If a flight is going to experience any form of mechanical or electrical failure flying the 11,789 great circle mapper kilometres between Sydney and Buenos Aires, then the turn back on the route this morning by Qantas flight QF17 occurred at a very timely point.
The 747-400 with 220 persons on board was only an hour out of Sydney heading toward Antarctica when smoke in the cockpit caused an immediate turn around and a priority clearance for landing in Sydney.
The cause of the smoke is still being investigated, but a Qantas spokesperson said it was hoped that the same jet would be cleared to operate the service, one of the longest routes flown by the airline, later this evening.
The jet took off at 11.11 am and landed back at Sydney at 1.22 pm.
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The track shown on the Great Circle Mapper site is nominal. The flights to Buenos Aires usually track further north than shown to take advantage of prevailing westerly tail winds. However in the opposite direction, on occasions, and subject to special rules, the flights from the Argentine capital will track as far south as the line shown, or even further south, to avoid a prolonged encounter with adverse head winds.
There are no properly equipped alternative runways for commercial flights on Antarctica, and graded ice strips for supply flights by large jet aircraft in the middle of southern ‘summer’ are few and far between.
On Friday afternoon a Qantas 767 that had just departed from Perth for Melbourne made a precautionary return after the pilots noted abnormal vibration in one engine.
This is the first statement issued by Qantas this afternoon prior to it revealing that there had been smoke in the cockpit :