Qantas selects A350 for Project Sunrise project

Qantas has selected European manufacturer Airbus to supply up to 12 A350-1000 aircraft capable of flying the world’s longest commercial routes from the east coast of Australia to London and New York. The Oneworld member will make a decision whether to push ahead with its ultra-long-haul Project Sunrise plans in March 2020.

Australia’s flag carrier Qantas has selected the Airbus A350-1000 as the preferred aircraft for Project Sunrise if it decides to proceed with the ultra-long-haul plans.

The airline, which hopes to operate non-stop routes from the east coast of Australia to London and New York, was evaluating the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350.

No orders have yet been placed but Qantas will work with Airbus to prepare contract terms for up to 12 aircraft ahead of a final decision by the carrier’s board. A final decision on whether to proceed with Project Sunrise will be made in March 2020.

Airbus has agreed to extend the deadline to confirm delivery slots from February 2020 to March 2020. This provides additional time to negotiate an industrial agreement without impacting the planned start date of Project Sunrise flights in the first half of 2023.

The aircraft uses the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine and Qantas said Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required for Project Sunrise routes.

“Between the research flights and what we’ve learned from two years of flying Perth to London, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia,” said Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas.

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“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.

“The aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it’s thoroughly proven after more than two years in service. This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long-haul routes if we want it to.”

Qantas has so far conducted two ultra-long-haul research flights to gather data about inflight passenger and crew health and wellbeing. The last of three research flights (New York to Sydney) will be conducted on 17 December. 

The data for crew will be used as part of final discussions with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to approve an extension to current operating limits required for these ultra-long-haul services. Qantas said that based on detailed information provided by the airline on its fatigue risk management system, CASA has provisionally advised that it sees no regulatory obstacles to the Project Sunrise flights.

“From the outset, we’ve been clear that Project Sunrise depends on a business case that works. We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks,” said Joyce.

“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.

“Airbus has given us an extra month to lock in an aircraft order without impacting our planned start date, which means we can spend more time on hopefully reaching a deal with our pilots.”

Industrial negotiations with representatives for Qantas pilots, AIPA, are continuing. The discussions are aimed at “closing the last remaining gap” in the Project Sunrise business case.

The world's furthest flights (October 2019):