Qantas CEO Still Eyeing Future Project Sunrise Flights

Qantas’ Alan Joyce remains bullish about Project Sunrise, but he isn’t about to provide a timeline of when the ultra-long-range flights might start. Earlier this year, the airline was within weeks of ordering new planes to fly Project Sunrise routes. However, as the impact of COVID-19 on Qantas and the wider airline industry became clear, Alan Joyce quickly put the brakes on the ambitious idea.

Qantas’ Alan Joyce remains keen on Project Sunrise flights. Photo: Qantas

Project Sunrise will fly, but Qantas boss unsure of when

Speaking on an Aviation Week webinar today, Mr Joyce said he thinks Project Sunrise will get off the ground. He won’t say when. Rather, the CEO says it will depend on several factors.

Late last year, after inviting both Airbus and Boeing to submit proposals, Qantas selected a slightly modified Airbus A350-1000 as its preferred Project Sunrise plane. At the time, orders weren’t placed. That was slated to occur in March 2020, with contract negotiations taking up the time in between.

COVID-19 struck over those interim months, leaving Qantas with a bit of a half baked Project Sunrise cake. In May this year, Qantas formally deferred the idea.

Today, Alan Joyce revealed how close they were to going ahead. Qantas had worked things out with Airbus and sorted out IR issues with the pilots and crews who would work Project Sunrise flights.

Qantas’ Alan Joyce. Photo: Getty Images

There will be plenty of demand for Project Sunrise style flights

The Qantas CEO said the demand for Project Sunrise flights was still there. He thinks COVID-19 will increase demand for long-range point to point flying. Passengers will be keener than ever to skip transit airports and any possible health risks there.

Alan Joyce also argued that modern aircraft are super-efficient when it comes to minimizing health risks. It’s this combination of factors, plus the need and desire to travel, that will ultimately power Project Sunrise forward.

But Mr Joyce also noted that rebooting Project Sunrise did depend on several things. He doesn’t see long-haul flying in and out of Australia resuming until an effective COVID-19 vaccine is up and running. However, the CEO is pretty happy about recent developments in that area.

The airline boss also thinks Australia needs to sort out its internal border issues before it can get serious about reopening its international borders. He strongly criticized various state governments for continuing to open and close internal state borders based on political rather than medical reasons.

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Alan Joyce believes the demand for long-range point-to-point travel will grow in the future. Photo: Qantas

The balance sheet needs to recover before Qantas can order more planes

Further, Alan Joyce says Qantas needs to get its own house in order before it can think about investing in Project Sunrise. Today, the Qantas boss said he’d be revisiting the Project Sunrise business case in its entirety, suggesting any Airbus A350 order isn’t yet a foregone conclusion. Things have changed, Alan Joyce said.

Right now, Qantas isn’t willing to slap down the billions of dollars needed to order new planes. Mr Joyce says the Qantas balance sheet will need to show signs of recovery and the ability to support the expense before he can contemplate buying more planes.

As to when this might happen, Alan Joyce can’t say. As much as he’d like to, as this year proves, Alan Joyce can’t predict the future. It might take two or three years, maybe a bit longer. He doesn’t think international flying will get back to 2019 levels for several more years. But when it does, indications are Mr Joyce will still be around to push Project Sunrise onwards and upwards.