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:
- Airbus had proposed the concept of an A350-1000 with an extended range, which Qantas provisionally selected for these flights; the airline was going to order 12 of these planes, to be delivered by 2023
- Qantas was able to come to an agreement with pilots over operating these flights, which was a major hurdle
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.
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?