Qantas Shelves Plans For World’s Longest Flight

Filed Under: Qantas

This shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise, but plans for nonstop flights between Sydney and New York are now off the table for the foreseeable future…

Qantas’ “Project Sunrise” dreams

For several years Qantas has been working on what they call “Project Sunrise,” where we’d see Qantas operate nonstop flights from Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York.

This is an ambitious project, as there’s no commercial aircraft currently capable of operating these 10,000+ mile flights in an economically viable way.

In late 2019 and early 2020, things really started to come together:

Initially Qantas was supposed to finalize plans for this in late 2019, then the plan was to make a final decision by March 2020, and then COVID-19 happened.

Qantas calls off “Project Sunrise” flights

At this point Qantas has officially called off “Project Sunrise” for the foreseeable future. As Qantas CEO Alan Joyce describes it, per Executive Traveller:

“We will be putting Project Sunrise on hold. The time is not right now given the impact that Covid-19 has had on world travel. We certainly won’t be ordering aircraft for that this year.”

While Joyce argues there’s still a business case for these flights, I wonder if that’s really true in a post-COVID-19 era:

  • Will we see people in general do less ultra long haul travel, instead focusing on traveling closer to home?
  • Faced with the prospect of a 20 hour flight, would people really prefer to fly nonstop that long with no social distancing, or will stopovers become preferred?

At this point I think it goes without saying that this was the responsible decision. For that matter, Qantas is reevaluation their entire international network, as the airline is considering retiring A380s earlier than initially planned.

Given that these routes are dependent upon new planes, and given that airlines will likely be trying to limit capital expenditures for years, I suspect this route is many years off from happening, should it ever happen.

At the same time, I can’t imagine many airlines will be ordering planes soon, so Qantas may be able to order these special A350-1000s with just a couple of years notice at some point in the future.

Bottom line

Don’t expect to see nonstop flights from New York to Sydney anytime soon, even though there has been talk of this project for many years. It goes without saying that other similarly lofty projects in the airline industry are likely to be delayed as well.

For that matter, I’d expect a lot fewer ultra long haul flights in general. When you look at the world’s 15 longest flight, almost all of them have been added in the past few years. I suspect we’ll see many of these awesome new routes cancelled.

What do you make of Qantas putting off Project Sunrise, and the overall future of ultra long haul travel?

  1. As an avgeek I can’t help but feel a bit sad about the future of commercial aviation. These ultra long haul routes had gained a lot of momentum over the past couple of years, but following this, I get the feeling that a considerable number of said routes will be cancelled indefinitely.

  2. This is an unfortunate but sensible business decision. I tend to disagree though regarding ultra long haul, or to be more specific, point to point. I see a trend for more point to point, as travellers and governments will look to curtail transiting through third countries.

  3. Was willing / waiting to give the QF a try. Hope someday they try again. I did do the Singapore EWR-SIN non-stop RT last year in PE (single seat row) & had a great flight & avgeek experience.

  4. This is sad, but totally understandable!!!

    Also, it would be very hard to justify, with business travelers expected to decrease

    Honestly, I find that Delta is the best way to get NYC to Sydney. What do other people think is the best way to get to Sydney?

  5. Will we see people in general do less ultra long haul travel, instead focusing on traveling closer to home? –> This route was never about leisure travel and I would imagine there will still be people who need to travel between these two cities for business purposes.

    Faced with the prospect of a 20 hour flight, would people really prefer to fly nonstop that long with no social distancing, or will stopovers become preferred? –> Considering the alternative is more overall time spent on a plane and more time spent in crammed airports I would imagine people would prefer this.

  6. Fine to postpone but is the whole world going to stop functioning until 2023?
    Is “social distancing” on a 10 hr flight that much less of an issue than on a 20hr flight?

    Give me a break. By next year most of us, the true AvGeeks, will look back on this time and wondered why we engaged in this mindless shaming and self-flagellation over our favorite activity.

  7. @Al,

    Agreed. I think there’s way to much assumption that business travel will somehow be drastically reduced now that we’ve “proven” we can telework for extended periods of time. I’m sure there will be SOME reduction, especially for companies whose budgets have shrunk, but any multinational corporation that has a demand/need for client interaction is going to go back to that fairly quickly as restrictions are lifted and people start to feel more comfortable again. Personally, I’m in cloud tech and all our clients want bi-weekly in-person meetings during the architecture development and migration phases. And if that means I’m off to Oz or to Spain then so be it. My company’s budget is essentially “make the client happy and want to buy more of our services.”

  8. Actually, you’d have a lower risk of infection on a single flight than 2 shorter flights. Simply as you are exposing yourself to less than half as many potential carriers. Also, think how much extra contact you have with people by deplaning, going through customs, going through security, boarding again.

