Qantas has confirmed that it will use Airbus A350-1000s on its planned ultra-long-haul services if Project Sunrise proceeds, although no orders have yet been placed.
Project Sunrise is the airline’s plan to launch the world’s longest direct flights between destinations such as London and Sydney.
While still in the testing phase, Project Sunrise flights are planned to start operating in 2023. Qantas recently tested the impact of a 19-hour research flight on passengers and crew on one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Bosses had been looking at both the A350 and Boeing 777X, which is facing delivery delays, as the preferred aircraft. Now, it has confirmed that it will use modified A350s with the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine.
Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum take-off weight to deliver the performance required for Sunrise routes.
No orders have been placed but Qantas will work to prepare contract terms for up to 12 aircraft ahead of a final decision by the board.
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.
The last of three Project Sunrise research flights (New York to Sydney) will take off on Tuesday. Once complete, Qantas will have almost 60 hours of ‘Sunrise flying’ experience and thousands of data points on crew and passenger wellbeing.
The data for crew will be used as part of final discussions with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to approve an extension to current operating limits required for ultra-long-haul services. CASA has provisionally advised that it sees no regulatory obstacles to the Sunrise flights.
Qantas pilots serving on Sunrise flights have been offered promotions and a 3% pay increase.
Qantas Group’s CEO, Alan Joyce, said that the business is confident in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia.
He said: “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.
“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.
“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.”