Qantas is the only airline in the world with the ability to make ultra-long-haul, Project Sunrise-style flights profitable, chief executive Alan Joyce has explained.
In an interview with Brussels-based Eurocontrol, Joyce said that this is because global airlines would only require a handful of aircraft to fly to Australia, whereas an Australia-based airline would require a bigger fleet allowing economies of scale to kick in.
In March 2020, Qantas agreed to a deal with the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) for its members to fly the London and New York to Sydney/Melbourne routes. However, later that month its order for the 12 A350-1000s was pushed back as the COVID crisis grounded all international flights.
Nonetheless, Joyce reiterated the now-suspended plans could resume later this year, with a view to launching direct flights from London to Sydney in 2024.
“It is a unique opportunity for Qantas because Australia’s so far away from everywhere,” said Joyce “And we could justify a fleet size of a significant amount of aircraft that makes it economic.
“We have three major cities on the east coast in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. And having flights to London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, from those cities, creates a significant sub fleet and economics of scale that we think will work really well.
“So we’re still very keen on it. And we think that’s one of the big things that will change in the next decade, and allow us to have a substantial competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce.”
It comes weeks after Joyce said in a separate interview that while the business would “obviously” not put in an order until international markets recover, he was still “very optimistic” about Project Sunrise.
He added that the slightly shorter Perth-London 787s flights were the “best route on our network” and expected the same for those to the eastern states of Australia.
Project Sunrise has not been without its controversies, with AIPA president Mark Sedgwick hinting last year that the COVID-19 crisis played a part in pilots agreeing on a deal to fly the long route.
“This is an incredibly uncertain time for our members, with many stood down from flying on no pay, with no end in sight,” said Sedgwick. “When we return to flying, our expert pilots will be at the helm as part of Qantas’ ultra-long-haul services.”
The vote brought to an end a bitter wrangle between the two camps, with Joyce at one stage threatening to bring in Chinese pilots to fly the aircraft if no deal could be struck.
Meanwhile, Joyce also used the Eurocontrol interview to argue that he believes the airline’s A380 fleet will still be profitable when the COVID crisis ends.
The last of the business’ 12 A380s flew to a Californian desert boneyard in September and there has been much speculation as to whether the aircraft would fly again. Most notably, in May last year, Air France retired its fleet and Airbus has already begun suspending production.
“We do have scheduling windows, because if you if you’ve ever been in LA, at between 10 o’clock and midnight, you see six or seven Qantas aircraft departing to Australia, because it’s the only time that works with curfews, so instead of flying multiple frequencies right on top of each other,” said Joyce.
“An A380, that’s fully or nearly fully written down, if it generates cash, will absolutely work. Airports that have slot restrictions, like Heathrow, where a slot is extremely expensive, then the aircraft works for that. And the similar scheduling windows that worked for Australia are unique.
“So we do believe there’s a need for that fleet. And we do believe that it will generate cash. And it’s all going to be about cash when we start up international.”