Airbus Expected To Unveil A350-1000ULR

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Update: Here’s the latest on Airbus’ proposal to Qantas.

We know that Airbus and Boeing are competing to build the world’s longest range aircraft. Currently the world’s longest range aircraft is the A350-900ULR. This plane is exclusively operated by Singapore Airlines, on their routes from Singapore to Newark, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

However, some airlines want more than the 9,500+ mile range offered by that plane. For example, Qantas wants to launch nonstop flights from Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York, which is something they’re referring to as “Project Sunrise.”

Both Airbus and Boeing have been competing to try and build something to Qantas’ specifications, as presumably other airlines might be interested in this as well. The assumption is that Airbus would be building a modified version of the A350, while Boeing would be building a modified version of the 777X.

In June, Airbus confirmed that they had built a plane that was capable of meeting Qantas’ needs, though at the time they didn’t provide more details of what that would look like.

Well, while they still haven’t officially confirmed anything, it’s being reported that Airbus is preparing to launch the Airbus A350-1000ULR, which presumably would be the plane they’ve been talking about.

In other words, this plane would have the capacity of the A350-1000 (which is bigger than the -900), while it would have an even better range than the A350-900ULR.

Qantas’ desired nonstop flights from Australia to London and New York would cover a distance of 9,950 miles to 10,573 miles, so they’d need to have a bit more range than the A350-900ULR, especially if they were hoping for a denser configuration. Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULRs only have 161 seats, with business class and premium economy, and no economy. This also greatly limits the weight of the planes, as well as the fuel burn.

Bottom line

We’ll have to wait for an official announcement from Airbus, though the concept of the A350-1000ULR sure seems likely. Airbus had officially confirmed they’ve developed a plane capable of operating Qantas’ desired flights nonstop, and as a concept the A350-1000ULR is exactly what you’d expect.

It’ll be interesting to see if that’s what Qantas goes with, or if Boeing has a contender as well. Regardless, it sure seems like Airbus is kicking Boeing’s butt lately. That’s partly due to Boeing’s on problems (especially with the 737 MAX), though Airbus has also been innovating, like with the recent introduction of the A321XLR.

I’d be curious to see what other airlines might be interested in something like the A350-1000ULR.

  1. Very cool in terms of innovation in aviation but you will not find me stuck on a plane even in first or business class for 20+ hours. I would just go stir crazy.

  2. Can’t they just stick a bigger fuel tank on the plane? Maybe remove some cargo space to make room.

    Obviously I’m not an engineer.

  3. @ Matt

    The market is not homogenous. I have a friend who was CEO of a big international business based in London. She thought nothing of flying from London to Sydney for a working lunch, then getting straight back on the plane to fly home (1st class, of course, but frankly that would be an ugly, ugly trip even if you were the sole passenger on a private jet). People like her want direct flights wherever they can, no matter how long stuck on a plane (especially since WiFi has spread).

    My own parsimonious employers pay for J class not F, but I still mostly prefer longer direct flights — which is why from my LHR base BA is, in that respect, brilliant (more than two dozen flights to North American gateways, all non-stop, plus the main destinations I go to in South America). Flying eastwards, mostly to Asia-Pacific, I do the opposite, using Qatar and splitting the flight in Doha. I’ve used the ULH LHR-PER but, like you, I found it to be a bit too much in a not particularly nice environment.

  4. @the nice paul I’m lucky enough that my employer is me and i’ll take a longer route with a stop; not least because a billable hour is good whether it is in the air or on the ground. Keep the customers happy with lower pads through expenses and me with more billable hours and a break in the trip.

  5. Would these long range planes sign the end of Airlines from the Middle East?
    No need to stop in Doha or Dubai anymore for lomg distance flights

  6. I wonder at what range does the flight becomes more costly due to weight penalty caused by additional fuel it needs to carry for long range flights.

  7. Sung, every range. Every pound of fuel from a cessna to an a380, requires fuel to carry it. It sort of asymptotically approaches a final fuel number for a given range, but it’s always more expensive to have to go farther. And then structure gets heavier to carry more fuel,passenger,fuel tank load, etc.

