ways of addressing it."
The pilots' union has recently accused the airline of exerting "subtle pressure" on pilots through cost-cutting measures to curtail surplus fuel carried, increasing the risk of refuelling diversions and inconveniencing passengers.
A Qantas A380 flying from Singapore to Melbourne was diverted to Adelaide on May 17 after pilots calculated the plane was running low on fuel.
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