Qantas Selects A350-1000 For Project Sunrise

Filed Under: Qantas

Qantas has just announced some significant developments for Project Sunrise. The airline has chosen a plane for this “mission,” but hasn’t yet finalized an order.

What Is Qantas’ Project Sunrise?

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.

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 is in service that can operate these 10,000+ mile, 20+ hour flights nonstop. Qantas had asked Airbus and Boeing to develop planes capable of operating these flights, and both have apparently presented their best offers, including Airbus pitching an A350-1000ULR of sorts.

The airline had been targeting the end of 2019 for deciding on aircraft to operate the route, and that’s what they’ve just announced… sort of.

Qantas Selects A350-1000 For Project Sunrise

Qantas has evaluated both the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350 in great detail, and has selected the A350-1000 as the preferred aircraft if Project Sunrise proceeds.

Qantas notes that the A350 uses Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines, which have a strong reliability record after being in service with airlines for more than two years. In order to facilitate these ultra long haul flights, Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required.

No orders have been placed yet, but Qantas is working closely with Airbus to prepare contract terms for up to 12 aircraft ahead of a final decision.

Airbus has extended the deadline to confirm delivery slots by a month, from February 2020 to March 2020. This would allow Qantas to launch these Project Sunrise flights in the first half of 2023.

What Qantas Still Needs To Decide On

Qantas will make a final go/no go decision on these flights in March 2020, so what will that decision be based on? There are a few things they still need to work out.

By next week the airline will have operated three Project Sunrise test flights (using very lightly loaded Boeing 787-9s), and they say the data from those flights will be used in discussions with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to approve an extension to current operating limits required for these flights to operate.

Based on detailed information provided on fatigue risk from the test flights, CASA has provisionally advised that they see no regulatory obstacles.

On top of that, Qantas has to continue negotiations with their pilots union, AIPA. Discussions center on productivity and efficiency gains, including the ability to use the same pilots across A350 Sunrise aircraft and the existing A330 fleet. As I wrote about previously, the pilots could potentially veto this entire project.

Furthermore, the airline will have to decide on cabin layouts for the planes, though presumably all of that would be finalized well past when the order is placed.

What Qantas’ CEO Says

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has said the following about this update:

“Between the research flights and what we’ve learned from two years of flying Perth to London, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia.

The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.

The aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it’s thoroughly proven after more than two years in service. This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to.

From the outset, we’ve been clear that Project Sunrise depends on a business case that works. We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks.

We’ve done a lot of work on the economics and we know the last gap we have to close is some efficiency gains associated with our pilots. We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs.

Airbus has given us an extra month to lock in an aircraft order without impacting our planned start date, which means we can spend more time on hopefully reaching a deal with our pilots.”

Bottom Line

Qantas has now selected a modified A350-1000 for Project Sunrise flights. Qantas is expected to formalize this agreement in March 2020, should they choose to move forward.

The A350-1000 is a joy to fly, so this seems like a good decision. I’m still curious to see if the airline actually follows through with these planes, or if negotiations with pilots get in the way last minute.

What do you make of Qantas’ A350-1000 selection for Project Sunrise?

  1. I think there’s a little spelling mistake
    ‘ Qantas notes that the A350 uses Rolls Royce Trent WXB engines, ’
    Shouldn’t it be XWB engines now WXB engines

  2. Boeing is TOAST it will take a generation for them to recoup if they ever can the market share they once enjoyed. Maybe the AF should have purchased AB tanker instead of waiting on Boeing. Let alone the shame they have brought on the US FAA etc.

    Tell me Lucky who the hell is propping them up?

    Disclaimer I am former USAF driver.

  3. Alan Joyce is full of it.

    “We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs.”

    Sounds like Alan Joyce is trying to use public pressure against his pilots. Maybe pilots want more than 4 pilots flying the route, or given shorter rest period, or (of course because of this) pilots are getting paid less because Alan Joyce refused to pay salary based on the weight and speed of the A350.

  4. Forgot to mention but if this is the case, I don’t think what Alan Joyce is asking for is unreasonable. It’s probably the union trying to maximize salary for the pilots. Risking safety is one thing, hiding behind safety excuse just to make more money is extortion.

