Qantas has placed plans for Project Sunrise under review as it tries to figure out how to deal with major barriers, such as who would fly it and which aircraft would be best. The plan is set to go in front of the Qantas board with rumors that the final choice will be pushed back to February 2020.
Qantas made press recently with their three test flights for Project Sunrise, but it seems that the next steps to make these routes a reality has stalled.
What are the issues with Project Sunrise?
Project Sunrise is the plan by Qantas to fly from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York direct. Currently, flights to these two destinations need to fly through Singapore, Dubai or Los Angeles (or a myriad of other stopover locations), with only Perth to London offering a direct link between the two continents.
These flights are actually quite popular as they shave off a few hours of waiting around in a foreign airport. Perth to London currently has 94% occupancy, even with Qantas charging significantly more than the competition.
Issue one: Aircraft
Such a long journey requires a very special aircraft. Last year, Qantas put it out to Airbus and Boeing to suggest an aircraft that could carry around 300 passengers nonstop.
Boeing came to the table with the long-range Boeing 777X-8. However, the aircraft would not be ready for a few years. It’s likely Boeing offered Qantas a Boeing 777-200LR for the meantime.
Airbus, on the other hand, offered Qantas an unmodified Airbus A350-1000. It would have to sacrifice passenger numbers to make the journey (and thus not be the 300 that Qantas wants) but would be ready to go within a year of ordering. It was a little disappointing that Airbus didn’t offer a special A350-2000 or A350-1000XLR variant, but perhaps they felt the competition from Boeing was so weak that it didn’t require an expensive offer
We don’t know for sure why Qantas didn’t feel these aircraft were up to scratch, but only that they were not cheap and didn’t fill all the requirements.
Issue two: Pilot and crew
The second problem is that Qantas has yet to come to an agreement with unions (both pilot and flight attendant) regarding how to actually staff these flights. With journeys traveling for around 20-22 hours, it might be too much for a single crew to perform. Qantas seems unwilling to pay for multiple crews, so perhaps this deal is a bit too expensive to set out in real life.
In a recent article published by Airline Ratings, it was revealed that the pilots union is preparing to work with Qantas on a deal for Project Sunrise.
“Depending on the outcome of Qantas Board meetings, a package of terms and conditions may be put with a ballot to Long Haul pilots early next year. This could be irrespective of AIPA’s position on the package.”
Pilots want more to fly ultra-long-haul
But pilots are not approaching Project Sunrise with glee as they did with the London to Perth flights. They believe they got a bit of a raw deal last time and are preparing to play hard with Qantas.
“We’re not interested in that type of negotiation [The deal with the 787 that operated Perth to London]. Qantas thinks pilots will do anything to get shiny new toys but those concessions have had a long-reaching effect and I’m sure it will be a different vote this time around,” a union spokesperson said to Airline Ratings.
As mentioned by the source, one example of a raw deal was that the 787 pilots do not get compensated for flying at night like the A330 pilots (you can check out a review of the Qantas A330 here).
Without the pilots on board, it is unlikely that the business case for Project Sunrise will stack up. As a result, Qantas may push it back to February at the earliest.
“[Project Sunrise] remains subject to pilot acceptance of a new EA [Agreement with the pilot union] and further Board review in February 2020.” – Australian & International Pilots Association weekly newsletter
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