Qantas To Delay Project Sunrise And Review International Fleet

Australian carrier Qantas has made a raft of announcements this morning. In addition to canceling the majority of its international flights until the end of July, the airline has indefinitely deferred a decision on Project Sunrise and is initiating a review of its international fleet.

Qantas has made several announcements today. Photo: Getty Images.

International cancelations extended until the end of July

In a media statement this morning, Qantas said it was extending its current domestic and Trans-Tasman cancellations through to the end of June. Other international flight cancelations will be extended until 31 July.

“We don’t know how long domestic and international travel restrictions will last or what demand will look like as they’re gradually lifted.

“With the possible exception of New Zealand, international travel demand could take years to return to what it was,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce today.

Qantas is currently operating a slimmed-down domestic flight schedule and an international skeleton service to critical overseas hubs. The Australian Government is underwriting these services.

Project Sunrise put into hiatus

At the same time, Qantas has told Executive Traveller that the much-vaunted Project Sunrise flights have been put into hiatus.

The ultra long haul nonstop flights were to have connected Australia’s east coast cities to the furthest corners of the globe using modified A350-1000 aircraft. After an extended time crunching the numbers, an announcement was expected in March this year. But as the global travel environment deteriorated, that announcement got delayed.

Qantas has indefinitely delayed Project Sunrise and ordering the A350-1000s. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Now, despite acknowledging there was a business case for the flights, Mr Joyce has indefinitely delayed Project Sunrise.

“We do think there is a huge potential for Project Sunrise, but the time is not right now, given the impact that COVID-19 has had on world travel,” Mr Joyce told Executive Traveller.

The delay means the A350-1000 aircraft won’t be ordered for the time being. The multi-billion-dollar order would have represented a handy financial fill-up for Airbus.

The Qantas 747-400 fades into obscurity

At the same time, Qantas has also told local media that it is reviewing its entire international fleet. Qantas flies a mix of A380s, 747-400s, 787-9s, and A330s on its international routes. It also deploys some 737-800s on short-haul international routes.

In the spotlight are Qantas’ 12 A380s and five remaining 747-400s. The 747-400s were scheduled to be retired this year. When flights initially began to be canceled two months ago, there was speculation that the Qantas 747-400 era was over. But at the time, Qantas told Simple Flying that they expected to see the 747-400 back in the air later in the year.

Now, Mr Joyce isn’t so sure. Today he said;

“There’s still the possibility, if there was the demand for it, that the Boeing 747s could fly by the end of the year – but we are planning to retire them at the end of the year.

“There is a likelihood that they won’t come back.”

It looks increasingly like it is the end of the line for the Qantas Boeing 747-400. Photo: Getty Images.

Qantas A380 refurbishment program put onto hold

While that 747-400 news isn’t super surprising, the future of the A380s had seemed more assured. Qantas was investing millions of dollars updating the cabins, installing swish new seats, and readying them for years more of flying. Now midway through the refurbishment program, Qantas has suspended that program.

The bread and butter routes for the Qantas A380s are flying to the USA and the UK. But there is little chance of borders into those countries opening soon. Qantas doesn’t see an immediate future for 12 mega jumbos.

“We are keeping our options open. There is a potential to bring all 12 A380s back, but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back. That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like.”

The future of the A380 at Qantas is now looking less assured. Photo: Qantas News Room.

If Qantas does decide to “right-size” their A380 fleet, they’ll be following a broader A380 retirement trend in the aviation industry that’s picked up pace this year.

A post-crisis Qantas will be different from a pre-crisis Qantas

Less uncertain is the future of the Qantas Dreamliners. Their spot in the future Qantas international fleet is guaranteed. But with the airline not expecting to get fully back into business anytime soon, the future for the older and more marginal aircraft is less certain.

As Alan Joyce notes, the post-crisis Qantas will be a different airline to the pre-crisis Qantas.

“We need to think about what the Qantas Group should look like on the other side of this crisis in order to succeed. Fleet, network and capital expenditure will all have to be reviewed, but our commitment to serving communities across Australia will not change.”