    Now it’s still cheaper than having to do two flights instead of one and there’s the goal. But as a380 operators have found out, if every flight isn’t nearly full, it’s not a money maker. And airlines are more concerned about money than bragging rights otherwise singapore wouldn’t have canceled its a340 newark-singapore all-business-class route a few years ago.

  8. @alex – these ULH flights are always going to be to be expensive. It doesn’t take 10% more fuel to fly 10% further, the cost is significantly more than the distance gained. Most would still prefer to pay much less and have a stop. This is especially true in coach. Imagine 20 hours in coach? I’d venture a guess that it would have to be cheaper than 1 stop through Middle East for most people to chose that option.

  9. @Alex – no. Think PER-LHR. To (mostly) eliminate the ME, you would need a LOT of flights to pick up the traffic on the route. (Think about what Eurostar did to UK-Europe flights) ME airlines are well established to numerous destinations. They might lose a little traffic, but you wont see the end of the ME airlines any time soon.

    @Sung – depends on the route, to be fair. While all airlines are in the business to make money, part of the ULH promise is “prestige”. (SQ on the EQR to SIN route, QR on the DOH-AKL route, Qantas LHR-PER, etc). Airlines get some name recognition because of the exclusivity of some of these routes. To make these ULH routes work, you need to have significant passenger demand, partially because of what you mention. Newer jets are more fuel efficient and lighter due to the widespread use of composites and more efficient engines these days. I have no doubt that there are significant teams of folks for the airlines interested in ULH that are working that very economic question. It is a very fine line. Because of the necessary fuel requirement, any blip in the fuel prices has the potential to impact route profitability – even with hedging. Its also not just about ULH point-to-point. Its brand recognition as we just mentioned, its getting pax “in-theater” and onto other services of the airline (I am thinking things like LHR-PER and onward to ADL, or EWR-SIN, and onward to somewhere else in Asia on SQ).

  10. @Alex, your are partly correct as the passengers travelling from Aussie cities have a better and quicker option now. But as said, those who want stops in between would continue Asian carriers.

  11. Sure this is innovation from a technological perspective, but that doesn’t mean there’s a real market is for flights this long. The A380 was innovative too, but it had a pretty limited customer base and Boeing has benefitted tremendously by not being the first mover in that market.

    Time will tell.

  12. @Alex no, nothing will eliminate the ME because they do not need money to operate. They’re already losing millions on most of the routes they operate currently.

  13. Airbus is making one great stride after another while Boeing is going down the deep rabbit hole, all because of saving a few dollars and maximized profit. one would think after 40 years of service that a new design would be a good idea but the one genius at Boeing prevails.

  14. Not sure what you mean by ‘kicking Boeing Butt’ with regards to this article. Airbus controls the single aisle market, especially during the 737 Max disaster, but in terms of wide bodies which is what this article is talking about, it is still Boeing world.

  15. Lucky,

    The A321XLR isn’t innovating. It’s copying Boeing’s NMA project and launching it at the same airshow Boeing was going to launch at. However the NMA didn’t launch due to the MAX issues and so Airbus’ re-badged A321 with a bigger fuel tank gets all the fame.

  16. I’d think that the MEB3 airlines have alot more to worry about than ULR aircraft, i.e. the Chinese. Researching for flights next year to HND/NRT and back from BKK, I couldn’t help but notice how much cheaper the Chinese outfits were, in J class at least.

  17. I wonder how many frames they can realistically sell. I would have a hard time of coming up with a market for even 100 frames.

  18. Matt,

    It’s 20 hours either way. In fact it is longer if you have to change planes somewhere.

    The real test is how you feel when you arrive. And two flights with a few hours in the middle of the night in West Asia somewhere would be more tiring for me.

