History made as Qantas Flight 9 touches down in London

written by Gerard Frawley | March 25, 2018
QF9 touches down in London.

When Qantas Flight 9 touched down in London at the end of its historic nonstop flight from Perth a little after 5am local time on Sunday, the remarkable had been made to seem routine.

For the first time, Australia and the UK were linked by a direct nonstop air service. For the 229 passengers on board the Boeing 787-9 the experience was of a smooth, seamless service, but that belied the many years of planning and preparation Qantas had conducted.

“When we started the Kangaroo route in 1947, the flight took four days and seven stops. Every decade, as we got new aircraft we improved on that, we got faster, we got more comfortable, we got cheaper,” Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce said onboard QF9 shortly before its landing into London.

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“Today we’re on this amazing historic flight, which is the fastest flight that has ever occurred between Australia and the UK.” 

The new nonstop link between Perth and London becomes the longest regularly scheduled flight operated by the Boeing 787, and the world’s second longest airline service (behind Qatar Airways Auckland-Doha flights).

As such it is a flight that stretches the operational capabilities of the 787 to its limits, made possible by careful configuration of the aircraft and detailed flight planning.

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The flightpath of QF9 took it over the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, India, the Middle East and onwards to London.

“We’ve got some very smart people in our organisation who have managed to find the sweet spot between weight, the passenger numbers, and the business class, premium economy and economy class configuration and the range with our engines,” Captain Lisa Norman, one of the four Qantas pilots operating the flight, told Australian Aviation on board QF9.

“Just because you have a 787 doesn’t necessarily mean you can do [this mission], a lot of operators have put in much more dense passenger configs.”

The result was one of the lowest seat counts yet specified for a Boeing 787-9, with 236 seats – Qantas low-cost carrier subsidiary Jetstar operates the smaller 787-8 seating 335 passengers. That means the 787-9 can operate Perth-London with a full, or near full passenger load with full fuel tanks.

Arriving at the gate.

For the first two weeks of operations, Qantas is taking a conservative approach to the 787-9’s payload by “blocking off” (ie not selling) up to 20 passenger seats to give the aircraft a comfortable margin to ensure it can reach London without a tech stop diversion (prevailing winds mean the London-Perth sector faces fewer operational restrictions).

On an ongoing basis, and as with Qantas’s Dallas/Fort Worth-Sydney Airbus A380 flights (which can also take more than 17 hours if the headwinds are bad), Qantas will also actively manage loads on QF9 to ensure the 787-9 has the payload range performance to operate the route nonstop.

Other factors too have played an important role in enabling the ultra long-haul flights – Boeing has delivered more than 600 787s now and so Qantas has been able to benefit from incremental performance improvements to the aircraft and to its GEnx engines. Qantas has also commissioned bespoke lightweight cutlery, utensil and service carts, while flying over the Indian Ocean the aircraft can take advantage of ‘user preferred routes’, where the flight crew can plan the most optimal flightpath taking into account winds without being constrained by traditional waypoints and airways. Also, over the Indian Ocean the aircraft can climb in increments of 1,000, rather than 2,000ft, making for a more efficient climb to altitude.

The crew of QF9 is welcomed to London.

“It has been such a synergy of people’s efforts to help us to get to this point,” Captain Norman reflected.

“I think the significance is not lost on anyone. I don’t know what other frontier you could do after this one now.”

QF9 fast facts
  • 229 passengers and crew
  • 253.5 tonnes takeoff weight (half a tonne under MTOW)
  • 100.6 tonnes of fuel
  • Approximate flight time of 17 hours 02 minutes
  • Departing Perth’s runway 21 at 1900 local time Saturday March 24
  • Landed London Heathrow at 0502 local time Sunday March 25
QF9 taxis to the gate.

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22 Comments

  • Geoff

    says:

    A wonderful achievement for all involved. This is the new innovative QANTAS with amazing Staff, supported by a plethora of equally excellent and dedicated partners. Perth International Airport, Bureau of Meteorology, Airservices Australia and many other world air service providers.
    Sydney University and partners have played a leading role in the pax welfare aspect also. A true first for a renewed world airline.
    Congratulations to you all.

  • David

    says:

    Congratulations Qantas. Can’t wait to fly direct PER to LHR non stop.

  • John

    says:

    Fine ,unless you are down the back with 9 across 17 inch seats at 32 inch pitch for 17 hours and 3 mins . No thanks .It will be interesting to see how LHR to PER goes given there isn’t a viable Alternate for hundreds of miles . If PER is marginal there will have to be a very early call to divert .

