Update On Qantas Nonstop Flights From Sydney To London & New York

Filed Under: Qantas

Nowadays we’re seeing more ultra longhaul flights than ever before. This is largely possible thanks to new planes that are long range and fairly low capacity, which makes these routes viable for the first time in history.

For example, I recently wrote about the world’s 12 longest flights, and it’s pretty remarkable that all six of the world’s longest flights have been added within the past couple of years.

While this isn’t quite viable yet, Qantas has been asking Airbus and Boeing to develop an aircraft capable of flying 20 hours nonstop with 300 passengers in a four cabin configuration. Basically they want to be able to fly nonstop from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.

The other requirement Qantas has is that this plane be flexible, so that it could fly from Sydney to London but also from Sydney to Hong Kong in an economically viable way.

While the technology for that isn’t quite there yet, clearly Qantas wants some sort of a modified version of either the Airbus A350-1000 or Boeing 777X.

For context, a nonstop flight from Sydney to London would cover a distance of 10,573 miles, while a nonstop flight from Sydney to New York would cover a distance of 9,950 miles.

The world’s current longest flight from Singapore to Newark, operated by a sparsely configured A350-900ULR, covers a distance of 9,534 miles. So they’re only about 1,000 miles of range from making this a reality, but that’s pretty significant.

This whole project is called “Project Sunrise,” and it seems like it’s mostly realistic for the aircraft manufacturers. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has said that the airline intends to place this aircraft order by the end of 2019, and they’re aiming for delivery of those aircraft between 2022 and 2023.

Danny Lee at the South China Morning Post has an update on this situation. On the plus side, Joyce notes that Airbus and Boeing have both made good progress in making this a reality:

“Both [Boeing and Airbus] have made really good progress from where we started in the capabilities of the critical missions from Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York.”

But unfortunately it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to do this quite in the way that Joyce had hoped:

“Our belief is [ultra-long-haul flights are] not going to be full passenger payload and freight, but there is sufficient capability to make it commercially viable.”

The challenge here is going to be that Qantas acknowledges that they won’t be able to carry 300 passengers with the rest of their specifications. Presumably this means they’ll have to go for a more premium configuration. Whether this means just offering first class, business class, and premium economy, or whether it means offering a much smaller economy cabin, remains to be seen.

While a premium configuration may work on these ultra longhaul flights, Qantas has also said that they want the flexibility to operate these planes on shorter flights as well, where filling a premium configuration is much more difficult (given how much capacity there already is in markets like Hong Kong to Sydney).

It’s going to be interesting to see what Airbus and Boeing propose as their final products, what Qantas decides on, and how many seats those planes will have. With oil prices also on the rise, I wonder if this will actually all come together.

June 2019 update: Airbus will be able to make modifications that allow both variants of the A350 to fulfill Qantas’ requirements.

What do you think of Qantas’ “Project Sunrise” goal?

  1. I do enjoy long haul flights but not ultra long hauls…they are just unnecessarily painful IMHO.
    If I need to fly from SYD to LHR, I will connect somewhere in Asia or Middle East without any hesitation.
    I personally don’t see why it is so important to have a direct flight from SYD to LHR other than simply because you can.

  2. “Qantas has also said that they want the flexibility to operate these planes on shorter flights as well” lol, so dumb

  3. More likely is that Qantas will take such a plane configured with 4 class, and a sensible balance between premium and economy, but operate it with no center seats sold in economy for the ultra long haul segments, selling the nonstop economy flight at a 33%+ premium over stopping flights.

  4. @ JL

    Maybe because Qantas has tested the market with LHR-PER and knows that you are really unusual – most people much prefer direct flights, no matter how long. You may not see it, but it seems there’s enough of a market which can. Isn’t LHR-PER now Qantas’ most profitable route?

  5. It’s understandable that they want some ‘flexibility’ there. They ply their 787-9 on many other routes other than LHR. This is unlike SQ which serves a very premium market/is premium oriented and can afford to have that subfleet of A350ULR.

    I think this will come to be.

  6. Yep, Flightwonk is right; the last 30days oil has fallen off a cliff and given back all the gains from this year. Regular news for the financial markets, and should be a positive for the airliners going forward (assuming the trend continues).

  7. Given the increasing volatility in markets, it makes sense that Qantas wants an aircraft that can be flexibly deployed across markets. The reality is that only London and New York can sustain a non-stop from Sydney making the legitimacy of having a sub-fleet even more limited. Qantas also needs to optimise high aircraft utilisation rates and this is only possible if it has the flexibility to rotate aircrafts between various cycles.