  19. You can have the 20 hour flight. From OZ I’m more than happy to do a stop to get to Europe or the North America east coast. After so many hours – 12 in my book – it becomes insufferable – even in F with all the Krug champagne and caviar. The only other solution is to use the oxygen masks to induce a sleep state for pax after their meals. They could lie flat in suspended animation for 15 hours. They’d have to have a doctor onboard such flights as part of the crew, along with a nurse to assist with the wake state. Sounds more like a medevac aircraft to me. Instead of limos waiting to transport F pax upon landing, ambulances would be ready to rush them to ER for recovery.

  20. @RTBones the PER-LHR flight wasn’t meant to disrupt the ME traffic. It was more to reduce a hop for Australian travelers headed to Europe out of the growing secondary/tertiary cities in Australia. If you are traveling from Sydney or Melbourne then the kangaroo route through the middle east still makes sense. If you’re coming from Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Broome, Darwin or someplace else in Australia then you had to fly to Sydney or Melbourne and *then* do the kangaroo hop through the ME. Those travelers can now get to Europe in one hop via PER. This also explains why it’s one flight per day since it’s not a large volume but it has had exceptionally high utilization on that one flight.

  21. My money is on Qantas choosing the B777-X. Alan Joyce won’t be able to resist the 10-abreast at the back.

  22. @Lucky — “… Airbus is kicking Boeing’s butt lately. That’s partly due to Boeing’s on problems (especially with the 737 MAX), …”

    Boeing had to delay certifying the B777-X due to GE-9X engine issues … do you consider this as “due to Boeing’s own problems”, rather than “due to GE’s own problems”?

  23. Those of you complaining about 20+hrs on board probably said the same when QF launched PER-LHR. You’re clearly not the group QF is going. With load factors of over 96% that route has proved naysayers wrong.

    I’m pretty sure QF has done enough research and know the demand for such ultra long range flights. The DXB/DOH-Auckland flights have been running fine. United is also apparently making money even with their bad business class on the 787-9 from say SFO-SIN.
    This could be proper replacement for QF’s A380s. Ofcourse Boeing will come with bottom shelf prices for the 777-X that has so far been selling rather underwhelmingly.

  24. When the 747 came out there were years between the – 200, – 300 – 400 and – 8 variants arriving. It seems like the B787 and A350 variants are coming out at lightening speed. At this rate the remote desert airfields will be filled with abandoned aircraft deemed “old” when only recently delivered. Time to get shares in companies recycling metal/carbon fibre from used aircraft

  25. From a passenger perspective ( mostly mine) the 2 key factors are time and money. I have plenty of the former but not so much of the latter that I would throw it away at something extravagantly expensive just to avoid some relatively minor discomfort.
    So I’m not part of the demographic.

  26. Just flew SQ21 from EWR-SIN on their A350-900ULR in business class and it was probably the best, fastest flight I have ever taken. Slept 9 hrs straight (more than the 6hrs I sleep at home) drug/alcohol-free. The flight seemed like it was over before it even started. Got off the plane refreshed, hydrated, ready to go without any jet-lag or layover interruption. Only thing I noticed was a little more post-flight motion vertigo (like getting off of a weeklong cruise). I think people commenting that they would go stir-crazy are over-reacting (although I can’t speak for premium economy…that could be tough). Given the chance I would take this flight again in a heartbeat. Smaller (ie A350) ULR planes are definitely the direction that Boeing and Airbus should be taking right now. Planning a trip to S Africa in 2020. Would love to fly nonstop LAX to JNB given the alternatives.

  27. With Boeing 777-8 delayed. And Airbus preparing to launch the A350-1000ULR. I think it’s pretty obvious what project sunrise has come to. What I want to see is the specifications of the 1000ULR. Has Airbus been able to deliver on the promise to make it even more efficient, carry as many passengers and go as far?

  28. @ BillC

    Manufacturers increasingly prefer to offer a single engine type for each type of aircraft. Since Boeing decided to team up with GE, yes, I’d say it’s Boeing’s fault if their chosen sub-contractor/ partner fails to deliver.

    Who else’s fault is it?

