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.