Air Traffic Control recordings capture race to be first to touchdown in Sydney after borders open

It was set to be one of those "money can't buy" marketing days for Qantas. The airline and its CEO Alan Joyce had been leading the way in Australia's fight to get everyone vaccinated - at times front footing the government on big decisions.

November 1 was the day Australia would reopen its borders to the world. A story that's guaranteed to be the lead story across the country for the entire day.

With Australia having one of the most intense breakfast television markets in the world, it was a no-brainer to plan ahead and have a Qantas flight arriving while they were all on air, knowing they would all take a live shot of the flight's arrival.

That was Qantas' plan. An arrival, according to Sydney International Airport's website planned for 6am, just five minutes ahead of another flight full of vaccinated travellers coming from Singapore, on rival airline Singapore Airlines.

But you know what they say about best laid plans.

According to online weather data websites, Qantas flight QF12 was battling a 100-knot headwind for most of the 12,000km journey. On the other hand, despite departing Singapore late, the Singapore Airlines flight flew with 100 knots of wind blowing up its tail, making its 6288km journey much faster than expected.

Tracking the two flights live, the map resembled an America's Cup match race. You had the red team coming in from the right side and the blue team coming in from the left, both trying to use the wind to their advantage.

Qantas' flight from LA then had to go into a holding pattern due to noise restrictions at Sydney Airport, leaving the finish line wide open for the Airbus A350 making its way down from Singapore.

"SQ221, Welcome back to Sydney. I assume this makes you the first quarantine free arrival into Sydney," the air traffic controller said to hundreds of aviation enthusiasts tuned in to a live feed of the transmission online, before giving the Singapore pilots the latest in weather information.

"Thank you very much, cleared to land Singapore 221," the pilots responded.

About 40 minutes later, there was a much more rehearsed sounding arrival as the Qantas flight finally arrived from Los Angeles.

"Qantas 12 it's great to see you back in Australian skies, welcome back to Sydney," the controller said as he cleared QF 12 to land.

"It's great to be back, with the world opening up again, it's great to have Qantas doing what we do best, and that's bringing people back together again, thank you, Qantas 12," was the response from the pilot. 

It's possibly one of the few times air traffic control will ever mix with the marketing and PR departments.

Both airlines have international flights departing this evening, but to entirely different destinations, so for now the competition will have to be restricted to airfares and onboard service.

You can listen to a recording of air traffic control in the video above.