Airbus well placed to meet Qantas’s Project Sunrise goals

The tail of Airbus’s A350-1000 demonstrator frames a Qantas Airbus A380 at Sydney Airport on Monday morning. (Bernie Proctor)

Airbus is well placed to meet Qantas’s requirements for ultra long-haul flights from Australia’s east coast to London and New York, the airframer’s head of A350 marketing Marisa Lucas-Ugena says.

Since the Australian flag carrier put forward its Project Sunrise goals in August 2017, the airline has been meeting with Airbus and Boeing to share information about the requirements for an aircraft capable of operating nonstop with a full load on these ultra long-haul routes by 2022.

While details remain scarce for now, it is understood Qantas is seeking an aircraft capable of carrying 300 passengers in both directions on both the New York and London 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 (ultra long-range) from Airbus in a two-horse race.

Lucas-Ugena says Airbus is in an “extremely good place to work on this challenge” thanks to the A350-900ULR.

“Are we better placed than anybody else to meet it? Absolutely,” Lucas-Ugena told reporters during media briefing at Qantas’s Mascot jet base on Monday prior to a A350-1000 demonstration flight around Sydney.

“What you see on the -900 is just the beginning and you are going to start seeing some of the developments in 2018. Yes we are ready and we will have to work hard still just to get that extra mile, literally, but we are very optimistic.”

The Airbus website states the A350-900ULR was capable of flying 19 hours and carry up to 165,000 litres of fuel.  Lucas-Ugena’s presentation showed the aircraft had a range of 9,700nm.

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

The first A350-900ULR is less than a year away from commercial service, with Singapore Airlines (SIA) the launch customer.

SIA plans to use the aircraft to resume nonstop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles (8,770nm) and New York (9,534nm) later in 2018.

In the meantime, SIA commenced Singapore-San Francisco (7,340nm) nonstop flights with a A350-900 in the airline’s standard three-class configuration of 42 business, 24 premium economy and 187 economy seats.

Lucas-Ugena said the A350-900ULR was capable of flying nonstop from Sydney to both London and New York.

However, whether the aircraft would do so while meeting Qantas’s range, comfort and performance requirements was something its technical teams were continuing to evaluate.

“Qantas is putting on the table their needs. And then it is up to us to see how we can meet them,” Lucas-Ugena said.

“We are evaluating what we need to do and when we know what exactly what has to be done, we’ll see. But I am not going to comment on what we are looking at.”

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said recently a request for proposal (RFP) was expected in 2019.

“We’re trying to work on how we get the aircraft capable of being able to make the distance, but the important thing is not only to make the distance, but to make it with a full passenger load,” Joyce said during the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit on February 5, according to a report from Flightglobal.

“We want both manufacturers to have an aircraft that is capable of doing it. If that’s the case we’ll do an RFP next year.”

While it is true the Boeing 777-8X, whose entry into service is scheduled for 2022, and 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.

Just last week a senior Boeing executive expressed confidence the 777-8X would be up to the task of meeting Qantas’s Project Sunrise goals.

“I think that the baseline of the 8X is a much better place to start than any of our competitor’s baselines,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of marketing told Australian Aviation at the Singapore Airshow on February 6.

While the 777-8X is still in development and yet to reach firm configuration, the Boeing website lists the aircraft as having a range of 8,700nm and a passenger capacity of 350-375 passengers.



  1. Brendan says

    Be nice if QF shared their specification for the economy seats!
    The base 350 allows wider seats than the 787 but will QF follow that lead?

  2. Stephen Boyce says

    they need at least 20 a350-900 ulr and 10 a350-1000 to be able to to serve London Paris Rome and Johannesburg Capetown Rio De Janeiro and Santiago but it will be tough competition because the Boeing 777-8 is very good

  3. Joe says

    Just like there is an A350-900ULR, Airbus may surprise all with an A350-1000ULR that could carry 300 passengers over that distance. Remember that the A359 started at 7450nm and now is at 8200nm in standard seating configuration and 9700nm in reduced ULR seating configuration.

    That being said, Boeing may have an advantage since Qantas already operates the 787.

  4. Chris says

    Joe – I agree with you. With the B777X still in the planning/development phase, Airbus is well ahead in the ultra long haul market and I wouldn’t be suprised that Airbus will do a A350-1000ULR for those airlines how want to operate direct ‘Point 2 Point’ ultra long haul services. I think Boeing might come up with a B789ER aircraft to go in competition with the A359ULR, as they currently do not have any product in this market.

  5. Mark says

    I traveled on the A350 recently and I can certainly say it is a much nicer aircraft than the B787 on a number of levels.

