Qantas is one step closer to flying the longest flight in the world. The airline announced the Airbus A350-1000 as their ‘preferred aircraft’ for Project Sunrise. This is the plan to launch nonstop service from Sydney to London and New York. Airbus will accommodate the needs of Project Sunrise with the extended range A350 by adding an additional fuel tank and increasing the maximum takeoff weight.
“The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.”Alan Joyce, CEO
Qantas and Airbus are working together on a contract for up to 12 aircraft. This is good news for the future of this project, but it is still too early for any firm orders to be placed. The deadline to confirm delivery slots for the new aircraft has been pushed back to March of next year. The project is on schedule for flights to launch in the first half of 2023, assuming it gets approval.
CEO Alan Joyce has repeatedly stated that Project Sunrise will only go ahead if the economics work out. That being said, the airlines support for it is stronger than ever.
Economy Class is Getting Better
There has been a lot of talk about what the passenger experience on such a long flight should be. Qantas has been doing research flights with ~50 passengers where they tested the effect of lighting, meal times, and excessive to find ways of improving comfort. There is still one more research flight scheduled later this month, but the results are already having an impact.
The flights will offer new cabins for all passenger classes. As part of the redesign, we can expect to see dedicated space for economy passengers to stretch their legs.
While this is a big step forward, Qantas still needs to finish negotiations with pilots before the project can get the green light.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the economics and we know the last gap we have to close is some efficiency gains associated with our pilots. We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs.”
Qantas also needs to gain regulatory approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, but there shouldn’t be any obstacles there.