Boeing pitches 777-8X for Qantas’s Project Sunrise

An artist's impression of the Boeing 777-8X. (Boeing)
An artist’s impression of the Boeing 777-8X. (Boeing)

Boeing Commercial Airplanes managing director for product marketing and analysis Jim Freitas says the manufacturer is working hard to understand Qantas’s requirements for “Project Sunrise” as it pitches the in-development 777-8X widebody to operate the proposed ultra-long haul routes.

Project Sunrise – the name is a nod to the “Double Sunrise” flights Qantas operated between Perth and Sri Lanka using Catalinas in WW2 – pits Boeing’s 777-8X against the A350-900ULR from Airbus in a two-horse race for Qantas’s plans to serve New York and London, among other destinations, nonstop from Australia’s east coast.

Freitas says the 777-8X project is progressing on schedule, with Boeing’s Everett composite wing centre up and running and the first spars loaded earlier in October. Entry-into-service was scheduled for 2022.

Further, Boeing engineers are currently in dialogue with Qantas to determine the requirements for those ultra-long-haul journeys and what that would mean for the design of the aircraft.

“When airlines want to use our aeroplanes to the limit of their capability, as an aircraft designer nothing makes you more excited,” Freitas told reporters during a media briefing at Everett on Sunday (US time). “That’s an incredible challenge.”

“Absolutely we know that the airplane can make the range today, it is just with how many passengers at what weight assumptions, how much cargo and that kind of thing.

“Does the capability of the airplane today make the requirements that Qantas has or do we have to add something else to that to be able to make that range.”

While the headline routes for Qantas’s Project Sunrise are the nonstop flights to London and New York, the airline has indicated its ultra long-haul ambitions extend to four continents of the globe.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says Airbus and Boeing come close in terms of meeting the mission of a full passenger and cargo payload in both directions for London and New York from Australia’s east coast capitals of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, as well as points in South America and South Africa.

“We think this challenge is feasible,” Joyce told reporters at Boeing’s Everett plant on Sunday (US time).

“From our perspective, the critical thing is to get it with full payload. We want the full capability of the 777-8X on those routes with full passenger payload and full freight payload.”

(The airline has invited journalists, including Australian Aviation to Seattle for events leading up to first delivery of its first Boeing 787-9. The first Qantas 787-9, VH-ZNA, is due to touch down in Sydney on Friday morning.)

Potential routes for Qantas's Project Sunrise. (Qantas)
A slide presentation showing potential routes for Qantas’s Project Sunrise. (Qantas)

While most of the initial focus when Project Sunrise was publicly launched in August was on London Heathrow (9,188nm from Sydney) and New York JFK (8,647nm), Qantas has also earmarked Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (7,312nm) and Cape Town (5,946nm) in South Africa as new frontiers for nonstop service.

And Joyce has publicly stated a desire to mount nonstop flights to other European points beyond London, such as Paris and an unspecified city in Germany.

“We’d love to be able to fly directly into Brazil, into Rio and we’d love to be able to fly directly into Cape Town,” Joyce said.

“Existing technology doesn’t allow us to do that. While the aircraft is close, it’s not quite there.”

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

While it is true the Boeing 777-8X and Airbus A350-900ULR are capable of operating those routes, the range versus payload specifications were not quite where Qantas believed they needed to be for either airframes to ensure the routes were economically viable.

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

However, the final specifications will only be known after further development of the aircraft design and an analysis of its General Electric GE9X engines.

Meanwhile, Airbus has not published specific technical data on the A350-900ULR, stating only the long- range variant was capable of flying 19 hours and carry up to 165,000 litres of fuel. By comparison, the standard A350-900 has a range of 8,100nm and could take on 141,000 litres of fuel.

Although Qantas has not spelled out its specific requirements for passenger count and cargo, preferring only to say a full payload was the target, Joyce did offer one little detail about the potential cabin layout.

“Our ideal is to have all of our classes on board the aircraft,” he said.

“We know there is a certain demand for business, we know there is a certain demand for premium economy.

“And we know we have to have economy on the aircraft to make the economics work. The prices will be competitive.”

Comments

  1. Teddy says

    This is undoubtedly a move by QF to eradicate the advantage of IATA Sixth-Freedom carriers (basically all interline countries that sit under the point-to-point flight paths – for example: Emirates, Etihad, Cathay, Singapore).

    These carriers will be locked out of the blue-ribbon routes – Kangaroo Route to London, Southern Cross route to the Americas, leaving only home carriers of the two nations to compete.

    Whilst there will always be the market for one-stop services (particularly in low-fare markets), converting premium high-fare passengers to non-stop services removes any competitive advantage the Sixth-Freedom carriers have, because they won’t be allowed to compete on the non-stop routes.

    Unfortunately due to the sparse nature of the southern hemisphere, Australia, NZ and South Africa suffer the end-of-line geographic disadvantage more than anywhere else on the planet.

