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Qantas picks A350-1000 for Sunrise, delays final decision to March 2020

written by australianaviation.com.au | December 13, 2019
An artist's impression of the Airbus A350-1000 in Qantas livery. (Qantas)
An artist’s impression of the Airbus A350-1000 in Qantas livery. (Qantas)

Qantas has pushed back the deadline for a final decision on whether to proceed with plans to operate nonstop flights from Australia’s east coast to London and New York by three months to March 2020.

Despite the delay, Qantas said on Friday it had chosen the Airbus A350-1000 as the aircraft to complete these ultra long-haul missions, should it opt to proceed with what it has called Project Sunrise.

No orders have been placed for the A350-1000. Instead, Qantas said Airbus had given the airline a one-month extension to March 2020 to place an order for up to 12 aircraft without impacting the proposed flights beginning in the first half of calendar 2023.

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That extra time would be used to continue discussions with pilot groups for a new work contract covering the proposed ultra long-haul services, Qantas said. The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) is the union representing Qantas pilots.

“The discussions are aimed at closing the last remaining gap in the Project Sunrise business case,” Qantas said.

“Qantas has put forward a number of suggestions to AIPA on how the gap might be closed while still offering three per cent annual pay increases and promotional opportunities to its long haul pilots.”

“Discussions centre on productivity and efficiency gains, including the ability to use the same pilots across its A350 Sunrise aircraft and the airline’s existing fleet of Airbus A330s.”

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Further, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said management had offered “promotions and an increase in pay” in return for “some flexibility”, which would help lower the airline’s operating costs.

“From the outset, we’ve been clear that Project Sunrise depends on a business case that works. We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks,” Joyce said in a statement.

“We’ve done a lot of work on the economics and we know the last gap we have to close is some efficiency gains associated with our pilots.”

Qantas says it has chosen the Airbus A350-1000 as its proposed Project Sunrise aircraft. (Victor Pody)
Qantas has picked the Airbus A350-1000, seen here on a demonstration flight to Sydney, as its Project Sunrise aircraft. (Victor Pody)

Qantas international chief executive Tino La Spina said recently the productivity improvements sought were not about pay cuts.

“We are saying, ‘yes you might have to be more productive to get the same pay’. We’re not going to apologise for that. We’ve been doing that since we started transformation,” La Spina said in November.

AIPA president Mark Sedgwick said earlier in 2019 pilots were supportive of Project Sunrise.

“We think the value to Qantas and the strategic benefit goes beyond this pilot EBA negotiation,” First Officer Sedgwick said earlier in 2019.

“Obviously we are willing to negotiate and discuss how they feel our contract may assist, but the strategic benefit to Qantas is clear and transcends the pilot contract in itself.”

A slide on Project Sunrise from Qantas's 2019 investor day. (Qantas)
A slide on Project Sunrise from Qantas’s 2019 investor day. (Qantas)

A350-1000 beat Boeing 777-8X in a tough choice: Qantas

Qantas said the A350-1000 would feature an additional fuel tank and slightly increased maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required for the Project Sunrise routes.

Further, the company said the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine used to power the A350-1000 had a strong reliability record during its two years in service.

Joyce said it was a touch choice between the A350-1000 and Boeing candidate aircraft the 777-8X.

“The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience,” Joyce said in a statement on Friday.

“The aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it’s thoroughly proven after more than two years in service.

“This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to.”

A supplied image of the Airbus A350-1000 during its maiden test flight. (Airbus)
A supplied image of the Airbus A350-1000 during its maiden test flight. (Airbus)

Earlier in 2019, Joyce said the technical evaluation showed Airbus and Boeing could offer an aircraft that would be able to operate a full payload between Sydney and New York.

For Sydney-London, Joyce said the aircraft would not be able to operate with a full payload. Instead, the manufacturers told Qantas they were able to achieve a payload that made the business case potentially work.