    I mean, it’s a very minor consideration, and has to weigh against people not really wanting to travel as much/far in general. Purely anecdotal, but my drive for traveling has certainly been reduced. (And I’m the kind of person that always has at least one Google Flights tab open.)

  9. I guess PIA isn’t launching flights to New York now… I’m sad about that one 🙁

  10. @AR

    I think there are definitely some folks who can work from home, but I think one thing we have learned from this whole situation is that while WFH is great for some people, it is definitely not ideal for many. Additionally (as you noted), while some interactions can probably be done virtually, face-to-face meetings are just better. There will definitely be some reduction in business travel but like you said, that will pick up.

    In general though, I think people have gone a bit overboard with the whole “how is air travel going to change in the corona virus age”. I think until we have a vaccine, it will certainly be different. But when/if we have a vaccine/people can travel without fear of getting corona, I think travel will go back to normal. The way some people speak about it, you’d think we are going to have to wear face masks on planes and undergo blood tests at the airport every time we fly forever.

    The reality is that people have short memories and once this passes, and some time passes after that, people will go back to normal. Sure, the WHO might be reformed and countries might take more steps to make sure they are better prepared for something like this in the future, but things will go back to normal.

    Just my two cents anyways!

  11. “Faced with the prospect of a 20 hour flight, would people really prefer to fly nonstop that long with no social distancing, or will stopovers become preferred?”
    How much of a different does it make if you’ve been sat next to the same people for an hour compared to 20 hours?
    I would have thought a stop over would be worse as you’d be interacting with another airport, and people in that airport, and you’d be interacting with two ‘sets’ of passenger…

  12. Personally i see the ULH as a good option in the post COVID-19 era because it gives you greater control of where you travel to by removing intermediate countries. With differing levels of infection and border closures I would rather pick exactly where I am going.
    Having said that this is what I would like to see personally, not what I think the wider market demand will reflect!

  13. Can I just point out that ultra long haul flights tend to see-saw like this we saw a gradual uptick in ULH flights between 2004 and 2008 when most of them were pulled down as a result of the economic crisis and high oil prices. Then they started up again after the crisis, it’s just a factor of when loads are reduced you can usually pull ultra long haul flights down and route those people via hubs to increase the loads on the few flights you are running.

  14. So the 2 most recent global upheavals in most of our lifetimes were 9/11 and the Great Recession. Everyone made dire predictions, and yes, certain societal systemic changes were put in place, but things get back to normal. Especially for travel. What I find funny is how all these discussions imply that today’s problems, crises, will be here in 3 to 5 to 10 years. We will have a whole new set of crises to grumble about for sure. If you all think about how life resumes to a new normal, that starts to resemble the old normal, at least as far as increased flights, number of travelers, new loyalty programs etc etc, then just be patient and it will all come back again. Especially once a vaccine is found. This too shall pass and I find it a waste of time to predict the future, cuz 99.9% of us get it wrong.

  15. I think in three years, maybe even sooner, COVID will be a distant memory with little to no impact on people’s travel preferences. In general, contemporaries tend to overestimate the impact that black swans have on humans long term.

  16. I’m agreeing with Matthew comment. I suspect 2024 (maybe late 2023) this flight will happen.

  17. Alan Joyce is full of it, once again, and again, and again.

    No one really see that the impact would last until 2023, the Sunrise launch date.
    Don’t use the virus as an excuse. And as few posts have said, theoretically you have less risk flying nonstop since you have limited your exposure to a single group rather a larger group of people on the transit airport and the next flight.

    Joyce back out of it because it wasn’t going to be profitable at all, even before the virus. Like all ULH, loads are pretty much less than others. Joyce enjoyed the attention and bragging rights from the 787 ferry flight. Joyce double down on this way too far to back out, until he got this golden opportunity. However with demand dropping worldwide, this is actually the best time to charge premium on ULH flights and get away with it not back out of it.

    I feel bad for Aussies to have to deal with all his crap. To make things worse VA won’t be pressuring Joyce anymore.

  18. I am delighted that the universe destroyed, incinerated, torn down Alan Joyce’s whole bullsh*t lie of a business pitch about ULH being premium, prestigious, and that that one act will take Qantas upmarket. (What? More ultraluxe than Etihad?)

  19. Lucky,

    I find it mildly amusing that of the four main project sunrise flights, you highlighted the only one less than 10,000 miles (SYD-JFK @ 9,950 miles), but to be fair to you, Qantas has done an amazing job of training Melburnians to fly any airline other than Qantas by converting the majority of international sectors out of Tullamarine Airport from Qantas to Jetstar flights, or forcing them to transit through Sydney or Brisbane where the Domestic and International terminals are not connected by foot.

    I think you may also suffer from the illusion that Sydney is the major business centre. Having lived in both cities, I am regularly fascinated that multi-nationals setting up operations in Australia choose Sydney, only to discover the majority of their Australian customers are based in Melbourne. I guess that is one of the reasons that SYD/MEL is one of the busiest city pairs in the world. By the way, whilst Greater Sydney has a population of around 5.2 million, Greater Melbourne has a population has a population of 5.0 million, and is expected to return to being Australia’s largest city around 2025.