  5. I love the A350. Will be interesting to see the configuration. I suspect the pilots union issue will be resolved – back in 2011, Alan Joyce took some drastic action to ensure resolution of the never ending pilots strike ( As an Australian I look forward to this! Each to their own but I would rather get to my destination quicker – although I totally understand some might not like the long flight time.

  6. Qantas pilots have made a huge number of concessions during Joyce’s tenure whilst he has continued to line his pockets.

    I am no fan, whatsoever, of unions. But I hope these pilots hold the line against him.

  7. Not surprised at all to see this happening. Boeing is completely distracted at this moment: the Max grounding problem, the repetitive 787 engine problem, the delay of 777X… Winning orders from Sunrise Project is barely a triviality for the company. From my perspective QF will either use 350 or just kill the project because of labor issues.

  8. Interestingly, Boeing may be the winner here. Both Airbus and Boeing have spent lots of time and effort to meet Qantas’ unique requirements. And now Qantas is going to prepare an order for (only) 12 aircraft?!? LOL

    The winner (Airbus or Boeing) basically gets some bragging rights, but not much in the way of significant orders/revenues. Reminds me of the winner’s curse in economics.

  9. @Luke Vader

    You maybe right but I hardly think it is true.

    Modifying the A350-1000 for this probably means just fitting in larger fuel tanks. The rest is software optimization for the new weight and balance. I doubt Airbus needs to spend a fortune for this. Probably just like developing the A330-300HGW.
    I don’t remember Boeing trying to brag too much about 77L or Airbus about A340-500 for ULH at all. I think all the bragging rights goes to QF.

  10. I lived in Melbourne for more than five years. I made 28 flights from DFW to Melbourne and back. I cannot imagine spending 18 or more hours on an airplane. The 14 hours, 35 minutes from LAX to Melbourne was bad enough. After doing it once or twice, I opted for the flight that stopped in Auckland. It gave me an opportunity stretch my legs and get a nice breakfast at the airport.

  11. Could there be other airlines interested in the A350-1000ULR? Or will it be a Qantas exclusive like the 747-400ER was?

  12. Flying qf 1st tomorrow back home from Ord to Sydney with my 6yo (thanks you qantas for making what I assume is a mistake and giving us 5 f awards (rest of family flies next day)). I’m excited but also can’t laugh at how much press qf gets for nothing. They talked about their 787 for about 5 years and now everyone loves projext sunrise. Hope their pr teams gets a bonus!

    Qantas is a monopoly in oz. everyone pumps all their points to them and they’re generally useless.

  13. “Research flights have underscored the importance of dedicated space for stretching and movement for Economy passengers in particular, as well as the potential benefits from re-designing the service on board to actively shift people to their destination timezone.” wait, was it only 50 pax on board and they were all in BUSINESS CLASS? LOL how do researcher get 20 hours data from a single flight on economy pax LOL. PR liar

  14. @Ray

    I think these specific ULR airplanes aren’t going to be getting much demand. SQ and QF are two of the few airlines that can utilize bespoke ULR aircraft best. And the -900 and likely the -1000ULR can be easily modified into normal versions if the routes don’t work out.

  15. Awesome! Much better (from a customer standpoint) than the 787 — quieter larger cabins, and real window shades you can crack open.

  16. Since Qantas will most certainly have a very heavy premium configuration, and much of the talk has been for 300 pax, what do you think will be the ratio of F / J / Y+ / Y seating? Cathay for example has 334 seats on their a350-1000 across 46J 32Y+ and 256Y. Also factoring in Qantas want to have some type of stretching / wellness area (which might take up the space of say 9 Y seats at the rear of the plane?) I cannot see them dropping to less than 8 F seats but it’s entirely possible they aim for 12 in F given the very high premium they could charge for time poor executives / wealthy leisure travellers. Will be interesting to see how this develops…

  17. I’d give this flight a shot just because it’s there. I did the LAX>SIN when United launched it just to try it and in a cruddy 2-2-2 faux polaris it was still fun with the company I kept.

    That being said, I’ve flown the 350 a few times but never looked it up. Does it have the reduced altitude cabin pressure and the cool cabin air intake that 787 has? I do believe these make a big difference on longhaul, heavy jetlag flights. I often choose 787 over 77W any chance I can simply for the fresher air and fresher feeling upon arrival.

