Sydney-London non-stop service: can Qantas make it work?

Major airlines around the globe are pushing the limits and capabilities of next-generation aircraft by increasingly targeting long-haul and super-haul flights across continents. One such ambitious project is underway for Qantas – Australia’s national carrier is expecting top manufacturers to present their final offers for the ultra-long-haul aircraft that would be operated on the planned Sydney-London route, set to be the world’s longest commercial flight when it is launched in 2023. The ultra-comfortable passenger experience boasted about by the airline’s CEO, on the other hand, may not come to fruition.

Last year, on May 24th, Qantas launched what it hailed as “historic” non-stop service between Perth and London. The over 9,000 mile (14,500 km) flight operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner took just over 17 hours to complete. But this service was just a warm-up before the airline rolls-out direct flights from Sydney to London and New York.

In 2017, Qantas’ CEO Alan Joyce announced the airline is targeting direct flights from the east coast of Australia to London and New York by 2022, Bloomberg reported at the time. It was planned that the Sydney-London service would take 20 hours, 20 minutes, while the Sydney-New York route would be covered in 18 hours, 7 minutes.

Other possible routes envisioned at the time would have included Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, linking Australia directly to major cities in the Americas, Europe and Africa, and thus, revolutionizing air travel in Australia.

To make the super-haul flight viable, Joyce turned to the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers – Airbus and Boeing. Latest report from indicates the airline has asked the plane makers to present their “best and final offer” for long-haul jetliners capable of the up to 21-hour flight between Sydney to London by August 2019. The choice is between the ultra-long-range Airbus A350 and the Boeing 777X, various media sources indicate.

As is the case, the main challenge for the Airbus and Boeing is range and capability: the aircraft manufacturer would have to configure a jetliner that could fly about 300 passengers farther than any regular service to date. For instance, the Boeing 787-9, operating the Perth-London route, is configured with a total seat count of 236 passengers.

“Farther” also means beating Singapore Airlines (SIA), which made headlines last year when it re-launched its non-stop Singapore-New York service, becoming the world’s longest commercial flight. Launched on October 11, 2018, the inaugural flight lasted 17 hours, 52 minutes covering some 9,500 miles (15,300 km).

The service is operated by one of the carrier’s Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range) jets, a variant of the A350 XWB Family aircraft ordered specifically for such long distance flights. Configured in a two-class layout, the jetliner can seat 161 passengers.

According to Forbes estimations, on average, SIA’s Singapore-New York service covers 9,534 miles taking up to 18 hours, 30 minutes. The introduction of this service dethroned Qatar Airways’ Auckland-Doha service as the world’s longest flight. Operated by Boeing 777-200LR (Long Range) the Qatar Airways’ 9,032 mile-long route takes 17 hours, 50 minutes.

For now, Qantas’ Perth – London service comes at third place, covering 9,009 miles and lasting 17 hours, 25 minutes. This new service, in turn, overtook Emirates’ Dubai – Auckland non-stop flights that covered 8,824 miles, lasting 17 hours, 10 minutes (operated by Airbus A380).

Qantas’s ambitious endeavor, amplified somewhat to the likes of a space mission or a secret defense project by its name, is called Project Sunrise. Embedded in the project was the enthusiasm to come up with creative ideas to enhance passenger experience on the grueling up to 20-hour flight (forget all the usual in-flight entertainment). To take it up a notch, Joyce teased introducing gym, bar, and sleeping areas, as well as child-care facilities, on board the aircraft.

According to the latest report by Bloomberg, Qantas may have to scrap all those plans for bunks, beds, and a gym. The planes proposed for the Sydney-London and Sydney-New York by Airbus and Boeing meet the range capabilities, however, neither can carry the weight that Qantas initially planned (aside from the various facilities and the up to 300 passenger count, the airplane would have to be able to carry more fuel for unexpected headwinds and emergencies).

And there are other hurdles ahead as well: Qantas needs to reach a new agreement with pilots, who would be subject to longer working hours that the ultra-long-flights will require. The carrier also needs the necessary regulatory approvals. As for now, whether the airline chooses Airbus or Boeing, the aircraft would be delivered in 2022 and the first flights could be expected in 2023, Bloomberg cites Joyce as saying.


Image: BriYYZ (CC BY-SA 2.0)