Qantas is expected to make the final announcement about Project Sunrise in March 2020. Late last year the airline selected the A350-1000 as the preferred Project Sunrise aircraft.
If Qantas decides to go ahead with Project Sunrise, flights are set to commence in the first half of 2023.
Qantas has form for talking these things up
In the PR hoopla surrounding Project Sunrise, Qantas has floated a number of ideas about the cabin on these ultra-long-haul flights. These included gyms, bunkbeds, cafes, and yoga zones. They’ve since been discarded as unviable.
The Flying Kangaroo has form for talking up product possibilities on new aircraft, only to fill that new aircraft with, umm, seats.
The run-up to the purchase of the 787-9 Dreamliners is a case in point. Much was promised but in the end, passengers got a squeezy 3-3-3 configuration in economy class and minimal legroom in premium economy.
Despite having nixed bunkbed thought bubbles, Qantas is saying the Project Sunrise A350s will feature an entirely new cabin design. James Booth reported on this yesterday in DMarge. He spoke to Qantas’ Media and Communications chief, Amanda Bolger. She said;
“It will be an entirely new cabin design for each class, a new opportunity to rethink the ideal cabin environment based on the ultra long haul nature of the Project Sunrise flights.”
Not yet a done deal
See, here’s the thing. The airline is continuing to promote a project that hasn’t yet got the final tick of approval. The current chitchat is that it’s down to reaching a pay deal with the pilots. But as one pilot said last week, if Project Sunrise is that marginal that a pay deal makes or breaks it, the entire idea isn’t really viable at all.
Second, with the imminent retirement of the remaining 747-400 fleet, Qantas is only now beginning to achieve some cabin uniformity across its international fleet. Seat types are becoming reasonably consistent across the A330, 787-9, and A380s. Now, there is talk of introducing another outlier product.
Third, attention will invariably focus on the glamour seats up the front. Will first class be as good as Singapore Airlines? Will there be sliding doors in business class? But the issue is down the back in the main cabin where most people travel.
The key issue is improving the economy class product
As airlines transition away from the big A380s and 747s towards smaller aircraft, cabins are becoming narrower. The Qantas 787-9 is a lovely aircraft if you are in business class. But the economy seat is narrow and uncomfortable and many passengers would opt for a more spacious A380.
The Qantas premium economy product has been heavily criticized for its lack of legroom.
Should Qantas go ahead with Project Sunrise and in doing so re-designs the cabins, it would be great to see attention paid to the seats at the back of the bus.
Given that the Project Sunrise flights will be ultra-long-haul, this takes on even more importance. Hands up who looks forward to 23 hours in a squeezy economy class seat?
Sensibly, Qantas acknowledges that they do need to incorporate stretching space into the economy class cabin.
Ultimately, Qantas has to make money from these flights. Space that isn’t taken up by revenue seats is effectively dead space.
A lack of detail
The Project Sunrise research flights were widely lampooned when the 50 odd passengers, all accommodated in business class, were photographed stretching out and doing yoga in empty economy class cabins and galley floors.
How much yoga goes on when you are surrounded by 300 odd fellow passengers in a full economy class cabin remains to be seen.
Qantas isn’t saying much about the potential cabin designs for the A350s. Again, that’s fairly typical. They are talking a game that is yet to start playing and there is no guarantee that it will. But if they are serious about making cabin improvements, it would be refreshing to see those improvements start down the back rather than up the front.