Will The Pandemic Help Qantas’ Project Sunrise?

The pandemic’s single largest outcome for aviation was the significant drop in passengers. This has led to other effects, including the cancelation or deferral of new aircraft orders and the conversion of passenger aircraft into freighters. But how has the pandemic affected Qantas’ Project Sunrise? And will it inadvertently help the Australian carrier?

Will The Pandemic Help Qantas’ Project Sunrise?
Most of Qantas’ Boeing 787s are currently active. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

COVID-19’s impact on Qantas

Qantas has been hard-hit by the travel restrictions of COVID-19. The Australian government has been among the most restrictive in terms of allowing international arrivals within its borders.

Indeed, in addition to banning non-citizens and permanent residents, the country has also imposed quarantine facility requirements upon arrival, as well as put a cap on the number of weekly eligible international arrivals. To make things even tougher for Australian carriers, interstate travel restrictions have dampened domestic operations.

The pandemic has also had an impact on Qantas’ ‘Project Sunrise.’ In early 2020, the carrier was expected to lock in a deal to order planes capable of ultra-long-haul flights. However, the travel downturn interrupted the airline’s plans, forcing Qantas to put things on hold and ride out the financial turbulence. Thus, it decided not to order any new planes in the immediate future for the long-awaited project.

Will The Pandemic Help Qantas’ Project Sunrise?
Qantas’ A380s remain parked in long-term storage. Many of these are situated in Victorville, California at the Southern California Logistics Airport (VCV). Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

How COVID-19 could help Project Sunrise

At the heart of Project Sunrise is Qantas’ desire to drop a stopover airport and fly nonstop from key Australian cities to far-flung destinations like New York, Frankfurt, and London. As we note in a recent article, to date, no aircraft has been able to achieve this and make money at the same time. The airline has since settled on a modified Airbus A350-1000 for this task.

This desire to offer nonstop service might actually serve the current aviation climate quite well. That’s because transferring through a hub airport has become a risk due to occasionally shifting travel restrictions and pre-flight requirements.

Will The Pandemic Help Qantas’ Project Sunrise?
Cutting out the need to transfer at another airport simplifies the travel experience, especially during this global health crisis. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Already, we’ve seen governments impose travel restrictions against countries that include transfers in those countries. The UK is a good example, where transit stops in amber or red list countries might have an impact on arrivals. With the UK, the rules of a country or territory that passengers make a transit stop in could apply if:

  • New passengers get on and are able to mix with those already onboard
  • Passengers from the first flight are able to get off the transport and mix with other people, then get on again.

The above scenarios consider stopovers that use the same aircraft. However, most airport transits involve changing planes and mixing with many other travelers- a practice which, under the UK policy, would force arrivals to comply with rules imposed on the transit country.

Therefore, these types of policies, if they continue further into the future, could be a boost to Project Sunrise and its concept of nonstop service. While we would of course hope that the overall COVID situation is essentially over by the time Project Sunrise flights take place, the concept will indeed be useful for this and similar situations, where a transit stop adds further complications.

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