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