    Also worth noting that the current weekly repatriation flights operated by Qantas from London are flying into Melbourne (with a tech stop in Perth), not Sydney.

    Without doubt, Sydney is more attractive to tourists, but it will be business travel choosing to pay the Qantas imposed premium of around 20% for the project sunrise flights as opposed to flights stopping in Singapore (ex LHR/CDG/FRA) or LAX/SFO (ex JFK/ORD).

    The reality is that Australian travellers don’t really notice the difference between a mid and long haul flight, so if an Ultra Long Haul flight is priced competitively, they are just as likely to take that flight rather than stopping over on the way (and I don’t think I’ve ever met an Aussie traveller who flies regularly to the US who wouldn’t sell their first born to avoid doing immigration checks at LAX).

    Living in London now, I must admit preferring to transit through Singapore rather than Perth, but in order to save a fortune avoiding the Air Passenger Duty out of Heathrow, I’d gladly catch the Eurostar to Paris or jump on a short hop out of London City to Frankfurt and fly directly to the Aussie East Coast.

    Obviously there isn’t a market now, but given the lead times for new aircraft development, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this delay to the project as a negotiating tactic rather than a withdrawal from the market.

    Anyway – just my 2c (or should that be 2d now that I’m in London) worth

  20. Here in Australia, most of us heading west to Europe, the Middle East or Africa are already flying for four hours before we even leave Australian airspace! Personally though, I can think of nothing worse than a 18-20 hour non-stop flight from Sydney to London, especially in Y class. Give me a stopover every time. It’s just too long to be cooped up in a confined tin can, with 300 other people, all determined to get spread out and eat as much as they can…

  21. People who want to split journeys and enjoy stopovers already have masses and masses of choices. If that’s your preferred way of travelling — good for you!

    But why the hate and scorn for those of us who prefer a direct and non-stop ULH option?

    I mostly fly for business. Every connection introduces a higher risk that the journey will be disrupted; that means I need to travel earlier, so I can be confident I’ll arrive for my meetings in time. That increases the cost to my employer, and means I spend even more nights away from home in some bland airport hotel. The alleged glamour of seeing a water-feature in some hideous shopping mall at Changi is not sufficient incentive for me. Though if you like that sort of thing, well, fill your boots.

    The ad hominem attacks on Joyce seem strange, but I don’t understand the financial comments: Qantas has made clear that their Perth—London route has become one of their most profitable. Seems like lots of people appreciate having the option of non-stop ULHs.

  22. It would have shown more guts and optimism about 2022 to stay the course on Project Sunrise.

  23. @Craig Sandford – honestly champ…

    Brisbane and Melbourne have the same number of Qantas International destinations.

    There are more QF international destinations from Melbourne than Jetstar.

    Sydney is QFs main hub. Unsurprisingly, when they serve a destination with a single flight, it’s usually Sydney. For some reason, you seem to believe you have access to more data than Qantas about where they extract better return.

    The repatriation flights being from Melbourne? Not sure what your point is. They are 787s, Qantas bases them in Melbourne and Brisbane. They usually operate the London route with a 787 from Melbourne. So I am not sure why this is unusual. Further, since these are government backed, there is consideration to spread the flights around the country to ensure hotel capacity for the 14 day quarantine.

    It is not an illusion. The GDP output of Sydney is $461 billion V Melbourne $369 billion. Given current predictions, Melbourne will at some point become the bigger city and economy. It has not yet.

    Of Australia’s top 20 publicly listed companies. 8 are based in Melbourne. 8 are based in Sydney. (Though i’d be surprised if most big Australian companies didn’t have offices in both). Sydney to Melbourne being the busiest route may also have something to do with distance and the two largest population centres.

    Can agree that LAX customs is the pits. But in my experience I haven’t really heard anyone rave about any US customs experience.

    And nope, I don’t live in Sydney and I like Melbourne a lot more.

  24. For all it’s worth, I’d rather break a journey of almost 20 hours to two equal halves and take a break midpoint. That ideal midpoint would be JFK-HNL-SYD instead of stopovers in LAX, PPT or AKL. That’s 10 hrs each segment, and I get overnight options for a beachside meal.

    I understand people want to minimize airtime and just get there, but sometimes, it’s not the healthiest thing to do. There’s a lot to learn from the adage of stopping to smell the roses (or the plumeria lei’s).

  25. I would imagine there will be demand for this again in 5-10 years. ✈️ At least I hope so — would be great to fly from NYC to SYD nonstop!

    Demand for travel will return, just as it did after 9/11, though this time it may take a bit longer. I think it’s a (big) question of when, not if – which is why QF is smart not to commit to any kind of timeline right now.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *