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Airbus puts forward A350-900ULR for Qantas’s Project Sunrise

written by australianaviation.com.au | December 1, 2017

Could we also see an Airbus A350-900ULR (seen here in Singapore Airlines' colours) in Qantas livery for Project Sunrise? (Airbus)
Could we also see an Airbus A350-900ULR (seen here in Singapore Airlines’ colours) in Qantas livery for Project Sunrise? (Airbus)

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.”

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Comments (19)

  • Darren


    The ultimate fight between the two big dogs of aviation, Boeing and Airbus,

    in my opinion, Qantas is more likely to select the 777x over the 350.

  • Ben


    Cape Town at 5,946 nm is hardly what I’d call a new frontier. They already do SYD-JNB which is longer 5,964 nm. Cape Town would actually be easier for takeoffs/aircraft weight and performance as I think it’s at or near sea level. Compared to the high altitude of JNB.

    However if project sunrise can come to pass it would be a hugely positive and revolutionary step in air transport. I’m not known for being a huge fan of Qantas, but I truly hope they can pull this off. It would be a true game changer.

  • Peter


    Interesting opinion from the Airbus VP Pacific, questioning who’d like to sit in his own company’s First Class seat for 20 hours. Quick answer ……all those in Business or economy, even if he wouldn’t be keen on the premium product himself. He suggests it’s a niche market ” it’s pretty high premium”.
    Message to Airbus . build Concorde 2.0. Definitely a niche market there too, but at least it wouldn’t be 20 hours suffering in First Class.
    Aircraft technology has progressed so much since the first Concord, and the niche market has progressed too. Think Qatar Airlines, Emirates, Etihad and some of the Chinese airlines. Plenty of billionaires who could afford the ” pretty high premium “

  • Rodney Marinkovic


    Like to belive Airbus A350 ULR is perfect aircraft to carry people and cargo on ultra long destinations. Sydney, Melboun, Aucland… finaly with this aircraft can fly to Europe, Any destination of north or south America non stop with full payload with this ultra distance aircraft.

  • Geoff


    The A350 XWB ULR is the obvious choice for QANTAS given its much earlier availability compared to the 777-8.

    A magnificent aircraft.

  • Ashley


    Flying business or first class I can definitely see the value of a nonstop Sydney-London/NY/Rio service, but who in their right mind would subject themselves to this in economy?

    Perhaps if one was small in frame this could be doable, but for medium sized folks and up this would be torture.

    I think a compromise could consist of a dedicated half way transit lounge in Chengdu or Chongqing where the passengers can disembark into a sealed off, dedicated lounge where one could stretch their legs for a couple of hours and have a shower or something and then reboard and continue their flight.

    Being a completely sealed sterile lounge, the passengers would not have to go through any security screening or local formalities, it would simply be a case of stepping off, and then back onto the aircraft. Perhaps they could structure it in a way that people could leave the flight and join the flight. This could open up a potential new ancillary market for local Chinese customers, or Australians wanting to sample some inland Chinese pollution.

    The more I think about it, this would work for AirNZ too.

  • Stuart Brown


    A niche, are they kidding, why wouldn’t we want cheaper fares, less stops, diverting, landing, taxiing, twice, take off, boarding and unloading passengers and baggage, more landings and take offs, means more maintenance, airport fees. Sometimes the flights don’t even match, I know these guys are millionaires, but don’t they have any sense, saving $500, matters to people in the middle class, the time saved, not having to go somewhere, their not interested in. These things matter in the real world, running planes more miles per day, matters, these aircraft cost a quarter of a billion dollars, because they’re fuel efficient, why waste hours on a precious composite airframe. When it could be in the air, as for premium economy, why not, space doesn’t cost as much, in lightweight structures, weight is the critical factor, go with less baggage, an extra $250 buys a lot of stuff at the other end and you don’t have to haul it around.

    Sounds like some people just don’t get air travel, cheap, fast travel, without hassle, means more passengers, oh no, people prefer to pay more, for long sea voyages, they would have said, in the old days. Trains won’t catch on, then, we don’t need high speed trains, the horseless carriages won’t catch on, where do these people come from, such a fundamental disconnect with the majority of the world. We’re not wanting to go on the Women’s Weekly world tour, we want the fastest, cheapest flight we can get, I don’t get it, why wouldn’t we want to save money and time, for the passenger and airline, time is money. The wasted fuel alone, what are they thinking niche market, sorry I come from the real world, we should have tried harder on this, long ago. Or else why, did we purchase, those 747 SP’s, all those years ago.

  • Rod Pickin


    Iain Grant is correct; he only questions though, how may people would sit for 20 hours in a P/F class seat. Unless you absolutely had to, it is most unlikely that anyone would suffer the same time frame in even the most up to date Ecy seat which even a dress makers dummy would frown at.
    The facts are that Airbus can build an A350ULR aircraft which will have an operating endurance of 20 hours, the question is, will the travelling public accept the product particularly with current seating/accommodation options; I doubt it.
    The current emphasis of opulence at/for the front of the bus is really over the top considering who actually pays for it, sure configure some P/F/J, less than 16 and then configure the balance with a new seat in between Prem. Ecy. and basis Ecy. and consider the customer’s needs. When one considers the needs for a complete double crew, where will the rest area be, how many toilets will be fitted and will the galleys be able to accommodate what would have to be a complete double meal service and there are more questions too but most of all, if you don’t consider those at the back of the bus, it wont be viable.

  • Ryan


    I agree, when I walked through the “game changer” last week I was shocked at how little they had improved economy. All the hype about business and premium economy, but that economy product looks like torture on an ultra long haul route. I get that they don’t want to make economy too good because it will eat into the premium economy market, but at the very least they should have stuck with eight abreast considering the type of flying the aircraft will be doing. Imagine sitting in a 737 for 17 hours, an extra inch of legroom doesn’t cut it.

    The other issue Qantas will eventually suffer from is the rag tag fleet mix reminiscent of Ansett. From Fokkers to A380s and all in between, especially with the news of Network a320s. Retire the 747s already, pencil in retirement of the older 330s and commit to a larger 787 order

  • Craigy


    @ Ryan

    What is the news of Network A320s?

    A rag tag fleet mix? The current fleet provides Qantas with the opportunity to match aircraft size with the market. It has been said many times that there is a Qantas fleet not an international or domestic. Aircraft are allocated to meet demand. As for retirement of aircraft, Qantas has outlined its fleet renewal strategy numerous times, including when the next tranche of B787 deliveries could begin.

  • Corey


    Qantas will more likely choose the Boeing 777-8 due to the commonality with the 787. Qantas will more than likely replace the A330s with B878 or the NMA (797). By moving to a common fleet regarding crew training it reduces costs there for being more efficient. Boeing should be able to make the 77-8 ER no problems at all and would still retain the 300+ in a 3-4 class configuration. Boeing 737MAX will replace the NGs makes sense due to very low training time and costs. Everyone knows the NG models so again another logical decision Qantas should make.

  • James


    What I would love to see is a high speed aircraft capable of the range, payload, etc. NASA are steadily working on solving the sonic boom issue, if that were to be solved as well as being fuel efficient like modern aircraft, the average passenger wouldn’t have to experience huge amounts of time on an aircraft. If only this dream could become a reality quicker, Imagine SYD to LHR in 10hours

  • k lane


    Agree with Ryan thoughts regarding QF adding risk with multiple aircraft types and complexity with this model.
    In my opinion – an additional strength of Air NZ has been simplified aircraft model types operated having taken out 737 / 767 / 747 & DOMESTIC b1900D

  • Geoff cropley


    I d9n’t care what they fly , i know sitting in business on royal brunei and two stops to LHR its a welcome break. CoUld not handle 20 hours even sitting up the pointy end

  • Interesting comparison recently on fares. I travel to Europe from Melbourne every year in May and since Qantas pulled out of the Melbourne – to Singapore to London route, always flying Premium Economy or if I could get an upgrade in Business. First Qantas pulled out of the Singapore route, then stopping in Dubai, then changed the timing of the flight effectively meaning an extra night in London as I couldn’t reach my West Country cottage unless I was prepared to arrive at 2am and then because the number of daily flights were cut from Melbourne to Dubai, the only real option was flying via Sydney if I had any chance to get a Premium Economy flight, so in the end I abandoned Qantas and flew for the last 5 years on Cathay Pacific (with now many flights also on the new A350XWB ).. Now with the announcement of the Mel-Perth-London flight I thought I would look at the timing and pricing to see if its worth switching back to Qantas. Timing looks good, good departure time from Melbourne and good arrival time, into Heathrow. Even the return flight looks good. Also with the return of Sydney to London via Singapore and upguaging from A330 (A330 equipment does not have Premium Economy) to A380 on some flights from Melbourne to Singapore, that option also looks good as a way forward. So I looked at pricing (and compared it to my normal routing of MEL-LHR and return using Cathay Pacific all in Premium Economy). Well the price is $1200 cheaper on Cathay Pacific flying in their very nice Premium Economy n the A350, and I get a business stop over in Hong Kong (I have an office there too). So its really a question as to whether I want to pay $1200 more for saving an hour or so. Now if Qantas pricing in Premium Economy was more attune to Cathay Pacific – well there would no competition and I would gladly return to Qantas. for this yearly trip to London and Europe.

  • PC


    Whatever spin people put on this Ultra long haul in cattle class will LOSE customers . SQ & ANZ will win out on this one ,IMO also wondering how QF Thoughts are on 787 10?

    Also thats along gig for cabin crew QF are surly enough already at times ,
    Can QF say DVT !

  • Jim Thorn


    East coast Oz to London is a great PR coup but wonder how many real people from the real world will want to endure this at the back of the bus. That said, why doesn’t QF make things a lot easier for itself by simply flying east out of Oz across the relatively ATC free oceans and Central America instead of ploughing into headwinds and very restricted airspace across Asia the ME and Europe? Surely that would also be quicker.

  • Myles Dobinson


    What i haven’t seen mentioned ANYWHERE is that its not that much more on normal stop over.

    We have flown through Dubai 22.75 hrs, Changi 23.1 hrs and Hong Kong 24 hrs all in Economy and better seats, with a break and a shower and found it very do-able and with my 80 yld Mother in law once.

    20 hrs in smaller economy seats than the others (we are both over 180cm) would be a killer.

    For those that can afford the premium product good luck to you it would probably be not too bad.

    Same with the Perth – London trip 17 hrs + 5/6 hrs from East Coast again in a smaller Economy seat doesn’t really make sense to me.

  • Brian


    I can just imagine the condition of the on board restrooms after 10 hours of continuous patronage, let alone 20 hours (if they are still functioning by then).

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