    BA has chosen new J suites from a company that can only manufacture 3 seats a day. Is it therefore not BA’s fault that it will take 3-4 years to retrofit its entire longhaul fleet? Are they completely innocent, and it’s all the fault of the evil seat manufacturer? Of course it was BA’s decision, and they’re responsible.

    It never ceases to amaze me how forcefully Boeing apologists defend their favourite company.

  29. @The nice Paul — “… it’s Boeing’s fault if their chosen sub-contractor/ partner fails to deliver.”

    Well … you’re missing a very key point in your finger-pointing (no pun intended) — IF Boeing chose GE Aviation, with its exemplary past track records, to be its engine supplier, all the while knowing AHEAD of time that its GE-9X engines were definitely going to experience time schedule delay problems exceeding project-allocated delay margins, then I’d agree with you. However, since that is NOT the case, then you can NOT pin the blame on Boeing! Look at Airbus and its problems with A320NEO deliveries, due to delivery problems with the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engines — are you also going to say that was the fault of Airbus?

    This is NOT about being any Boeing apologist, but about taking an objective perspective towards such “teething” problems that ALWAYS accompany technology and engineering breakthroughs — GE with its development of the world’s largest airliner engines, and P&W with its development of an entirely new class of airliner engines based on its GTF mechanism!

  30. @Noah – you are, of course, correct in that PER-LHR wasnt meant to disrupt ME3 traffic, but that wasnt exactly what I was going for either. I was attempting to use PER-LHR as an illustration. As you point out, that flight has high utilization, but low overall volume of passengers. The discussion started by talking about ultra long haul flights. @Alex asked if the new ULH planes coming out would mean the demise of the the ME3, and I said no. If your aim was to put a dent in the ME3, you’d need enough routes with sufficient volume of passengers to challenge them. Even with the new ULH aircraft, that is an enormous volume of flights. @Sung then asked about the economics of operating ULH routes – where is the line that says while you can operate such flights it is or isnt viable to do so. I was simply attempting to point out that there are a lot of factors (not just having the jet with the legs to go that far) that go into deciding whether a ULH route is viable or profitable.

    Good discussion!

  31. I’ve travelled between Australia and Europe many times, normally in economy, and I’ve never enjoyed connections (unless I’m actually stopping over).

    When I first get out the seat I’m relieved to stretch my legs, then after 5 minutes I’m just bored and sat down in a glorified waiting room. Almost immediately after sitting down on the next flight I’m as uncomfortable as I was before! I could achieve the same thing by taking a few laps of the plane.

  32. Possibly a combination of 10 abreast and a new high tech aviation sleeping pill ….resulting in 50% less cabin crew?

  33. @ BillC

    *Of course* it’s Airbus’s fault when one of its partners fails to deliver. They chose the damn partner. Who else’s fault would it be?

    And what is sauce for Boeing’s goose is obviously sauce for Airbus’s gander.

    I am mystified that you think everyone supposedly in charge in this world is blameless.

    Boeing have screwed up, big time. Why would they not man up and accept the blame?

  34. @The nice Paul — “… They chose the damn partner. Who else’s fault would it be?”

    I guess you didn’t comprehend what I had posted to your prior reply? Let’s try it from *this* angle, then — let’s say that your wife (assuming that you’re married) gets into a (heaven forbid) car accident where she is at fault and ends up killing another person … *you* are then *totally* to blame for her unfortunate accident because you *chose* to marry her! Does this make any sense?

    Why, in Boeing’s case with the 777-X, isn’t GE Aviation sharing *any* of the blame, in your view?

  35. @ BillC

    If you think that’s a good analogy for a company deciding who to appoint as a sub-contractor, you clearly have cognitive and emotional problems waaay beyond what can be addressed in a comment on a blog… To answer your question: no, what you have written doesn’t make *any* kind of sense. You are confusing an association of equals with a power relationship, one where a single corporation is in charge.

    Who said GE doesn’t get any of the blame? They too have fucked up. But what you seem to be arguing — exactly the same as you argued over the Boeing Max death jets — is that poor little Boeing was actually the victim. In the case of the death jets you wanted the FAA to be responsible. Here, you want GE to take the blame. It’s completely mystifying to any rational observer why you are so anxious to ensure Boeing is always seen as blameless.

