A likely contender for Qantas’s demanding Project Sunrise requirement for an aircraft capable of operating nonstop flights from Sydney to London and New York has broken cover, with the first Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range) aircraft emerging from the manufacturer’s final assembly line at Toulouse yesterday.
The A350-900ULR is the first of seven SIA has on order for the resumption of Singapore-New York and Singapore-Los Angeles nonstop services. The airline dropped the two routes, which were previously served with four-engine A340-500s, in 2013 when high fuel prices made flying them uneconomical.
Although the first A350-900ULR, MSN216, is yet to be painted, it already features the words “Singapore Airlines First To Fly” on the fuselage alongside the A350XWB Ultra Long Range logo.
Airbus said the aircraft would be put through a short flight test program to certify the changes over the standard A350-900.
The manufacturer said the A350-900ULR had a modified fuel system that increased the fuel carrying capacity by 24,000 litres (from 141,000 litres to 165,000 litres) over the standard A350-900 without the need for additional fuel tanks.
“The test phase will also measure enhanced performance derived from aerodynamic improvements, including extended winglets,” Airbus said on Wednesday.
The A350-900ULR has been designed with a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 280 tonnes and is designed to be capable of flying up to 9,700nm or more than 20 hours non-stop.
The Singapore-New York (Newark) route, which clocks in at 8,285nm, was the world’s longest nonstop passenger flight before the service ended in 2013. Singapore-Los Angeles is 7,621nm. Currently, the title of world’s longest nonstop passenger flight goes to Qatar Airways for its Doha-Auckland service (7,848nm) operated by the Boeing 777-200LR.
To date there have been 854 firm orders for the A350 XWB family of aircraft – comprising the A350-900, A350-900ULR and A350-1000 – from 45 customers, Airbus has said.
SIA has taken delivery of 21 A350-900s, out of a total of 67 on order. Although the airline was yet to reveal the cabin layout for its A350-900ULR, SIA executives have indicated previously the cabin will feature a two-class configuration, without specifying which classes.
The A350 and Project Sunrise
Airbus is hoping the A350-900ULR is the aircraft that will one day operate nonstop from Sydney to London and New York in Qantas colours.
The Australian carrier is currently looking for an aircraft capable of flying those ultra long haul routes, and others, as part of Project Sunrise.
The campaign pits the A350-900ULR against Boeing’s 777-8X.
Airbus head of A350 marketing Marisa Lucas-Ugena told media in Sydney recently the airframer was 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 a media briefing at Qantas’s Mascot jet base on February 12 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.”
VIDEO – Highlights from the Airbus A350-1000’s recent demonstration tour
Boeing too is optimistic about being able to meet Qantas’s requirements, with a senior executive telling Australian Aviation the company was making “good progress” in ensuring the 777-8X would be up to the task.
“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.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said on the sidelines of the recently-concluded Singapore Airshow a request for proposal (RFP) was expected some time in 2019.
“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,” Joyce said during the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit on February 5, according to Flightglobal.
It is understood Qantas was seeking an aircraft capable of carrying 300 passengers in both directions on both the New York and London routes.