Before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hit the airline industry, Australian flag carrier Qantas had big plans for ultra-long-haul travel. Having launched non-stop London-Perth services, it had wanted to do the same for Sydney under the name ‘Project Sunrise.’ Naturally, COVID-19 brought these plans screeching to a halt last year. However, CEO Alan Joyce has outlined provisional timescales for the program’s continuation.
What is Project Sunrise?
Project Sunrise is Qantas’s codename for proposed scheduled non-stop flights between Australia and several key international markets previously out of reach. Departing from Melbourne and Sydney, these marathon sectors will directly serve London, New York, and Paris.
The 19-hour non-stop flights will eliminate the need for a stopover in the likes of Dubai and Singapore, ensuring direct connections where they had previously not been possible. Qantas had decided to deploy Airbus A350-1000 aircraft on these herculean legs. It was close to placing an order when COVID-19 forced it to put its exciting plans on ice while its international operations were suspended.
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2024 now set as the planned introduction
As recently as November, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was still uncertain about when the airline would revisit its plans for Project Sunrise. However, speaking at EuroControl‘s Aviation StraightTalk Live today, he was able to detail the project’s provisionally updated timescales in greater detail. Regarding the airline’s proposed ultra-long-haul program, Mr Joyce confirmed:
“We still want to revisit it at the end of ’21, with the potential of doing it [introducing scheduled Project Sunrise flights] in ’24, probably, and onwards.“
Australian borders will remain closed for the time being. As such, it is understandable that Project Sunrise is one of Qantas’s short-term priorities. Nonetheless, to have given a concrete timescale suggests significant confidence on Mr Joyce’s part. It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how the program further develops over the coming months and years.
Belief based on existing success
Given the current state of the airline industry, Joyce’s optimism towards the project is conspicuous. However, he feels that there are several reasons to believe that Project Sunrise will have its place in commercial aviation towards the middle of the decade.
One reason for this is a predicted shift in passenger trends regarding stopovers. Previously, these were seen as a necessary evil (or relief!) on ultra-long-haul routes such as London-Sydney. However, some passengers are likely to want to reduce contact with others in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. As such, an alternative itinerary that bypasses the need to pass through another airport might have a significant pull factor for such travelers.
Furthermore, Qantas has also experienced incredible success on its existing non-stop London-Perth service. According to Joyce, this route was the airline’s most profitable before the pandemic, and it also saw the highest customer satisfaction levels.
Indeed, Simple Flying reported in 2019 that it had just four cancellations and an average load factor of 94% in the route’s first year! Qantas will doubtless have been frustrated at the coronavirus-induced delays to its exciting ultra-long-haul scheme. Nonetheless, it is easy to see why Alan Joyce continues to display optimism towards Project Sunrise, which may yet prove a gamechanger in intercontinental travel as the decade progresses.
What do you make of the timescales issued by Qantas regarding revisiting Project Sunrise? Would you fly non-stop from Europe to Sydney, or do you prefer the leg-stretch opportunities that stopovers offer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!