Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says the airline is on track to decide whether to place an order for its Project Sunrise challenge by the end of 2019.
The airline has been evaluating launching nonstop flights from Australia’s east coast to London, New York and elsewhere with either Airbus A350s or Boeing 777-X equipment.
Qantas has said previously the business case for these ultra-long-range services was contingent an appropriate aircraft, as well as a new agreement with its pilots, changes to regulations regarding fatigue and duty hours for crew and an appropriate cabin configuration.
Joyce says the airline plans to complete the evaluation later in 2019.
“We are so excited about Project Sunrise,” Joyce told delegates at the CAPA – Centre for Aviation Australia Pacific Aviation and Corporate Travel Summit in Sydney on Wednesday.
“We are still making huge progress on all aspects of that project.
“And as I have said before, our intention is to make a call on it, if the business case works, by the end of this year.”
Project Sunrise – the name is a nod to the Catalina flying boats operating between Perth and the country now known as Sri Lanka during World War II – was launched in August 2017.
A request for information (RFI) with Airbus and Boeing was conducted in 2018 that went through the technical capabilities of the A350 and 777-X platforms.
Joyce told Australian Aviation earlier in 2019 the RFI process concluded that what Airbus and Boeing could offer would be able to operate with a full payload between Sydney and New York and a “commercial payload” between Sydney and London.
The A350-900ULR variant is already flying with Singapore Airlines (SIA) on the world’s longest route between Singapore and New York, which measures 8,285nm on the Great Circle mapper.
Airbus has said previously the A350-900ULR was capable of flying up to 9,700nm, or more than 20 hours nonstop, in a low-density configuration. SIA has configured its seven A350-900ULRs with 67 business class and 94 premium economy seats for a total of 161.
Airbus has also floated improving the performance of the A350-1000 variant to bring it into consideration for Project Sunrise.
Meanwhile, Boeing’s 777-X platform is yet to fly. The most likely variant for Project Sunrise is the 777-8X, which is still in development.
The aircraft is listed on the Boeing website as having a range of 8,730nm with a two-class cabin seating between 384 passengers. Entry into service was expected in 2022.
However, there are questions around the timetable for the 777-X program, given issues with the aircraft’s GE9X engines have pushed back first flight of the 777-9X from mid-2019 to early 2020.
While Boeing has said recently the 777-9X was on track to be certified and delivered by the end of calendar 2020, a compressed flight test and certification program may have consequences for the 777-8X.
In other Qantas news, the airline said on Tuesday Stephanie Tully had been appointed chief customer officer. Previously, Tully was executive manager of group brand and marketing.
She replaces Vanessa Hudson, who in May was named Qantas chief financial officer.
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