Could Boeing Offer Qantas An Extended Range 787 Dreamliner For Project Sunrise?

With the news that Qantas intends to test London to Sydney direct flights with a normal 787 Dreamliner, one has to wonder Boeing could offer a special extended range 787 for the Australian airline’s ambitions.

Qantas 787
Qantas could launch Project Sunrise with a special 787 Photo: Qantas

What are the details?

As reported this morning, Qantas intends to take a normal Boeing 787-9, strip it of all non-essential cargo (including only allowing 40 passengers on board) and fly it from London to Sydney. They will follow up that test with a similar flight from New York.

“Qantas will run three separate research flights, using newly-built 787s before they go into regular service, to assess wellbeing and comfort. Between October and the end of the year, we’ll collect these aircraft from the Boeing factory in Seattle, position them in New York and London, and fly direct to Sydney.”Qantas CEO Alan Joyce at a recent press conference.


Part of the problem with these two routes is the distance involved. Qantas has spent the last year waiting for Airbus and Boeing to develop concepts for an ultra-long-range aircraft that can no only do the distance, but be comfortable enough for passengers to sit in for up to 20 hours.

Qantas Project Sunrise
Qantas is expected to choose an aircraft for Project Sunrise by the end of the year. Photo: Qantas

Thus far, the rumored choices are:

  • Airbus – A special A350-1000 variant that has extra fuel tanks. Airbus managed to pull off a miracle with their A321XLR variant and it is likely these learnings can be translated to the A350 too.
  • Boeing – A extended range Boeing 777-8. Similar to the A350, this version would have a focus on range without compromising on capacity. It would include learnings from the popular Boeing 787-9 that Qantas currently flies London to Perth. This aircraft design, however, has been delayed by more than two years due to problems with the bigger 777-9 design.

However… there is another option that might be on the table.


What about an extended range 787?

Perhaps Boeing could build a special extended range 787, as outlined in a report published recently by Leeham News? This report examined the possibility of a special Boeing 787-10ER and how it would work for Qantas and other carriers interested in ultra-long-range travel. With Qantas using a normal 787 to test the Project Sunrise concept, it would not be far fetched for them to consider an actual 787 with an extra range. 

Essentially with delays to the 777-8 program, Boeing has a unique chance to create a 787-10ER variant that could fill in the 777-8’s shoes without delay. They have experience in the past with creating extended range versions, like the 777-300ER and the 767-300ER.

Boeing 777X 2020 Launch
With delays to the non-flying 777 program, why doesn’t Boeing offer a 787-10ER instead?. Photo: Boeing

Additionally, building and creating a 787-10ER would be far cheaper for Boeing than building a whole new aircraft (especially if only Qantas is interested in the model). Plus, it turns out that fellow antipodean airline Air New Zealand has ordered eight 787-10s with modified engines to operate a longer range… so why not go the whole nine yards and just make an ER version?

What does Qantas think of this idea?

Simple Flying got in touch with Qantas and asked this very question, in which we got this simple but clear reply:

“Qantas has received the best and final offers from both Boeing and Airbus for their aircraft capable of making the range with a full payload. The two aircraft under consideration are the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.


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777-8 will never be built. 787-10ER much more logical. However maybe a stretch too far so to speak. 350-1000ER better placed.

In-Frequent Flyer

Don’t say “it won’t be built” and not offer any real reason why. Even if the 787-10ER would be logical, it’d be better to make a modified 777-9ER that could make that range. It’s somewhat close to doing so anyway with its stock layout. Also, Airbus just said they’re offering a stock A350-1000. No word on a ULR.


The 777-8 is on its way to the undertaker, and the 777-9 is on sick leave: more than 5 billion dollars development costs for 280 orders, 60% of which are from shaky ME3 airlines, and an airframe that’s far too heavy — not a nice pickle to be in.
A 787-10ER would make much more sense. Much lighter to start off with. Strange that Boeing never thought of this before. Maybe they’ve finally woken up to the reality that the era of VLAs is in its twilight.

Robert Gibson

Having flown Qantas over the pacific 20 times or more times I am looking forward to the 787 that does not depressurize, swelling my feet, making babies ear sore so they cry all night, dry mouth,oily hair and so on. Its a long enough flight without all those extras.


That’s the A350-900 ULR, which doesn’t have any extra tanks…just modified usage of existing tank space.
We have yet to see what the A350-1000 ULR will offer.


If range is the goal, doesn’t an ER version of 787-9 make most sense as its range is already greater than 787-10?


What you keep getting into is the Super LR does not sell well. So, unless its an easy knock off why bother? Singapore with their A350-900 can carry just under 180 passengers. It has to be a lucrative and not other served route (and you compete against fuel stop routes cost wise) And you can’t carry any freight which is a significant revue generator by itself. If Leeham is looking at the -10, then it has to be a reduced pax and use the gain to carry fuel. Minimal mods and a unique cabin. What would that look like? I… Read more »


Was reading elsewhere.
That Boeing is offering Qantas the 777-900ER for Project Sunrise.
They will said that they will compensate Qantas if they bought this one instead of the 777-800 that they were looking at.


Boeing to offer Qantas special 777X-9s for its Project Sunrise. Boeing is to offer Qantas its larger 777X-9 for delivery in 2021 to launch its Project Sunrise non-stop flights from New York and London to Sydney as an interim solution suggest sources in the US. The US manufacturer has slowed the development of its longer-ranged 777X-8 and will compensate Qantas for operating the larger 777X-9 with reduced payload to meet the range mission with just below 300 passengers. The 777X-9 seats more than 400 passengers, depending on an airline’s configuration choices and has a range of 14,185 km with that… Read more »


Thanks for that amazing information. If that’s the half-ass solution proposed by Boeing, then one could just as easily (and more efficiently) do the same trick with the 787s currently being used on the Perth-London route: fewer passengers and palletized extra fuel tanks. One could even used the lower passenger number to configure the cabin more comfortably as 2-4-2 (or even 2-3-2), with wider seats. If Joyce needs more capacity on the route, he can just increase frequency. He could conceivably do the same trick with an A380…which Emirates already uses on 17-hour flights between Auckland and Dubai. A reduced… Read more »


Imagine A380-800 ULR
No more than 350 pax with 4 clases, from 2-4-2 on economy.


It’s a lovely thought from the perspective of passenger comfort, but not from the perspective of airline economics – sadly