Qantas on Thursday doubled down on its pledge to launch Project Sunrise soon by announcing that Sydney would be the “launch city”.
The business again appeared to reiterate non-stop flights between destinations such as New York and London to Australia was a matter of when, not if, stating it would launch once international travel recovers and the investment “goes ahead”.
In March 2020, Qantas agreed to a deal with the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) for its members to fly ultra-long-haul routes. However, later that month its order for the 12 A350-1000s was pushed back as the COVID crisis grounded all international flights.
Thursday’s morning’s news is the latest in a number of recent statement reconfirming the carrier’s commitment to the plans.
In February, chief executive Alan Joyce reiterated the now-suspended plans could resume later this year, with a view to launching direct flights from London to Sydney in 2024.
He added Qantas was the only airline in the world with the ability to make ultra-long-haul profitable because other 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.
“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.”
That came 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.
The Sydney announcement came as Qantas announced neither of its major bases in NSW and Victoria would relocate, despite last year announcing it was mulling shifting its hubs to one city.