The airline said in August that Airbus and Boeing had put in their best and final offers following a request for proposal (RFP) process that covered pricing, performance guarantees and details of potential delivery streams, among other matters.

However, La Spina said in November there had been further discussions with the manufacturers since those best and final offers were submitted.

“We’ve asked them to go back and re-look at that, to sharpen their pencils, because there still was a gap there,” La Spina said.

“That is just not around price. That covers things like guarantees, the what ifs, because this aircraft is going to be in the fleet for the next 20 years and we want to cover off eventualities.”

New York-Sydney measured 8,646nm, according to the Great Circle Mapper, while London-Sydney was 9,188nm.

Earlier in 2019, Airbus outlined it was working on increasing the maximum takeoff weight of the A350-1000 to 319 tonnes, from 316 tonnes currently.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce with the Airbus A350-1000 when the aircraft visited Sydney in June 2018. (Bernie Proctor)
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce with the Airbus A350-1000 when the aircraft visited Sydney in June 2018. (Bernie Proctor)

In addition to securing the right deal from the aircraft manufacturer and an agreement with pilots, Qantas has said previously the Project Sunrise business case also relied on discussions with the regulator on ultra long-haul duty hours and fatigue risk management, the right onboard products to secure a sufficient revenue premium over one-stop alternatives, and a new enterprise agreement with pilots.

On the question of regulatory approval, Qantas said Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) had “provisionally advised” that it expected no obstacles to giving the proposed ultra long-haul flights the green light, based on information already provided on the airline’s fatigue risk management system.

Currently, the maximum duty hours for pilots and cabin crews was set at 18 hours. In 2018, CASA allowed Qantas an exemption for Perth-London Heathrow flights that increased the limit to 19 hours and 50 minutes and added other mitigation measures specific to the route.

The regulator will have to move even further for nonstop flights from Australia’s east coast to London and New York.

The first two of a planned three Project Sunrise research flights were conducted in October (New York JFK-Sydney) and November (London Heathrow-Sydney). A third (New York JFK-Sydney) was planned for later in December.

Qantas said the three flights would produce thousands of data points on crew and passenger wellbeing, which would be used as part of final discussions with CASA.

The flight test program for the A350-100 included the cold weather tests. (Airbus)
The flight test program for the A350-100 included the cold weather tests. (Airbus)

Does choosing the A350-1000 point to future widebody replacement plans?

While any initial order, should Project Sunrise be given the green light, would be for up to 12 aircraft, the disclosure on Friday that negotiations with pilots had included the flexibility for them to potentially fly both the A350 and A330 fleet has given an insight into Qantas’s thinking for its future widebody fleet.

Having the A350-1000, which has a range of up to 8,700mm when carrying between 350 and 410 passengers in a typical three-class configuration, in the fleet suggested the twin-engine widebody was a potential replacement for Qantas’s 12 A380s, which are between eight and 12 years and are being reconfigured to carry 485 passengers in four classes.

Meanwhile, the A350-900 – Airbus figures showed the aircraft could fly up to 8,100nm with 300-350 passengers in a three-class cabin – could be a candidate aircraft to replace A330s used on Qantas’s flights to Asia.

The Flying Kangaroo’s 10 A330-300s have 28 business class and 269 economy seats for a total of 297, while the 18 A330-200s have 28 business and 243 economy seats for a total of 261, or 27 business and 224 economy seats for a total of 251.

The flight deck of the Airbus A350-1000. (Airbus)
The flight deck of the Airbus A350-1000. (Airbus)

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42 Comments

  • Kieran

    says:

    You may want to check the year on the delivery date

  • David Edwards

    says:

    777-8x is not even flying yet. How can they rule it out already?

    • Dane

      says:

      Because it’s not flying and it’s not yet proven.

    • Paule

      says:

      David Edwards, you have answered your own question. The A350 has a proven record and is incredibly popular with customers. The 777-8x has no record of reliability yet.