  • David

    says:

    The true Spirit of Australia. Looking forward to trying it soon.

  • Tanja Albrecht

    says:

    how much – in £ or € or $ is such a flight ?
    Is it now on the market for everybody ?

  • Griff

    says:

    An excellent achievement and historical flight. I still couldn’t imagine anything worse than spending 17 hours in Qantas economy though…

  • Geoff

    says:

    John,
    PER has Cat lllb ILS installed for runway 21 so no need to worry about marginal weather. QANTAS would not have attempted this flight without due regard to all safety and support considerations. . Rest assured all variables have been taken into account, especially weather characteristics .All necessary upgrades commensurate with those variables have been addressed.
    QANTAS has an extraordinarily sophisticated flight planning system. This operation is the result of years of research and planning for the very highest optimisation.
    I do however, note your comment about the 3-3-3 seating in economy. It is tight for an ultra long haul flight. Economics dictate that. Eight abreast would result in more expensive fares.

  • Paul Brisbane

    says:

    Well done Qantas what an achievement, Italy would be good as well !!

  • Paul

    says:

    Big deal? it’s just an airliner! Fast jets rule!!!

  • James

    says:

    @ John
    Give it a rest. We all know the seats are cramped. If you don’t like it don’t use the service.

  • Mike

    says:

    John,
    Like the many who have commented about economy comfort before; I hate to break it to you, but profit doesn’t come from economy (in high cost legacy airlines). High yield pax are the bread and butter. Buying habits of economy passengers are extremely well documented. They purchase based on price, total time and a combination of service and safety- in that order. So a smaller seat pitch really doesn’t affect the bottom line, people will simply buy those seats because, in this case, it is the quickest way to London from Perth. Economy passengers seem to think their custom is more valuable to the airline than it actually is. When it comes to the bottom line, the premium cabins pay the bills.

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    Everyone within the QF team should be congratulated in achieving this historic flight, the QF spirit reigns supreme. As a regular scheduled service however, we have to face reality, with such a restricted payload needed to achieve the result this is not the aircraft for the job or a good balance sheet.

  • Paul

    says:

    Pity the General Media coverage of this great Australian achievement, was some what over shadowed by the Australian cricketers efforts in S Africa!

  • Gary

    says:

    John, Geoff
    Cat 3b and other upgrades don’t stop winds affecting PER, or en-route weather developments. ‎
    ‎17 hours is a long time in the air and en-route weather forecasts can change materially in that timeframe.‎
    Gary‎

  • AlanH

    says:

    The easterly direction trip LHR-PER should be quicker and use less fuel because of prevailing tail winds assist, so the need to consider an alternate airport when considering the long trans-Indian Ocean leg won’t arise generally. Besides, Qantas has no doubt taken all that into account.
    Despite what has been said about Economy passengers not adding to the bottom line of Qantas’ operations, this is more of a “we can do it” statement from Qantas, and I don’t imagine they would be too concerned about it being a profit-making exercise necessarily. I’m not a big fan of Qantas generally, but this is a great achievement and needs to be recognised as such (especially, as mentioned above, in light of what our cricketers have done to Australia’s image overseas).

  • Sam

    says:

    If they’re going to block off 20 odd seats anyway, why not just start with a 2-4-2 economy configuration in the first place?

  • Veejette

    says:

    Passengers’ know in advance of flight duration approx 17 hours, non-stop PER-LHR.
    Having flown mostly long-haul flights for decades’, & in Economy, I’ve never found the flying time onerous.
    One of THE best experiences’ I’ve had was on a QF Antartica day-flight, at total of approx 14 hours’.
    When one has constantly flown Aust-UK-Aust, US-UK-US, long-haul just becomes a habit.
    I’ve always been on QF wherever possible. Safety is my first priority, & this the ‘Flying Kangaroo’ has in spades!
    Hearty congratulations to all concerned for this ‘leap’ in modern air travel.

  • Shane

    says:

    Lol. Nothing new here. They could have don’t years ago with a 747-400ER.

  • Scott

    says:

    Well done Qantas. Things can only advance further in fuel efficiency aspects, harnessing a combo of solar, wind, heat, cold etc

  • KFB

    says:

    Congrats Qantas. An amazing achievement.

  • franz chong

    says:

    well done and all the best.

  • Brook Papworth

    says:

    Well done Qantas, it’s great to see the company get back to its roots, innovate and succeed. Keep up the great work!

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