Airbus is pitching its its A350-900ULR (ultra-long range) variant for Qantas’ proposed nonstop flights from Australia’s east coast to New York and London as part of the airline’s “Project Sunrise”.
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.
Airbus vice president for the Pacific Iain Grant says the manufacturer is working closely with Qantas’s technical staff on the project.
“We are bringing out the A350-900ULR which is going to do a 20-hour mission so we are very comfortable with that, and we will continue to work with them to meet their requirements,” Grant told reporters during a media briefing in Sydney on Thursday.
“We are very excited about the Sydney-London project. We are heavily involved with all of the teams there.”
Singapore Airlines (SIA) is the launch customer for the A350-900ULR, with the Star Alliance member and Virgin Australia partner to use the aircraft to resume nonstop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York in 2018.
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.
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.
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.
Grant described ultra-long haul as a “complicated beast”.
“It’s a niche market. It’s a market where we think it’s pretty high premium,” Grant said.
“Do you want to be sat in a first class seat for 20 hours. How many people would do that? I think there is mixed views whether you are willing to go ultra-long haul or not.”
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said recently the choice of aircraft to complete these ultra-long haul missions would be represent the “last frontier in challenging the distance that has always been a problem for the Australian market”.
“We’ve gotten a great reaction from both manufacturers,” Joyce said during a speech to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on November 27, according to an audio recording on the society’s website.
“Just before I came here I had a note from Tom Enders the CEO of Airbus saying that our team had gone to Toulouse talked to Airbus about their aircraft the A350 and he was very impressed with our approach.”