  6. ESLowe says

    This all very well, but most of those seats are going to need to be premium-tourist class (it’s going to be a 22 hour subsonic flight from Sydney to New York)….and in 2025 how many business class seats are going to be lost to the Mach 2.2, 45 passenger Boom jet? Airlines don’t make their money in cattle-class.

  7. Alex says

    At the end of the day, QF will go with whichever aircraft best suits their business needs. They are not one to preference one plane over the other due to manufacturer, but rather whether it meets up financially. Hence the fleet is a mix of Airbus and Boeing.

  8. Craigy says

    @ Alex Exactly!

    AA to Qantas has announced daily Mel-Dps services starting in June with B738 aircraft

  9. Max says


    Why would Boeing have the advantage in that they operate the 787.They have operated the A330-200,300 for over ten years and they have a lot more in common with the A350 which would mean less impact on training for crews and engineering.The A350 is virtually a known quantity at the moment with the ULR pending and the 777X is yet to fly.QF were a handful of airlines that were brought in to define the design of the original 777 and they were the only ones not to order.I think the 777X might be more of an A380 replacement.

  10. Bill says

    A -1000ULR would surely be too heavy to have any extra advantage over the -900ULR, similar to how the 777-200UR has an extra 1200 NM over the 777-300ER. I’m sure Airbus would have studied the option extending the legs on -1000 but decided the benefit wasn’t there.

  11. says

    I think what is telling is that Qantas is not taking up the option (falling due this month) for the next 787-9. What you would have thought logically is that Qantas would have taken up that option and used it not for its main line operation , but for Jetstar, as there is no doubt that the Jetstar operations with the Boeing 787-8 have been very well bedded down and operating both successfully and financially. Its is quite obvious that Jetstar could now use a couple more Boeing 787 aircraft to exploit market opportunities for going further afield other than than just Asia and Hawaii.(either as 787-8’s or with the addition of some 787-9’s) For instance other leisure routes such as YMML to LGAV (Scoot has effectively cornered that market at the moment) either non stop or perhaps via YPPH or even YSSY to KLAS.

    So this lack of decision to boost Jetstar numbers makes me wonder whether Qantas are thinking about possibly acquiring both aircraft – Airbus A350 (either 900 or 1000 for Jetstar and as an A330 Qantas mainline replacement for Asia, with the Boeing 777-X aircraft when it eventuates in 2020/2021 for Project Sunrise.. Of course another option might be for Jetstar to acquire some new Airbus A321ULR aircraft for Jetstar as this will put many new International options available for Jetstar from secondary airports such as YMHB, YSCB,

    What is most telling for me is that the A350-9oo ULR will be in service by later this year with Singapore Airlines yet the comparable Boeing platform the Boeing 777-X will not be available for at least another two years) In my view this combined with the decision to “give away” the February Boing 787-9 option is the most telling matter.

  12. says

    Another interesting hypothesis is that Qantas replaces its A330-200 airframes used for its International operations with the current Jetstar fleet of 11 Boeing 787-8 and deploys the Boeing 787-8 into Qantas International Asia operations supplementing them with more Boeing 787-9 aircraft, thus making Qantas International operations virtually all Boeing ( and replacing the A380’s with the Boeing 777-x in 2020-2022 when they become available). (Of course this is on the basis that it replaces all its Boeing 747 -400 remaining airframes).

    Then, replacing the entire Jetstar fleet with the A350 either A350-900 or 900ULR. Thus Jetstar would be a 100% Airbus operation and Qantas a 100% Boeing operation (not including the QantasLink fleet).

  13. Scott says

    The 787 and A380 might not be the right combination moving forward for Qantas. Think domestic and short Asia 797 falling into place and 777/A350 for longhaul.
    The 787 is great but at the extreme range it’s very small cabin wise. Domestically it’s now regarded as to heavy, for Asia however I would have thought 787-10 was the pic for 330 replacement, why pay for range >7500nm on 9’s when the mission is only 3500-5000nm the sweet spot for 10.
    Would think long and ULR are the domain of 350-900 and LAX 350-1000 or
    778 ULH and 779 LAx and 787-10 Asia.
    Order book much smaller for 787 when considering 797 on horizon.

  14. PC says

    Wonder how QF factors in pax comfort . Both types have pro & cons .However as another poster states the A350 is streets ahead on pax comfort to the 787 those wider seats do count in cattle class . End of the day it comes down to what the bean counters and engineers favour Lots more pilots will need to be employed over next 15 years as all the grey ghosts start to retire (lost 6 this week alone)

  15. Reg Boyle says

    JAL split it’s purchases between Airbus and Boeing following the grounding of the 787, why would Qantas not take similar precautions? Especially as the 777-8 is yet to appear.