Qantas Airbus A350
Qantas Airbus A350

Qantas Committed to Launching Project Sunrise

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has reaffirmed his airlines’ commitment to ultra-long-haul travel; stating that an order for the Airbus A350-1000 could be made at the end of 2021, with the possibility of launching flights in 2024.

In an interview on an Aviation Straight Talk event, Joyce provided details on Qantas’ position throughout the COVID-19 aviation crisis; including their commitment to Project Sunrise and restarting international travel.

Project Sunrise is Qantas’ effort to make non-stop flights of up to 21 hours in length a reality. The flights would focus on connecting the east-coast of Australia to parts of Europe and America. The name reflects the shear distance of the flights, which allow passengers and crew to witness two sunrises.

After opting for an adapted version of the Airbus A350-1000 ,over the Boeing 777X, Qantas was just weeks away from placing an order before COVID-19 put the plans on hold in May 2020.

Qantas Project Sunrise
Qantas Project Sunrise Route Map (Photo: Qantas)

Now, as vaccines for the virus are distributed around the world, Joyce sees the non-stop flights as the way of the future. Qantas has previously stated that vaccines will play a major part in the resumption of travel, strongly supporting the “no jab, no fly” condition.

A firm backing for ultra long-flights already exists within the Qantas network. Their non-stop Perth to London flight was their most profitable international route before COVID-19, it also held the position of the route with the most passenger satisfaction. Joyce is placing extra confidence in Project Sunrise, by stating that passengers would rather spend 18-20 hours in a clean and controlled environment than add a stop halfway along their journey.

Cabin Selection and Health Optimisation

Joyce has confirmed that the cabin for the globe-trotting A350-1000s has already been finalised, it is also confirmed that it will be far greater than anything they have put in the air before.

Australian Executive Traveller has provided insight into this via a previous interview; disclosing that there will be six First Class seats in a 1-1-1 configuration, with an adequately sized Business, Premium and Economy section.

Areas to maintain passenger and crew mental and physical wellbeing are also included in the cabin design; thanks to research conducted by Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre and Monash University, in conjunction with CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity.

In addition to physical cabin features, a menu that optimises bodily functions for rest, relaxation and alertness will also be incorporated.

More can be seen on what is involved in Project Sunrise by viewing Sam Chui’s experience on a research flight:

As for COVID-19, nothing has been disclosed about what changes will be made to the aircraft cabins to help passengers regain their confidence in international flight. Rather, airlines and manufacturers have been busy highlighting the existing technologies already available in their aircraft; such as high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) for cabin air circulation and ultra-violet lights, in combination with anti-bacterial surfaces, to curb the spread of COVID and other infectious substances.

Modified A350-1000s

Just before Sunrise was put on hold Qantas had selected the A350 over the 777X, but they had not placed a firm order. Instead, the airline was working with Airbus on contractual terms to initially take up to 12 aircraft.

Details on the aircraft remain limited; however, at the time of the announcement, Qantas has said that Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight, to deliver the performance required for the long-range flights. It is unknown how many modifications Airbus will be required to make to bring the aircraft up to Qantas spec, or even if there will be other demand for an extended range -1000 model; however Qantas has succeeded in scoring specialised aircraft in the past.

The 747-400ER was a Qantas’s exclusive variant of the 747-400. Having only ordered six, the modifications performed on the aircraft are similar to what is planned for the A350-1000s that they are set to take.

a plane taking off from a runway

When announcing their decision, Qantas highlighted the excellent service record of the A350 and its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine; when it comes to ultra-long-haul flights reliability, safety and performance is of extreme importance.

“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, Qantas Chief Executive

The A380s Relevance in Qantas’ Fleet

In addition to operating the A350-1000 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner on international flights, Qantas still sees an important spot for the A380: Heavy trunk routes.

Los Angeles is a perfect business case for the A380, purely because of the scheduling windows Qantas has to meet to comply with curfews.

Rather than flying multiple frequencies right on top of each other, an A380 that’s fully or nearly fully written down, if it generates cash, will absolutely work.

Alan Joyce, Chief Executive of Qantas via Aviation Straight Talk

Similar scheduling windows and seriously expensive slots at Heathrow Airport also make the A380 shine; however as the airline begins to take A350-1000s for Project Sunrise, the use case for the A380 is expected to decline.

But after spending millions of dollars on new interiors, that have only seen the light of day for a short time, the A380 isn’t expected to leave anytime in the near future; the aircraft still remains a highly popular choice for international travellers.