Airbus Says A350 Can Fly World’s New Longest Flight

Filed Under: Qantas

Currently the world’s longest flight is operated by Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR, as the airline flies nonstop between Singapore and Newark. That flight covers a distance of over 9,500 miles and can take up to 18 hours, so it’s pretty incredible that the flight can be operated nonstop.

Qantas’ big New York & London aspirations

There’s another even longer flight on the horizon. For quite a while Qantas has been talking about how they’d like to be able to fly nonstop from Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York. They call this goal “Project Sunrise.”

The catch is that currently no plane exists that can operate these 10,000+ mile, 20+ hour flights nonstop. So Qantas has asked Airbus and Boeing to develop planes capable of operating these flights.

What can Airbus and Boeing come up with?

You might be saying to yourself “wait a second, doesn’t it take years to design new planes?” Yep, it does. So the expectation all along has been that Airbus and/or Boeing would modify existing planes to make this work, rather than developing new planes altogether.

Nowadays aircraft manufacturers are able to make improvements long after the planes are put into service. For example, Airbus recently announced an increased range for the A220, even though the plane is already flying.

In the case of Airbus they’d presumably modify the A350, while in the case of Boeing they’d presumably modify their 777-8, which will be starting service soon.

Qantas has had to adjust their expectations a bit since this project launched in terms of the number of passengers they’ll be able to carry, but they still believe that Airbus and Boeing can develop planes that will be able to operate these flights in an economical way.

Airbus confirmed what they can do

There’s an interesting update on this front — Airbus has just confirmed that they’ve been able to make modifications that allow both variants of the A350 to fulfill Qantas’ requirements. So we could see either the A350-900 or A350-1000 be modified to meet the “Project Sunrise” requirements.

While I figured Airbus would be able to make it happen, I’m impressed that they’ve been able to make this work on both the -900 and -1000 variants of the plane.

The reality is that Airbus already wasn’t too far off from this. For example, the A350-900ULR already has the range of ~11,200 miles, though this is based on limited capacity.

When will Qantas make a decision?

Qantas expects that Airbus and Boeing will give their final bids for the project by August, and then Qantas hopes to make a decision by the end of the year. Then Qantas hopes to start these flights by 2022, though I imagine that remains subject to change.

Bottom line

We’ve seen a lot of new ultra long haul flights added over the past several years. For the most part there aren’t many more ultra long haul flights on the horizon, though Qantas’ new routes will be making history, if/when they launch.

I can’t wait to see which plane Qantas chooses for this project, and how they choose to configure these planes. While they initially wanted a four cabin plane with capacity for at least 300, we know they’ve had to make compromises.

So will they follow Singapore Airlines’ lead on their A350-900ULRs and just have business class and premium economy, or what will they decide?

This should be an interesting one to watch, and it’s exciting to know that at least Airbus knows they’ll be able to meet Qantas’ requirements.

Do you think Qantas will go with the A350 or 777-8 for Project Sunrise?

  1. I’m sure in reality it would be a bit shorter than 20hrs. You can do it in 22hrs with a 1hr 40min connection in Doha.

  2. 35k for a 4-class config. Still, 20 hours of Qantas First Class is not my definition of “luxury”. Rather stop in Abu Dhabi for F between LHR and Australia

  3. I could see there being initial interest in this flight, especially in economy. But this bird is gonna have to be premium heavy to be profitable at 20+ hours in the air. After that, I see interest dying off. Singapore is continually discounting it’s EWR-SIN prem economy fares just to put butts in seats. It’s not sustainable because people don’t want to fly that long. Qantas will probs come out with some intial $1,200 fares for JFK-SYD. Won’t work long term.

  4. Such a Plane should have a rest area and an exercise area. 20+ hours sitting in an airline seat is a no no.

  5. @ Alonzo

    “It’s not sustainable because people don’t want to fly that long. … Won’t work long term.”

    And yet PER-LHR is reportedly their most profitable route, and people on here are constantly bitching that there are few rewards seats on that route – presumably because Qantas can sell them.

  6. It’s interesting that they’re considering planes without a Y cabin. I think that for 20+hr flights, that should be the norm. You’d go stir-crazy otherwise.

    I wonder what the config could be on a 3-class (First/Business/PE) plane…

  7. Omg 20 hours on a plane?! Until some sort of supersonic travel comes back into the mix, no way!!!!!

  8. Would be nice to have supersonic plane with midair fueling for these kind of flights. Maybe a 12 hour flight with a slow down at 6 hours mark for re-fueling.

  9. With my recent trips I had a 20 min change in Doha ( plane late getting in ) and a regular 90 min change at Changi on the Australian east coast LHR / MAN route Yes I’d rather always be in Biz but economy isn’t as bad as you would imagine when you have to do the trip 3 or 4 times a year !

  10. @emily, 20 hours on a supersonic plane would be just as boring as 20 hours on a subsonic plane 🙂

    @Jackie–that would be fun. I know the Concorde took 17+ hours flying London to Sydney with refueling stops. Managing the flight path to avoid sonic booms over land might be tough though.

  11. I don’t understand all of the hate for these routes. As someone who’s based in NYC, I would appreciate a SYD-JFK direct flight so that I can avoid doing the immigration/customs/baggage recheck dance at LAX or SFO. As long as Qantas provides enough entertainment/wifi for the flight, I would totally fly this. And yes, anyone on a long haul flight, whether it’s 10 hours or 20 hours, should be getting up out of their seat once in a while.

  12. Everyone should do one of these long haul flights at least once. I once did JFK-BKK on Thai Air Preferred Economy – 17 hours. After you survive that you have a different attitude about the rest of your flying. What? 11 hours? Piece of cake! I can do that standing on my head.

