Qantas to conduct three Project Sunrise research flights

written by australianaviation.com.au | August 22, 2019
A file image of a Qantas Boeing 787-9. (Victor Pody)
A file image of a Qantas Boeing 787-9. (Victor Pody)

Qantas says it plans to conduct three research flights from New York and London to Sydney as part of its Project Sunrise evaluation.

The three flights, expected to occur during the final three months of calendar 2019, will use new Boeing 787-9s which will be positioned to New York and London after being delivered to the airline, Qantas said on Thursday.

Qantas said the flights would test different approaches to crew and passenger wellbeing as part of designing unique ultra-long haul services.

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“We’ll have researchers from Monash and Sydney universities on board, running tests on crew wellbeing and passenger comfort for almost 20 hours,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said in a statement.

“For weight reasons, there will only be about 40 people on board in total to give the 787 the range it needs.

“These flights are ground-breaking in themselves. No commercial airline has done these kind of experiments before. No commercial airline has ever flown direct from New York to Sydney before.

“The things we learn will be invaluable not just for Sunrise, but for all our long-haul services.”

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Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and Qantas Captain Lisa Norman, who will be flying one of the research flights. (Seth Jaworski)
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and Qantas Captain Lisa Norman, who will be flying one of the research flights. (Seth Jaworski)

Joyce said the carbon emissions for the flight would be fully offset.

From a pilot’s perspective, Qantas Captain Lisa Norman said the research flights would aim to replicate what a pilot would experience on a typical rostering pattern that included these ultra-long haul routes.

“We will try and accomodate a normal pattern for the pilot,” Captain Norman explained to Australian Aviation on Thursday.

“So the pilot will fly from maybe Brisbane or Melbourne up to Los Angeles for example, they will have their rest that we do now. They will fly to New York, they will have the rest that they do now. And then we will do the New York-Sydney.

“We are monitoring all this preflight, in-flight and post flight.”

“About a week beforehand we will probably start testing the pilots and their sleep patterns and asking them questions and things like that.

Captain Norman, who is the manager of fleet operations for the Boeing 787-9 at Qantas, said the airline was working with Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in the lead up to the three flights.

“It’s a private flight so we don’t need to have their approval but we’ve brought them along as well,” Captain Norman said.

New York-Sydney measured 8,646nm, according to the Great Circle Mapper, while London-Sydney was 9,188nm. Both flights were expected to take 18.5 hours, according to figures from Qantas. The Boeing website listed the 787-9 with a range of 7,530nm when configured with 296 passengers.

However, with about 40 passengers – mostly Qantas employees – expected to be on the 787-9, Captain Norman said there was “no question of it doing the sector”.

Challenges for these ultra-long haul flights included navigating the strong headwinds, as well as securing appropriate takeoff and landing slots for the 787-9s into and out of busy airports at London and New York.

Qantas said the pilots would wear an electroencephalogram to track brain wave patterns and monitor their alertness.

“The aim is to establish data to assist in building the optimum work and rest pattern for pilots operating long haul services,” Qantas said.

Meanwhile, from a passenger perspective, Qantas said scientists from Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre would monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement and inflight entertainment to assess impact on health, wellbeing and body clock. The passenger would also be wearing technology devices.

The three proposed research flights would also build on the data already gained from the operation of Perth-London Heathrow nonstop flights that began in March 2018.

It was also reminiscent of the delivery flight of Qantas’s first Boeing 747-400 VH-OJA, which flew nonstop from London Heathrow to Sydney 30 years ago on August 17 1989.

However, Qantas said it would be the first nonstop flight by a commercial airline from New York to Sydney.

Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJA flying over London in 2001. (Aero Icarus/Wikimedia Commons)
Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJA flying over London in 2001. (Aero Icarus/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

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.

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 Qantas chief executive told reporters at the airline group’s 2018/19 full year results presentation on Thursday it was on track to make a decision whether to proceed with Project Sunrise and make an aircraft order by the end of calendar 2019.

“We know that Boeing and Airbus have aircraft that can do the job, and we have their best-and-final offers on the table, including a compelling offer from Boeing to deal with any delay to the 777-X,” Joyce said.

“There’s plenty of enthusiasm for Sunrise, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.”

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4 Comments

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    It will be a very large feather in Qantas’s cap to achieve these flights direct to SYD ex JFK and LHR and they will do it. Now when the final A/C choice is madeI am happy to be corrected but in the case of JFK, I am not sure at this stage if the service and it would have to be daily, could be supported commercially. I am pretty sure that an all premium config would be out of the question because there aren’t sufficient business customers point to point to support it and you would have to have dedicated aircraft, maybe 3 ?? to achieve the service and the west coast of the US has considerable customer attractions to divert their attentions from direct ops. In the case of LHR direct I think a Business class/Premium ecy class config may well be an option. One would have to totally forget ECY seats. Other factors to consider, would the galleys be able to cater for customer needs over such a distance, currently I think not, Potable water tankage? – Toot capacity and numbers of plus some other points maybe but, most of all, crewing! both tech and cabin; on a long term basis I cant see much enthusiasm from crews on such a long tour of duty, in the vicinity of 23hours????. Truly, I am not being negative, just practical

  • Stewart Lowe

    says:

    For such long flights I would think that that as many people who can afford would want to fly Premium Tourist Class…15 hours LAX to Melbourne is long enough for a tourist ticket.

  • Rodney Marinkovic

    says:

    Personaly missing non stop flight such SYD – LHR and SYD. In last fifty years to travelling between Australia and Europe, have eighty one return
    Flights. Or one hundred sixsty two single. But I was luckie to be on first flight on A380 in Septembre 2008, on board with first Australian woman pilot lady Nancy Bird Watson and hundred sixty seven Qantas staff. Include present CEO, Mr Alen Joice. Hope to be on board on one of ULR flights to USA or Europe. Or both. Over five tousent hours of flights as passanger in last fifty years, love to joining club of ULR travellers.
    Happy journy to those lucke people on next first three flights to LHR and JFK. In just three weeks is my starting sixty second flight, BEG✈SYD.
    Sincerly, Rodney Marinkovic.
    Home of Qantasville II. Kraljevo, Serbia. ☺✈?✈?✈?✈?✈?✈?✈☺✈

  • PaulE

    says:

    Research flights are all well and good to test the effects on passengers are a great idea! Except for one glaring and, I thought, obvious issue! 40 people on an entire 787-9 is hardly a representation of the reality is it? I’m know there are weight issues, but let’s try a full aircraft, especially in economy, to see how the punter copes with the cramped conditions of the jet era’s narrowest seats…… Then make a thorough evaluation of Project Sunrise.

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