  36. @The nice Paul — “But what you seem to be arguing — exactly the same as you argued over the Boeing Max death jets — is that poor little Boeing was actually the victim.”

    So please point out where I claimed that Boeing was *never* to blame in any of this? I just do *not* agree with *your* insinuation that Boeing should be the *sole* culprit in everything (you had *never* mentioned that *any* subcontractors shared any degree of culpability)!

    With respect to the 737MAX, I’m merely pointing out that one can *not* debug what one does *not* know at the time (the “unknown unknowns”)! Boeing *does* have its internal checks and balances within Engineering and then passing on to Quality Assurance, but what you seem to *not* realize is that Engineering does whatever it can to debug as thoroughly as it can, but it’s *always* advantageous to have multiple sets of separate “eyes” to review *everything* since Engineering developers have an embedded “assumption bias” about how their designs *should* work vs. how those *actually* work! That’s the purpose of having a Quality Assurance department! The FAA is, by definition, the external *last* resort for identifying such problems and issues, and, with the 737MAX, it appears as if the FAA did *not* do its job properly! Did you notice that the FAA allowed Boeing to “self-certify” aspects of the 737MAX? What was *that* all about? Do you seriously *not* blame the FAA for *that* humongous dereliction of their proper duties?

    My impression is that you appear to *only* want to blame Boeing for *everything*, just because it’s at the top of the aviation “food chain”? That’s a gross over-simplification of how the *real* world works! You can *not* ascribe (sole) blame upon Boeing for things that are *beyond* its control — even with respect to its multitudes of subcontractors! Once Boeing experiences actual failures by its subcontractors, then corporate can decide upon alternative strategies to rectify those actual failures! And Boeing *has* made such decisions in some prior situations, resulting in bringing originally subcontracted work back in-house!

    So do you now want Being to undertake its *own* jet engine development efforts in-house? Really? Seriously?

  37. @BillC

    It’s no good you trying to create straw men, to deflect attention from your own insanity. To take your last point, GE is only one of any number of aero-engine manufacturers. Boeing could have chosen any of them. But they decided that their ideal sole partner would be GE. That was Boeing’s decision, no-one else’s.

    Just as when I appoint a supplier for my employer it is *me* that is responsible for their performance, so poor little Boeing is responsible for the performance of GE in the execution of their contract. How could it be otherwise? Yes, GE is responsible to Boeing. But Boeing has the responsibility of taking the decision about which engine manufacturer to work with, and on what terms and to what specification. They got it wrong.

    I see you’re back to recycling the idea that it’s the FAA that’s ultimately responsibility for Boeing’s death jets. Again, you seem to have a complete misunderstanding of how a regulator works. Of course the FAA screwed-up – the technical term here for when a regulator gets too cosy with the companies it is supposed to regulate is “regulatory capture”. I’m afraid that’s just the inevitable consequence of the US obsession with small government. Politically, regulators are seen as an interference in the dynamic entrepreneurial workings of the market — which, of course, they are. That’s the whole point of them. But when regulators are underfunded and emasculated, and the second they allow the concept of “self-certification”, they have failed.

    Now, does that make FAA primarily responsible for the death jets? Of course not. Any more than the other global regulators are at fault for accepting the FAA’s certification that the planes were up to standard. But can you imagine the uproar if the FAA refused to accept poor little Boeing’s self-certification when the death jets first emerged? A proven airframe — decades old — which was necessary to let the Great Americans compete with those evil subsidised Europeans, and damn government bureaucrats (probably liberals, at that) was stopping them, one of Merica’s greatest and most successful global companies… Etc.

    There’s lots of blame to go around for the Boeing death jets. To take an American legal principle, “but for” Boeing designing, self-certifying and manufacturing the damn things, all those people would not have died.

  38. @The nice Paul — “To take your last point, GE is only one of any number of aero-engine manufacturers.”