    • Patrickk

      says:

      David the fact it is not flying yet and may never fly given the depressed market for the 777 is exactly why it was ruled out.

    • Tony

      says:

      Errrrr, maybe for that reason David?

  • Lechuga

    says:

    Big decision, good decision. Hopefully not all in Sydney.

    • Anthony Medley

      says:

      The penny is starting to drop with QF re BNE. QF international out of BNE has grown considerably over the past few years with 330 & 787 Opps. Hopefully this continues with A350K.

  • Red Cee

    says:

    Great choice. Let’s hope Project Sunrise gets the go ahead.

  • Craig Williamson

    says:

    The selection of the A350-1000 brings many possibilities in terms of fleet changes going forward. Perhaps even the A330 NEO is being considered as a replacement for the A330 classics.

    My bold prediction is that the A320 and A220 will replace the shorthaul fleet.

    • Lechuga

      says:

      Unlikely, A330s will be replaced with 787s. I personally doubt the NEO would replace the current 737s either. Qantas will get a huge discount on the MAX and they want to keep both manufacturers happy. Plus there’s the potential NMA that’ll likely go hand in hand with the MAX and help replace them A330 domestically

      • Peter

        says:

        Bollocks, the neo’s will replace the 737’s. Then that will syergise wth the A350’s well. Minimal training between short haul and long haul.
        Also, way better deals to be had going similar Fleet when purchasing.

      • Jim S

        says:

        I’m not sure why any airline wants to keep both manufacturers happy, I’d have thought it’s the other way around? Since you know, the airline is customer and the manufacturer is trying to win a customer over?
        With that said, there is a possibility that Boeing would offer a steep discount, but Qantas would have to be mindful of their image since they market themselves as being one of the safest in the world, also the potential for a future engine technology is easier to put on an A320 frame compared to the 737 frame, as the ground clearance is lower on the 737, and the new engines seem to get larger and larger in their fans’ diameters.

      • Trogdor

        says:

        The NEO vs MAX competition pretty much ended years ago when Qantas group opted for 99 NEOs for Jetstar. Since then they’ve been steadily converting their A320NEO orders to A321s, and upped the total order to 109.

        It’s highly unlikely that they would order the MAX when NEOs provide them with commonality across the two group airlines, and especially as they were among the launch customers for the A321XLR.

        the only Boeing aircraft that Qantas really wants at the moment is the NMA.

      • Patrickk

        says:

        Not sure there will be NMA for some time. The A321XLR May fill that space and there are a dozen on order.

    • hfg

      says:

      I don’t see how anyone could say there are “many possibilities”. There are only two. Airbus or Boeing

  • Steve

    says:

    Wow a whole 12 airplanes! Boeing will surely collapse after losing such massive order, lots of smoke and mirrors here, no actual order.

  • Kel

    says:

    A standard A350-900, configured with three classes in the same ratio to the B787-9 should be able to operate PER – LHR with 30 extra passengers and 18 inches seats in economy.

    • Lechuga

      says:

      They’re not looking for Perth though, it’s quite irrelevant at the moment, it’s about the main cities of Melbourne and Sydney, maybe Brisbane but lesser.

      • BCOZ

        says:

        There’s no “maybe” about Brisbane in terms of London at least. This is not all about Sydney and Melbourne.

        And I think the comment about Perth was just suggesting that if Qantas were to order the A350 they might also get the -900 as well and consider deploying it on the Perth – London route, considering the high demand on that route.

      • Patrickk

        says:

        The purchase rights on another 25 787s at prices set more than a decade ago suggests 78-10s and 788s will replace the A330s. The A350-1000 certainly the A380s later in the decade.

  • Kelvin

    says:

    I reckon Qantas would aim to have the 787s on the ‘long and skinny’ routes where passenger demand is not that large and a larger fleet of a350-1000 on the more established routes.

