The curious case of the Qantas 787-9

The carrier is set to take delivery of their first Dreamliner in less than a year, with the aircraft due in October 2017, but the big question remains – where will this aircraft fly?

Australian carrier Qantas has been very vocal about their order with Boeing for the 787-9 but is keeping the routes they intend to deploy their aircraft on under wraps. With a much more fuel efficient aircraft, Qantas claims to have the ability to dramatically change how British travellers reach Australia.

Whilst nothing has been confirmed as of yet to where this aircraft will fly, hints have been given to potentially serving some of the longest routes in the world because of the range of the Dreamliner. This would allow serving Sydney to Chicago, Melbourne to Dallas or Perth to London.

A direct link to Australia from the UK would revolutionise how Britons travel. One of the biggest obstacles surrounding visiting Australia is it typically takes around 24 hours of travelling to reach Oz. A connection, or two, is usually required from key hubs such as Doha, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Although a direct link will still see travel times of the majority of a day, it will provide a much more convenient way to travel.

Speaking at Sydney Airport last month, CEO Alan Joyce spoke of the “game-changing” direct route linking the UK and Australia. He commented: “We wouldn’t be talking to Perth Airport, which we are at the moment, about the possibility of doing the Perth-London, or the other airports about the opportunities that are there with this aircraft if we didn’t fundamentally believe we can do it.”

Should Qantas be able to launch the Perth – London route, this would become the world’s longest flight, both in terms of flight time and miles travelled. Until earlier this year, the Australian carrier held the title for longest commercial flight with their connection between Dallas/Fort Worth and Sydney. In March, Emirates began operating a service between Auckland and Dubai covering 8,825 miles over 17 hours and 25 minutes. Perth to London covers a distance of 8,991 miles which would just pip the top spot, with the assumption the service will take between 18 and 19 hours.  

The revolutionary new route has not been without its issues, despite the fact it has not yet been confirmed. Issues have surrounded where the aircraft will be placed - Qantas want to consolidate its operations at the domestic terminal on the western side of the airport's runways at terminal three and four. There are no customs and international arrivals/departure facilities at these terminals and Qantas believe the cost to upgrade facilities will be up to $25 million.

From the airport's point of view, it is believed the cost will be almost $20 million more and are not willing to facilitate this on the basis of a daily flight for little over 200 passengers. Qantas sources believe this is just the beginning for the route, which could become not only a twice-daily service, but could expand to other major European hubs like Frankfurt, Paris and Rome. 

Perth Airport would prefer these operations were consolidated by Qantas on the international side - but development and a required third runway could take between eight and ten years. Perth Airport chief executive Kevin Brown has said Perth is fully supportive of the flights, stating: "This is an exciting opportunity and Perth Airport is keen to ensure that the opportunities afford by this proposal are realised, and that the significant investments already made at Perth Airport support the long-term sustainability of the service." 

Premier and Tourism Minister Colin Barnett has expressed that "The State Government wants Perth to become the western gateway into Australia with non-stop Qantas flights between Europe and Western Australia."

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan has said: "It would be disappointing for Perth if we lost this flight on Mr. Barnett's watch." 

The configuration of Qatas’s 787-9 will allow for such ultra long-haul travel. Around 30 percent of the 236 seats in the aircraft are attributed to business and premium economy to allow for the most comfortable experience for such long flights.

It is believed the new international routes the Dreamliner will serve will be revealed in the first quarter of 2017. Eight more aircraft are due for delivery in mid-2018, followed by a further four joining the Qantas fleet roughly 12 months later.

A total of 45 Dreamliners are on the books for Qantas, going back to an order placed in 2005 for the jet. A guaranteed delivery slot is in place for the 15 aircraft considered ‘options’, whereas 30 jets are earmarked for ‘purchase rights’ so there is no fixed timeframe for their delivery.