Qantas has revealed that it has “resumed” work on its Project Sunrise program, after lengthy delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airline remained tight-lipped about the specifics, however, CEO Alan Joyce noted that demand for ultra-long-haul, point-to-point flights appears to have increased in light of the pandemic.
“Our latest customer research shows that demand for direct long-haul flights is stronger than it was pre-COVID, so our focus on delivering non-stop services from Sydney and Melbourne to New York and London remains,” he said.
The Flying Kangaroo has previously committed to the Airbus A350-1000 as its choice of aircraft for Project Sunrise, however, a firm order has been delayed numerous times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the program has been placed on ice.
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, after this point, work on Project Sunrise was put on pause due to the pandemic.
Later, in January 2021, Joyce suggested that work on the suspended program could resume by the end of the year, suggesting at the time that a finalised order on the A350-1000 could be completed.
Then in February, Joyce suggested the suspended plans could resume later this year, with a view to launching direct flights from London to Sydney in 2024.
At this time, Joyce also stated that Qantas, being an Australia-based carrier, is the only airline that could make ultra-long-haul travel to and from the country profitable.
“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.”
In May, Qantas announced that Sydney would be the launch city for Project Sunrise – though it remains unclear as to whether this means it would also be exclusive to the city, or for how long.