    I suppose it really depends on whether Just how much of payload does QF have to forgo in order to get sufficient range. If they can manage by simply restricting freight and/or underselling 20% of economy seats then it could work. Otherwise Qantas has a few options- they could possibly consider a Brisbane-NYC non stop with their existing 787-9 given that the range is 15750 kid. At best they can reduce some payload. A Sydney-NYC non stop is possible with the 777-8x range- 16000+ Kms.

    I am surprised that Air NZ and United have not considered an Auckland-NYC non stop. It would be a far more compelling option versus transiting in the US for Australia bound traffic.

  8. Joyce is trying to Tim Clark – dictating planes exactly to his own specs and no one else’s, but unlike Clark, he doesn’t have a good track record of actually placing substantial orders to back his over-the-top demands.

    Joyce is, with $0 deposit, literally asking Boeing and Airbus to spend hundreds of millions on research to develop a plane that at best he’ll buy 10 copies at worst he’ll buy ZERO and leave Boeing and Airbus stuck with the bill. Thank goodness neither of them were dumb enough to bend over backwards for his empty promises.

  9. @Aman : regarding AKL-NYC nonstop, I think UA/NZ is simply waiting to see how well AKL-ORD performs before finally announcing it. They already have the planes, JV, and the feed (if it’s EWR) in place.

    If I were to bet, I’d say they announce it middle of next year for Dec 2019 launch, just in time for southern-summer.

  10. @JL – as the Nice Paul notes above, and I’m sure James can attest, there have been numerous market studies done that show Australians much prefer direct flights. As Paul said, their Perth-London flight has been doing extremely well for them. I also believe James has talked about it before as Australia is such an isolated country, they are used to traveling long distances just to go anywhere else. I don’t think theyd have any trouble filling a daily Sydney to London or NYC direct flight. I agree with your feelings about these sorts of flights ,but you and I are in the minority, at least when it comes to Aussies.

  11. @ GuruJanitor — I’ve written before about how Australians are used to long flights because of Australias’ isolation (that isolation also contributes to Aussies love to travel) but also said there’s a tipping point after about 12 hours where I would argue many people would welcome the chance to get off the plane and stretch their legs.


    Before the LHR-PER flight was launched it was very normal for Aussies to take two flights to get from Australia to Europe, or Australia to East Coast USA.

    I predicted there would be little demand outside business class for the LHR-PER flight but it appears I was wrong.

  12. I personally would never fly from Sydney to London on a direct flight in economy. If I flew Coach then I would definitely connect!

  13. @NB: It would have to be at least a 50% premium. If you sell 2/3 of the seats, you would need to charge 3/2 of the price to keep revenue constant.

  14. QF makes most of it’s money from the domestic market with SYD-MEL, MEL-SYD-BNE triangle being in the top 5 routes for frequencies world wide. MEL-LHR was an A380 service now 787 one would hope it’s full.

  15. I wonder if airlines have done the research whether it’d be possible to increase adaptability of planes instead of trying to increase distance capabilities?

    For instance, instead of Singapore being stuck with a premium heavy plane that they can only realistically profitably fly to the farthest corners of the world, they can “quickly” reconfigure their A350 at SIN for a 3 cabin setup (most likely keep business, but swap some premium economy for economy) for a long/medium haul flight intra-asia in between their EWR flight.

  16. I think it makes no sense really.
    I live in Sydney and travel to Europe regularly. The quick stops in Asia or the Middle East are actually a blessing. They allow you to stretch your legs and maybe have a quick shower. They also allow qantas to refresh the cabin, if not fullly clean it.
    I also can’t see what would be the market demand for this. Other than australia and NZ there isn’t much need for this sort of range, and after the a380 debacle, I think the the preference of the makers would be for general use aircraft.

  17. I think that this is a great idea, and very exciting. I think, however, that London just might be too long for lots of people. I have no problem with ultra long hall flights in economy, but I’m not going to do SYD-LHR ever in coach even if they make it work. You also need to have safety precautions in place, like deep vein thrombosis. That becomes a real concern once you hit these lengths of time, in any class of service. Perhaps, could they sell “half-flight” upgrades for flights like this, where someone buys business class for the first or second half of the flight, and sits in coach the rest? Its a great cheaper alternative for those who want the upgrade, and also offers a mandatory opportunity for those people to, at the very least, stand up halfway through the flight to switch seats.

  18. As stated here before, oil prices have been in a steep decline lately. Not that this has caused any of the airlines to drop their obnoxious “fuel surcharges” or to stop making “the price of oil” a permanent straw man. And, how about an article exposing “fuel surcharges” for what they are: a money grab that results in pure profit without raising the list price for a ticket (because it’s added in later). Much akin to a “resort fee”, only even worse; it’s like the hotel charging you an extra fee to cover their property tax or electric bill!

    As the price of oil crashes, let’s see if any of these airlines DROP the surcharges.

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