  • Kelvin

    says:

    I reckon the 787s will be reassigned to ‘long and skinny’ routes and the a350-1000 be assigned to more established routes where the demand exists.

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    A top move QF, a good fit and heaps of flexibility and synergies within our region. The big problem now is the public perception of the Max 8, maybe the 10 too and with Boeing’s dreadful PR and handling of the hickups the time is right to replace the B738’s with A321’s again flexibility and synergies with JQ. Again and as reported in this publication, reinvent the B767 3 or 4, has to be better than the B787

  • Deepspa

    says:

    Prefer Airbus over Boeing post 767’s. Boeings are squeeze tight these days. They can have fancy hydraulic bins, slightly bigger windows and “space” design cabins but an extra inch seat and aisle width in economy and a less noisey cabin makes all the difference to suffering passengers. A good choice for ultra long haul.

  • Kel

    says:

    Selecting the 350-1000 will rule out the B777X to replace the A330-300 and the international A33o-200. It will be between the B787 and A350. An B787-10 cannot fly LAX-MEL and possibly can fly LAX-SYD after the tweaks for Air New Zealand. An A350-900 which is approximately the same size can do so as well as the larger 350-1000.

    A fleet of standard A350-900s and A350-1000s would supplement the A350-1000ULRs and would assist with common maintenance. The pilots to fly both the 330 and 350 could be a clue. As an A350 replaces an A330, the pilot would already be trained. This would also assist during the change over period where there are mixed A350 and A330 services on a route

  • AlanH

    says:

    “We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks,” Joyce said in a statement. Aaah … there it is! It’s not about service, but profits! Project Sunrise is clearly targeting the Business flyer and the inherent over-pricing of tickets for those users. I still question its relevance for your average vacationing traveller that makes up the bulk of their customers.

  • Malki

    says:

    I’m certainly intrigued by the early decision but… Why don’t they wait and see what the Boeing option holds… or are they going by the calculated specifications without waiting on genuine flight statistics…?

  • Patrickk

    says:

    You must remember that the 78-10 is in play for the regional plane as they put the deposit down on a hundred or so 787s more than 10 years ago at a very good price.

    • Patrickk

      says:

      In addition of the 50 787s have purchase rights to, the have only taken 25 so the 78-10s may be the A330 replacement as they would account for the 28 or so A330s they have.

  • AlanH

    says:

    “We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks,” Joyce said in a statement. And there we have it! Project Sunrise is a business decision solely and has nothing to do with providing a better service to the paying public … the paying business traveller more likely, who they can screw every last dollar from. Why don’t they just look at a smaller aircraft fitted out purely for Business Class, as Singapore has done? Makes more sense.

  • Peter Ritty

    says:

    Hope he knows what he’s doing. Airbus havn’t the best record. Yes they get business by heavy discounting. Boeing are and will always be supreme.

    • Ralph

      says:

      “Airbus haven’t the best record” Peter? What do you base that on?

  • Kel

    says:

    Jordan, does Lachuga control this site? I do not appreciate that my comments on the replacement the international A330s was not published. However, you published comments concerning the replacement of the B737s including those of Lachuga.
    The replacement the international A330s is related to Project Sunrise planes. They are international planes of similar size but with shorter range.
    The hype is all about Project Sunrise planes. There is only 12 planes. Add say 18 planes to replace the International A330s, the prize is 30 planes. This is what Boeing and Airbus was chasing.
    During the publicity for the first Project Sunrise flight from New York, it was stated that the pilots had flown LAX – JFK the previous day, just as how the pilots for JFK – SYD are to be scheduled. This indicates that the type of plane flying BNE – LAX – JFK, which requires two planes, is to be the same type as the plane flying JFK – SYD. Why pay extra for two ULR versions when a standard version will do the job. This indirectly indicates that standard A350s will be purchased.

    • Tim Johnson

      says:

      Hi Kel,

      Comment approved 🙂 We’ve been going through some pretty significant changes over the Christmas break and will be resuming BAU as of now. Standby for more information!