    Let me ask you a *real* world question — how many jet engine makers are there in the world that are capable of making jet engines that are capable of powering airliners the size of the 777-X? Let me help you out — GE, P&W, CFM, and RR are about all there are! P&W is producing their brand new GTF engine family for single-aisle airliners and is *not* a player in the large engines regime for wide bodies. CFM has produced engines for the smaller single-aisle airliners such as the legacy 737s as well as the 737MAX … again, *not* a player with the larger wide bodies. Aside from GE, this leaves RR, which was going to pitch its Ultra-Fan design, but it couldn’t make the cut in time. Additionally RR has *also* been experiencing vexing reliability problems with its own new-generation engines for the B787 (Trent 1000) *and* the A350-XWB (Trent XWB). And these two are supposedly *different* designs, so what happened? Double failures? OK … *Who* is now left to make those *ideal* jet engines for the 777-X? Boeing has *suffered* with *both* GE (777-X) *and* RR (787), even though both engine manufacturers have had exemplary track records in the past! Or are you suggesting that Boeing just *cancel* the 777-X and cede that entire market segment to Airbus, despite Airbus’s totally dire and exasperating problems with its *own chosen* RR Trent engines?

    Do you actually understand the complexities of developing state-of-the-art jet engines and airliners, or are you merely into making overly generalized “process” arguments about who’s to blame? To follow your logic, *all* airliner manufacturers *must* be blamed for choosing their engine suppliers, since the *only two* companies capable of making the sized engines required (GE & RR) have *both* experienced the all-too-common “teething” issues that *always* accompany the introduction of new-generation engines! Therefore, should both Boeing and Airbus just give up on developing next generation airliners?

    As for the “sole” source issue, that is an economic consideration … do you have any idea how much $$$ it costs to develop a next generation jet engine for such huge airliners? Basically GE and RR would have had to spend exorbitant amounts of R&D $$$ that most likely can’t ever be recouped with split-market volumes! And who wants to have that happen?

    As for the issues regarding the culpability of the FAA vs. Boeing, read this more objective analysis of the situation (remove the [ ] surrounding the periods) —


    As I said in my post above — the FAA is the “external last resort” for identifying potential problems … I did NOT say that it, therefore, was “primarily responsible” for certification shortcomings, as you seem to imply about my context!

    As for “Boeing death jets,” are you therefore suggesting that Airbus has had ZERO deaths from crashes of its airliners? Do we need to list out the number of deaths experienced while flying Airbus airliners? Or are you now labeling *all* Boeing *and* Airbus airliners “death jets”?

    Let’s just agree that *multiple* organizations have contributed to shortcomings in *multiple* domains, but that’s just the *reality* of the Engineering => Production process with today’s increasingly complex systems! If you think that we’re already in deep doo-doo with today’s certification processes, just wait until those Autonomous Flying Vehicles enter the picture! 😛

  39. As a frequent flyer with multiple airlines new over the years, I have to wonder about the possibility of 24hr flights in the future.

    Based on Airbuses yet to be launched A350-1000ULR or Boeing’s 777-8/ 777-9 aircraft, and yes I wouldn’t mind flying on either of the manufacturer’s planes as long as I get to my destination on time and in a safe manner.

    I also wouldn’t mind any ultra long haul flight as long as the service onboard was good, the longest flight I’ve previously been on was a 16hrs flight although that was only because of a delay due to inclement weather whilst airborne.

    I flew from Hong Kong to London in 2015, which is usually a 13-14 hrs flight but was delayed for two hours due to fog at Heathrow plus the fact we were one of many aircraft trying to land on that day.

    So in a way I have a flavour of what a 20+ hrs flight would be like, however that was not to say it wasn’t nerve racking because we were burning into our reserve fuel levels and almost had to divert to Stansted/Luton airport.

  40. it’s been touched on, but i think we need to be absolutely clear that ULH flying is horrendous for the environment. whilst obviously air travel is never good for the environment, the extra fuel burnt carrying the extra fuel for ULH makes these flights the absolute worst travel possible for the environment.

    Project Sunrise should be torpedoed by Greta.

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