Qantas Project Sunrise Business Case Still Under Review

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 might put Project Sunrise on hold Photo: Qantas News Room

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.”

Without someone to fly the plane, it doesn’t matter what Qantas chooses: Qantas News Room.

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).

Qantas A330 pilots might have a sweeter deal to fly. Photo: Qantas News Room.

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

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


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This is perhaps a prelude to just dropping the project altogether: convenient if it can be blamed on the unions, rather than on indecisive management, poor planning and a lack of funds. Perhaps environmental issues are also playing a role: it would be interesting to see the extra fuel burn associated with having to carry all that extra fuel right from the start of a direct flight. It would also be very interesting to see if British / USA unions would be less demanding than their Aussie counterparts; if so, then a British carrier (Virgin or BA; London) or US… Read more »

Roy Ducker

Not heard of a 767-200LR but I could be wrong.


Should be 777-200LR

Niklas Andersson

We’ve heard in Stockholm … Airbus 360 XLR in 2023 ( Hybrid )


“Without the pilots onboard, it is unlikely that the business case for Project Sunrise will stack up”…regardless of the business case, without the pilots onboard there is no flying at all.


Qantas is just looking to blame everyone else so they can drop the project. They were playing airbus against Boeing (nothing wrong with that) but did not get the give away price they were looking for plane and simple

Niklas Andersson

Well… I agree with this comment…
Australia is Isolated with some utopia, can’t blame the world of airplane manufacturer to solve their natural issue ( big isolated island and Ego ).
Maybe they could build a Tunnel ( dixit the last movie of Total recall ? ).
Found on Bing from
Let’s be realistic, we can’t offer them Supersonic Outcome either.


Recently found this site however comments are way out of control. My home is the”big isolated island and Ego”, you were invited to comment regarding the article on Qantas and Project Sunrise not insult those that live there.


Paul, don’t pay any attention to his weird ramblings: according to other Swedish commentators here, he’s fond of the bottle 😉

Roy Ducker

Like the play on words ‘plane and simple’.


I saw an interview with the CEO of Qatar Airways. He was asked why Gulf airlines have been so successful compared with European airlines. His answer: “Because we don’t have unions to deal with.”
It seems that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have no problem recruiting pilots and cabin crew, despite the absence of union dinosaurs standing up for their ‘rights’ and, as you say, holding the airlines to ransom!


It also has to be within the regulations set by the airline safety authorities in Europe and Australia.
Maybe the require 5-6 pilots because of the length of the flight and they cross 10 time zones.


Alan Joyce now trying to get cheap with the pilots (smh)

Owen Berkeley-Hill

Would you fly on a plane with just one set of crew (pilots ans stewards) for a journey of 22 hours? Australia and Qantas have had enviable reputations of safety. This might just jeopardise it. I see a parallel with Boeing’s MCAS debacle, where cost and profit took precedence over safety.

And we have not mentioned the MINIMUM number of toilets that should be in operation ( a Go/NO Go decision) at the start and end of such a long flight.

Beware of MBAs. Does Alan Joyce have this degree? If he does be afraid, be very afraid!


They already have extra crew. The 787s and A80 have four on board for the long flights. They may wish an extra one or two, which will be a sticking point. On the issue of flying at night by definition all these flights fly at night.

Nate Dogg

You said that the offer by Airbus was for a reduced pax number less than 300 pax with an unmodified A350-1000. As far as I am aware the offer by Airbus was for a 321T MTOW A350-1000 that will become stock standard at some point in 2020 or 2021 and the economics of that aircraft mean it can do the sector with 300 pax but with a very reduced payload after pax, fuel and baggage.