a sunset seen through a window

Qantas dialled up the PR blitz this month with highly publicised research flights, exploring the lengths humanity will go to avoid a connecting flight. The airline trialled non stop flights between both New York to Sydney, and London to Sydney, with flights passing the 19 hour mark.

Skipping all the logical questions, such as whether anyone actually wants 20 hour flights, Qantas is now asking Airbus and Boeing whether they can do better, after rejecting their initial proposals.

a white airplane in the skySuccessful Trials, But…

Both Qantas’ “Project Sunrise” research (media blitz) flights were successful in proving their main point: a plane took off in a far away destination, and landed successfully in a far off destination without all that much suffering from passengers, or crew. Or at least, that’s what they’ve told us.

The flights from both New York and London to Sydney survived the 19+ hour ultra long haul test, but after reviewing proposals from both Boeing and Airbus to make these long haul pipe dreams into a bookable, commercially viable reality, the airline sent both back to the drawing board.

Airbus had proposed an ultra long haul “ULR” variant of their current Airbus A350-1000, and Boeing hoped to modify a yet to fly Boeing 777-8X as their best contender. Neither was accepted. After a tumultuous year for aircraft manufacturers, Qantas is looking for additional reassurances and long term viability guarantees, in addition to greater in flight performance.

Making The Math Work

For the foreseeable future, fuel is a primary concern in the economic viability of any ultra long haul route, and while it’s one thing to transport 50 people on an ultra long haul journey as Qantas has in these promotional stunts, it’s an entirely other feat to pack a plane full of passengers, cargo and crew and make it happen.

For now, Qantas has rejected both proposals. The Sydney Morning Herald quotes Qantas executive Tino La Spina , Chief Executive of Qantas’ international arm…

“We’ve asked them to go back and re-look at that, to sharpen their pencils, because there still was a gap there. So we’re eagerly awaiting to see what we get back from that.” – Tino La Spino

Of course with the minor detail of a viable aircraft aside, there’s also the inevitable regulatory hurdles the airline will also face, with asking more hours from pilots and crew on these epic journeys, and gaining approvals from the FAA in the USA, CAA in the UK and Australian CASA.

Qantas hopes Boeing and Airbus will find greater efficiency in fuel consumption, use of space and perhaps even bespoke design. Qantas eyes 2022 as a launch date for this “Project Sunrise” project, but considering an aircraft is yet to be assembled, and 2020 is just around the corner, that’s quite a hopeful timeline.

Project Sunrise Ambitions

The project started off with dreams of exercise bikes, social spaces and wellness initiatives, but now it seems to simply be looking for an aircraft with enough muster. There’s no question that wealthy corporate customers are eager for such a product.

The airline proved that a market exists with the launch of last years London-Perth direct flight route, which is now one of the most profitable routes in the world, despite just one daily frequency.

People, or at least businesses, are willing to pay an extreme premium to save time and energy in their travels, and connecting Sydney with two global banking hubs in New York and London could mean even greater profit margins. There’s just that one hold up: a viable aircraft. Back to the drawing board they go…


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I’m curious whether one of Qantas’s competitors will simply take what Airbus/Boeing has offered QF to beat QF and launch a historic commercial nonstop flight between SYD-JFK and SYD-LHR.

  2. I wonder if AB and B have just reached the wall on such flights. Plus the number of aircraft that could be sold may not be very large making the R&D more expensive than the possible return.

  3. Boeing has a history of developing an extended range version of a jet solely for Qantas in the 747-400ER, which allowed nonstop flights from LAX to MEL. No other airline operated the passenger version of this jet. Given the number of existing (or planned) variants of both the A350 and 777X, the additional R&D for “Project Sunrise” (at this stage at least) may not be that great. There is no doubt a market for these flights, but whether the economics can be made to work – even with the hefty fare premium QF can command – remains to be seen.

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