Qantas Airways has committed to the Airbus A350 for its long-delayed “Project Sunrise” ultra-long-haul Sydney-New York and Sydney-London flights.
In one camp, there are the travelers who do not mind almost 20 hours in an aircraft if it means shaving a few hours off their total trip. And in the other, there are those who will take the mid-trip opportunity to stretch their legs in places like Dubai or Los Angeles on treks around the world.
What’s clear is that the former camp — those clamoring for more, longer nonstops — are getting their way. Qantas’ finalized an order for 12 A350-1000s, which it first selected in 2019, for Project Sunrise. These aircraft would operate by far the longest proposed air routes and most audacious commitment to ultra-long haul flights to date. The nonstops from Sydney to London Heathrow and New York Kennedy will clock in at 10,573 miles and 9,950 miles, respectively, according to Great Circle Mapper. They roundly beat the current record holder — Singapore Airlines’ Singapore-New York nonstop — by almost 500 miles.
“The A350 and Project Sunrise will make any city just one flight away from Australia. It’s the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said on May 2.
And Joyce has good reason to think the nonstops will succeed. Qantas launched nonstop flights to London from Perth — the first from the Australian continent — in 2017 and, despite many naysayers, it has been heralded as a success. Joyce said the Perth-London route had “strong demand” prior to the Covid-19 crisis, and “the highest customer satisfaction on our network.”
Qantas has yet to resume Perth-London nonstops but flights to London via Darwin, a gateway switch made due to travel restrictions in Western Australia, were among the first long-haul routes it resumed. And, also on May 2, the airline said demand to London via Darwin was above pre-crisis levels. The Darwin-London route clocks in at 8,611 miles, which puts it behind only Singapore Airlines’ Los Angeles and New York nonstops among the longest routes in operation globally.
Air New Zealand will enter the fray with its own Auckland-New York nonstop — an 8,828 mile route — from September 17.
For those travelers who do not mind the almost-20-hour flights, Qantas plans some plush furnishings. The airline will unveil new first-class and business-class suites on its A350s, as well as more spacious premium economy and economy options. And, in a recognition of the physical toll of such long flights, Qantas’ layout includes a “wellbeing zone” to promote “movement, stretching and hydration” for all passengers. The carrier will configure its A350-1000s with 238 seats, which is more than 100 fewer than Airbus’ typical three-class layout of at least 350 passengers for the aircraft.
Qantas anticipates delivery of its first A350-1000 in 2025 with flights to either London or New York beginning the same year.
Qantas’ finalization of the Project Sunrise aircraft is one facet of a broader fleet renewal program. The airline also firmed orders for 20 A220-300s and 20 A321XLRs on May 2 to replace its Boeing 717 and 737 aircraft by the end of the decade. The orders are part of a 134 aircraft commitment for the A220 and A320neo families that Qantas revealed in December. The airline has purchase right options with Airbus for the remaining 94 aircraft. The first A220 will arrive in late 2023 and be followed by the first A321XLR a year later.
All of the fleet moves come amid an improving outlook for Qantas. The airline said travel demand is recovering faster than forecast, which matches the outlooks given by most foreign carriers and particularly U.S. airlines. Qantas will fly 105 percent of its pre-pandemic domestic capacity in the June quarter — the final three-month period in its fiscal year that ends in June — and expects positive earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) for the segment for the first time since the crisis began. Domestic corporate demand has recovered to 85 percent of pre-Covid levels.
International is another story. Although demand continues to recover rapidly, Qantas noted that it remains depressed where travel restrictions are still in place. However, demand exceeds pre-pandemic levels in key markets, including to Bali, Johannesburg, London, and Los Angeles.
Qantas maintains its forecast of a fiscal 2022 loss but expects a profitable 2023 fiscal year. The airline anticipates positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of A$450-550 million ($317-388 million) during the six months ending in June.