    No wonder QF has been waiting for viable ULR aircraft – it’s the only way for end-of-line carriers to counter the IATA Sixth-Freedom rights.

  2. Chris says

    The current specifications for the A350-900ULR is up to 9,700 nm (17,960 km) which currently meet Qantas’s SYD/LHR requirement.

    Singapore Airlines is the launch customer for the A350-900ULR which will carry 170 passengers in mainly ‘enharence’ economy, preiumum economy and business class configuration.

  3. Lechuga says

    777X would be perfect to line up along side the dream liners. 8X for long range and 9X for capacity.

  4. Holden says

    @Chris – industry conjecture thus far has the SQ A350-900ULR cabin configuration as follows:

    – 68x Business Class
    – 94x Premium Economy

    That’s 162 seats.

    From the article above it would seem that QF is committed to Economy seating for its ULR aircraft, so the SQ 162 seat cabin is unlikely to be followed by QF. As noted by @Teddy, it wants to quarantine access to premium passengers via the non-stop carrot. Obviously it does not want to completely abandon the bottom of the market either.

    I can’t see QF wanting an aircraft with vastly increased capacity than it’s new 787-9, but closer to 275 in 3 class (akin to B772 or B77W) seems closer to the mark.

  5. Craigy says

    @Chris Joyce has said in the article that the current aircraft don’t meet Qantas’ requirements for passenger load and cargo. This is the challenge that has been given to both Airbus and Boeing.

    @ Teddy I agree however, there will still be a market for the hub airlines in the mid-east and Asia for destinations where the volume from Australia would be insufficient to support direct flights

    The idea of fling direct to Rio is a good one. Another LATAM hub so the opportunities for passenger connections that the Qantas-Latam relationship brings enhances passenger options.

  6. Mick says

    @Chris

    I think that’s the issue though, the bird might have the legs, but there’s little point unless there’s a profit on landing. QF would’ve crunched the numbers many ways and no doubt have also looked at SQ’s model yet don’t think 170 pax will work commercially from Australia’s east coast. AJ’s comment says a lot ‘The prices will be competitive’. At 170 pax they probably can’t be competitive or can’t produce a profit if competitive.

  7. D W Bell says

    One of the big issues for the Americas back down under is the prevailing head wind/fuel burn issue. Talking to a pilot doing 777.3 flights the southern direction head wind issue can add up to 5 to 7 tonne of fuel burned or basically 3/4 to and hour off the flight capability. That gets tricking if you have even a 80% cabin and full bins underneath to land and top up. There is also the issue of crew duty time etc with unscheduled drop ins. While some people feel that the 747’s have reached a used by date, the fact is that with some tweaking of the engines and re-balancing the aircraft they are capable of 16 to 18 hours, esp the new gen 8x.

  8. says

    The big question for me is what will Qantas or any other airline for that matter do to encourage passengers, especially in economy to get on an aircraft for 17 hours straight with no break?

    Having done Doha to Aukland in economy It was agony and with current cabin offerings I would never do it again!

    DVT socks, free water and an extra inch recline won’t cut the mustard in my view!

  9. Bruce Robinson says

    I flew with SQ and TG on non stop flights from New York to Singapore and Bangkok respectively on A340-500 aircraft.These were discontinued a few years ago as these were unable to make much money. The longest flight was just over 19 hours on SQ in an all business configuration – plenty of room and lay flat seats etc. Even then it was demanding for pax and crew. I would never fly this long in economy so good luck QF.

  10. Rocket says

    Teddy,
    Absolutely spot on – it’s an exceptionally smart move by Qantas that gets around what has a effectively been a fraud for years where even carriers who were overt about it in the 70s/80s would use the same aeroplane, same seats for the passengers but add an ‘A’ to the flight number or change it slightly such as from 222 to 322 at the transit point.
    It removes that cannibalization that’s been happening and probably locks VA out too because they can’t even make a profit in a vibrant domestic market with low fuel so they are in no shape to start doing what QF9/10 will do in 2018… I think we may well see a Qantas in a few years with a core fleet of A380 (although they may go)… 777-8X, 777-10X and 787/797 for the long, thin routes and domestic/Asia… with the core of 737-MAX for the mainline domestic.
    VA will still be contracting out flying to Alliance and still acquiring aircraft then disposing of them and bleeding money off their overseas owners.

  11. Donald Bebek says

    Airlines which have had all business class configurations have had a history of failing. Ozjet comes to mind with their all business B737s in the mid 2000’s. Research should be done as to why this happens, but my guess is that people have the need to feel superior over the economy class passengers when they buy a business class ticket. When you only have one class throughout the whole aircraft, you can not have that feeling of superiority, and thus explains why airlines which have tried the ‘all business’ configuration have failed. So Qantas may have the right mix, with the 3 class configuration of business, premium economy and economy on their 787-9s despite being ULH.