  13. Really I struggle with the point. When the nonstop would take 20 hours is there really much advantage over 22 hours with a stop? The connection time becomes such a small proportion of the flight that you are only saving 10% of the time, but take a massive penalty in economics

  14. LHR-SYD is my regular commute but there’s no way I’m going to do it non-stop any time in the near future and in the next five years I’ll retire.

    I put my money on Qantas choosing the A350 either 9 or K depending on how they want to configure it. The range is all but there and it’s a tested product, the 777-8 is still on the drawing board and the timescale does not suit Qantas but of course they have long established relationships with both Airbus and Boeing so it could go either way.

    I also heard a rumour that they are about to order A32Ns to start replacing their mainline 738s which are getting past their sell by dates so maybe a huge order no doubt with huge discounts is heading the way of Airbus. Of course they already have a large fleet of A320/1s operating for JetStar so not really a new type for them.

  15. i’m betting 99% Airbus will win too. Their 359ULR was already far closer to the target than 777-8, while Boeing simply isn’t all that keen to spend any money even in hypothetical modifications for the 1 single member of the original 777 Gang of 8 who failed to show any commitments.

  16. PLEASE, less credit card promotional material, and more trip reports!! Even TPG has more frequently posted flight reviews!

  17. This is Qantas we are talking about here. They will take years to make a decision and when they do they will chooses an aircraft that has been operating for years and promote it as being new! Just look at how they promoted 787 arriving into fleet 10 years after it entered service with other airlines! It is all about prestige of flying non stop. they don’t care about what passengers want which is comfort in all classes and services from australian cities other than Sydney

  18. Having just done SFO-MEL on the 789 in business last week, I’ve gotta say that 14 hrs 40 mins was about the limit of my endurance. Even on the 787 I was starting to get dehydrated, and even in business I was starting to feel restless and restricted. I don’t know how anyone would survive these long sectors in economy class, it must be like the 5th Circle of Hell.

  19. The only airline I would want to make my 20 hour trip in is Qatar. Ala Carte dining and spacious individual suites with some form communal space should be standard in such a long flight. With Qantas meagre food portions and lack of selection, no matter how good the service is, it’s a stretch to fly with them this long.

  20. I have to say I do find some of the comments here interesting. To put my thoughts into perspective until recently I was flying SYD to LHR roughly 10 times per year. Qantas are doubtless obsessed with being able to offer direct routes to Europe, they need to be able to charge a premium for that product as they have long struggled with the profitability of their international division.

    When you look at international flights to Europe the level of choice is absolutely staggering into and out of Australia. Qantas only operate 2 flights to Europe both of which are to LHR (SYD to LHR via SIN and the PER to LHR route). I know they offer code shares with Emirates from every major city, but reality is that’s 2 flights a day on their metal. By comparison Emirates / Singapore / Cathay / Qatar / Thai / Etihad offer multiple options from most (or in some case all) major Australian cities.

    No one is forcing you to fly 20 hours non stop. It’s my idea of hell too. But it’s a tiny fraction of the capacity on the routing. I appreciate that all of the “hub airlines” I mention above are not as convenient / practical for flights to the US, before someone feels the need to point that out to me.

    Qantas can charge a premium for this if they get it right. New York and London represent huge business markets, many Australian corporates are blindly loyal to Qantas when it comes to travel and as such I suspect they will make this work. The Qantas international route has pivoted towards Asia, which doesn’t have the range challenges that East Coast US or Europe has.

    As I say, if you don’t want to fly it, then don’t fly it, its very far from being your only choice, compare that to the situation with, say, LHR where well over 50% of the capacity is IAG group airlines, often there is more limited choice. But in Australia, for international flights, there are almost always options that are at least as good as Qantas and in some cases significantly better.

  21. Of course the Bus can . Truly amazing how Boeing manages to outsell their WBs 2-3 times to 1.

  22. My bet is that Quantas will get the Airbus Aircraft because Quantas is merging with American Airlines which has too many Boeing 737 Max aircrafts so AA will not put all its eggs in the same basket.
    We ll see .

  23. So far i have yet to travel on a 777 that is as quiet as 380, 330 or 350. The 787 comes close, and if I am to spend 20 plus hours in a metal tube i want it to be as calm, quiet and peaceful as possible!

  24. @Caroline
    a. It’s Qantas, not Quantas.
    b. American and Qantas are not merging – they are only forming a joint venture for flights between the US and Oceania.
    c. American’s 737 Max fleet really shouldn’t have an influence on any decision towards ULR Aircraft.

  25. One thing I’m not understanding is why Airbus and Boeing are rushing to create a new plane just for one relatively small airline like Qantas? They only really operate flights to and from Australia, with no to little connecting traffic (i.e. X-Aus-Y).

    Is it really economically sound to create a new plane for such a small market segment? How many planes will Qantas need for these routes? 6-10?

  26. SH…..Airbus have not made a new plane. They have made standard modifications to the A350-900/1000 fuselage AND wing that will be rolled out across the production line. It will give every A350 the capability of being a ULR if the operator requires. Airbus have taken some 3 tonnes of weight out of the A350-1000 since the prototype flew. That in itself equates to 30 minutes of extra range if loaded with 3 tonnes extra fuel. Some further advances that were integrated into the later 1000 model have been introduced to the 900 also. The A350-1000 that Airbus are offering Qantas will have bed areas converted in the hold for sleeping during flight. Passengers will still have to return to their allocated seats for takeoff/landing.

  27. I’m quite sure this is almost done and you will certainly have passengers wanting both these nonstops to London and New York – it will be profitable I’m sure

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