COVID Hasn’t Put Qantas Off Non-Stop London-Sydney Flights

One of the most hotly anticipated developments in international aviation has been the ambitious ultra-long-haul flights in the pipeline for Qantas. Codenamed Project Sunrise, the flights would see Qantas flying nonstop from Sydney and Melbourne to London, New York and Paris. Although the timeline has slipped due to COVID, CEO Alan Joyce believes there is still a case for making this work.

Qantas Completes 'Project Sunrise' Research Flight From London To Sydney
Qantas previously tested out the route with its 787 Dreamliner. Photo: Getty Images

Project Sunrise still a go

Despite the challenges that 2020 has presented Qantas, the airline still plans to press ahead with its plans for Project Sunrise. As reported in Executive Traveller today, the airline’s CEO Alan Joyce believes that nonstop connections from Sydney and Melbourne to London, New York and Paris will be even more attractive in the post-COVID environment.

Speaking at this week’s Reuters Next conference, Joyce commented,

“People in the post-COVID world will want to fly direct … which I think makes the Project Sunrise business case even better than it was pre-COVID.”

Joyce makes a good point. With many travelers still licking their 2020 wounds, taking the most direct routing between two countries will likely be seen as a positive in the future. Flying nonstop avoids the uncertainty and stress of connecting in a foreign country and dealing with all the risks and regulations that entails.

Qantas project sunrise
Alan Joyce believes ultra-long-haul flights will prove even more popular in the post-COVID environment. Photo: Getty Images

A report jointly produced by Linus Benjamin Bauer (Bonn, Germany) of Bauer Aviation Advisory and Daniel Bloch (Perth, Australia) of Bloch Aviation Advisory explored the benefits of ultra-long-haul (ULH) in the post-COVID market. Their analysis showed that, in the post-COVID world, demand for ULH services could soar.

When will Qantas order the planes?

Project Sunrise was never planned to happen quickly. Qantas still needs to place the order for its chosen aircraft – the A350-1000 – and had planned to begin operations in 2023. Although the timeline has slipped, Joyce remains confident that the ambitious ultra-long-haul mission will still go ahead.

Up to 12 A350s are set to be ordered. Joyce said that he was literally ‘weeks away’ from lodging the order with Airbus when COVID hit. Now, it seems Airbus will be waiting at least another year to bag the Australian airline’s business.

Airbus will be waiting a little longer for its order from Qantas. Photo: Qantas

Joyce said that it would be the end of 2021 before Project Sunrise is properly revisited. In terms of the order, he said,

“We’re obviously not going to put an order in until we see the international market recovering.”

He reiterated his stance that he doesn’t expect to see international traffic recovering until around 2023-2024. The airline previously mothballed its A380s until at least 2023, and has parked the majority of its long-haul aircraft. It has retired its 747s and furloughed a number of long-haul pilots and crew, some of whom have taken up bus driving in the meantime.

Nevertheless, there’s a strong case for pressing ahead with Project Sunrise. Qantas’ current longest route, Perth to London on a 787, has been incredibly high performing, with excellent load factors and plenty of positive feedback from passengers. Qantas has recently reopened bookings on this route, with resumption slated for July this year.

Do you think Project Sunrise will work in the post-COVID environment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.