    Would love it if airbus has/d that feature

  18. What’s wrong with stopping in Singapore when flying LHR-SYD? The schedule is ok. Is it that some passengers are racist and don’t want to fly with non-whites? I wonder.

  19. @derek

    Really? Shameful to be so presumptuous to consider that. I’m sure there’s people everywhere who dont want to fly with certain others but to jump to that conclusion you could probably jump from LHR>SYD just as easily…

    Perhaps most people, as some alluded to earlier, don’t want to deal with a layover. Even one person went as far as commenting saying they choose to stop in Aukland to stretch their legs, then again you probably assume they only fly that route since it’s, in your eyes, lacking in color.


    This will be moderated, right?

  20. Picking the plane that actually flies today seems like the safe choice. Who knows when the 777X is actually going to be in service.

  21. @stevo
    Yes, A350 has the better air pressure and larger windows, plus it’s roomier than a 787. It’s also quieter.

    Good for you. Personally I’d usually rather take a direct flight: one less chance of a snafu leading to a missed connection, one less disorienting experience of having to be awake at an unnatural hour while navigating a strange (by which I mean unknown) airport with all the baggage and security theatre. If I want to stretch my legs I can walk up and down the plane.

    Presumably you deliberately break all your long haul flights, never travelling direct? I don’t think most people are like you. (And the success of LHR-PER suggests there’s a good market for these ULH flights.)

  22. If 3 Qantas pilots flew for 30 hours straight IN A WARZONE in an aircraft from the 1940s, then 4 pilots can fly with autopilot for 19 hours. Enough said.

  23. Climate change is destroying Australia. Brexit is destroying England. Anyone for a 20-hour flight from Nowhere to Nowhere?

  24. Lucky – I follow your blog and I read the headlines. Is it just me or is Airbus just kicking Boeing’s arse the last few years. It seems that every headline I read from any carrier ordering new planes – it always seems to be Airbus as the selected aircraft builder. Is Boeing still alive??

  25. No surprises that Qantas has chosen the A350.

    After all, who would want or indeed trust Boeing to adapt an existing model in the wake of the 7M8 mess.

  26. Some of these comments amuse me except the one from dufus @derek. Unnecessary remark. There’s no relevance with the race card here.

    And Ben, I wouldn’t normally have a bit of a dig at you but you could have reworded the entire QF press release. I’ve read the same wording in four different places

  27. @Jake — “Much better (from a customer standpoint) than the 787 — quieter larger cabins, and real window shades you can crack open.” —

    Comparing the A350 to the B787 is like comparing apples and oranges — the A350 and B777 belong in a similar size category, but not the B787, which was designed to have smaller capacity, and, therefore, will be smaller in size. Thus the A350 will obviously have larger cabins …

  28. Bloody hell. The QF PR machine is working overtime these days.

    JFK-SYD is only ~400 miles more than SQ’s EWR-SIN. LHR-SYD is about ~900 miles more. Time in the air for all of these flights is identical, and that duration = miserable but convenient.

    SQ just went ahead and flew their EWR flight (in fact, over a decade ago with the A345!) instead of doing a dog-and-pony show. (Hell, TG flew JFK-BKK without the drama.)

    Good for QF to recognize they can be prima donnas by leveraging a non-stop service between very high profile cities, but FFS, what they are doing with Project Sunrise is hardly revolutionary and they’re acting like it’s a cure for cancer.

    They can stop the human testing; people will feel like crap after a 20 hour flight no matter the cabin pressurization or when snacks are served. Instead, find out if the crew is willing to do the flight, and see if passengers will pay a premium for non-stop service. That’s what will dictate the success of this route.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see Boeing come back in the game with some “day after Xmas” deals on 737MAXes and 787s to replace QF’s aging narrowbodies and their first A330s.

  29. @Mark,

    Remember now Qantas in Jetstar mode has a large fleet of A320s which they are very pleased with and there are plenty more on order.

    The mainline 738s are coming up for replacement in the next couple of years and I would be amazed if they are not replaced with A20N/21Ns because that’s what Qantas has on order and are now buying.

    An airline as obsessed with safety as Qantas is are not going to buy the Max any time in the coming years no matter who says it’s safe and no matter how low the price.

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