      Thanks,

  • CHARLES PULMAN

    says:

    I doubt it will get off the ground, and remember MR Joyce will never fly all that way in cattle class, he will be up the front!

  • RHeaton

    says:

    A350 seems better than the 787. Why? Because now they are talking about getting rid of the 787’s in Jetstar under the guise of “pilot dispute/money” yet are going to buy new A350’s! lol…… even blind freddy can see this is a way to back out of Boeing 787’s and into Airbus all the way!

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    I have just completed 2 “research flights ” of my own in order to gain a first hand experience as an economy full fare paying passenger on both the B787-9 and the A350-9. Both aircraft were full and I confirm that even though it was only a 7.45Hr sector each I would not attempt the mission again. As we know, both aircraft was designed for 8 abreast Ecy seating but both carriers put 9 abreast. Thankfully I had a window seat both sectors, not the middle seat. Once you have manicured yourself into the seat. that’s it mate, don’t even think about moving, it is only with extreme difficulty that the allowed space permits even the smallest of movement, the meal tray can’t be folded out in full, and I am not fat; if something falls off the tray or off your lap onto the floor don’t even think about trying to retrieve it, you won’t be able to. I doubt the validity of the claimed seat pitch quoted on the A350-9, ( the worlds favourite airline). It appears that in order to squeeze more passengers in that Ecy cabin the seats have been secured fwd a notch or two on the tracks so that with the seat back in the full up/fwd position you only have a half window outward view, only when the seatback is reclined does one have a full window view and of course that will give the pax behind you the irits. Interesting to note the seat squab is fixed, seat reclined backside moves fwd onto mostly unsupported seat frame. With such confined space, eating a proper meal with utensils was a major problem, so I think it safe to say that both sectors failed me. If that was all available in the future then one would look for alternatives and truly, if we were animals, (non human kind) the RSPCA would dead set intervene and sanction the carriers concerned. I noted from the inflight route map that the previous sector was in excess of 14 hrs, makes one think. Up the front end, well to me, way over the top and a waste of revenue space and capital expenditure. I am not convinced that the neat little cubicles that are business class are the way to go especially if one is
    travelling as a couple, I believe that a rethink of the allocated space in business should be taken. Just for the record, I am 188cm tall, weight 104 Kgs and in my next journey soon, it will be premium ecy which, I guess is what the airlines are maneuvering for. As for the aircraft type, I thought the A350 had a better cabin fit out and to me it looked and felt more solid than the B787, a better flight overall. It would be interesting to hear about fuel burn on such sectors, I am guessing a burn of about 4-5 tonnes/hour at about max weight is the order in which case the B747-400 with RR524’s coming in at about 10 tonnes/hour still looks a lively competitor.
    Happy Christmas

  • Stewart Lowe

    says:

    I just hope they give a lot of thought to the configuration to the economy class seating. Sure, folk can upgrade to premium economy, but that is twice the ticket price and this would be a strain for “average” families flying with two, or three young children. The idea of mass transport, and by that I focus on international tourism, was made possible by the first wide bodied aircraft.
    In the 50 years since cheap flights have become possible mass tourism has become a huge industry and a source of foreign exchange nations would be reluctant to forgo.
    Of course these sunrise flights could be intended for only a specific market segment and most people will remain on shorter haul aircraft. Time will tell.

  • Malki

    says:

    To me, the decision sounds a little premature but the Boeing choice may still get a consideration once design is finalised. I would love to see Qantas livery on both but I would have to wait and see…

  • Steve

    says:

    It must look and feel strange to operate an aircraft that has no yoke. That joystick just doesn’t look right. Still I say, if it ain’t Boing, I ain’t going! The Max will be fixed and will be a great aircraft once these software/training/management issues are sorted out.

  • Lee

    says:

    A Qantas pilot told me that the 777 is a Rolls Royce to fly compared to any Airbus.

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