Qantas one step closer to long-haul flight promise

Just a matter of months after Qantas CEO Alan Joyce announced a new long-haul flight ambition, the national carrier is one step closer to realising its goals.

Back in August, upon announcing the mammoth $1.4 billion profit for FY17, Joyce revealed what he called ‘Project Sunrise’, which challenged Boeing and Airbus to deliver aircraft capable of direct flights from Sydney to London, Brisbane to Paris, and Melbourne to New York.

“From next year, we’ll be flying direct from Perth to London. So the time is right to set ourselves a new challenge. To chase a new frontier,” Joyce said.

“This is a last frontier in global aviation. And a revolution for air travel in Australia.”

“I have written to the CEOs of Boeing and Airbus to extend the challenge to them. Both manufacturers are developing aircraft that can almost do the job – the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350ULR.

And now, in response to Project Sunrise, a nod to the Double Sunrise flights operated by Qantas across the Indian Ocean in WWII, where they remained airborne long enough to see two sunrises, Boeing is rising to the very ambitious occasion.

Joyce’s challenge pitted the Airbus A350-900ULR (ultra-long range) against the Boeing 777-8X, and it seems Boeing is the first to respond.

Per Australian AviationBoeing Commercial Airplanes Vice President and Chief Project Engineer for the 777X program, Michael Teal, said they were working with Qantas to understand its requirements.

“The good thing about getting in on it early with Qantas and their request is really to understand their fleet requirements and the market demands,” Teal said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, per AA.

“If you look at the exact airplane we have on paper today, which is not at firm configuration, it falls short of all their desires but exceeds many of their desires. What we are doing today is looking at what knobs we can twist.

“We are highly motivated to participate with them on Project Sunrise and make sure that the aircraft offering we have will meet their needs.”

The 777-8X is still in development and yet to reach firm configuration, however the Boeing website lists the aircraft as having a range of 8,700nm and a passenger capacity of 350-375 passengers, with the aircraft expected to enter service in 2022.

It already boasts new advancements including new, more powerful engines, new composite wings with folding wingtips, and in-cabin enhancements like more overhead storage space and a wider cross section.

The GE9X engine is due to begin flight tests on General Electric’s flying testbed before the end of the year.

Per AA, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Vice President and General Manager for the 777X program, Eric Lindblad, said he “expected the 777-8X to have a “greater customer base than what you see in the 777-200LR”.

“We also expect that the -9 to be our top seller and the -8 will just fit inside of the fleet architecture that various of our customers want.”

Qantas has also hinted that Cape Town, South Africa and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are on the horizon for additional direct, long-haul flights.

Currently, the world’s longest route by distance is Qatar Airways’ Doha-Auckland service at 7,848nm, operated by Boeing 777-200LR aircraft.