What Is Happening With Qantas’ Project Sunrise?

The clock is ticking for an announcement regarding Project Sunrise. Qantas had put out the call to both Airbus and Boeing to provide an aircraft with ultra-long-range capabilities. Having long maintained Qantas would make a choice by the end of 2019, attention is starting to focus on the airline and speculation about its choice is mounting.

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Expect an announcement about Project Sunrise from Qantas later this year. Photo: Qantas

And news has come out of both Toulouse and Boeing this week regarding their ultra-long-range aircraft that are capable of flying the required distance. It is making for a compelling soup of speculation, intrigue, probabilities and punditry.

Reuters is reporting that both Airbus and Boeing have made their submissions to Qantas, providing an aircraft type able to make the London-Sydney hop nonstop.

In a statement, Qantas said;  

“We have the best-and-final offers from both manufacturers, which is a key part of helping finalise our internal business case.

We still expect to make a decision by the end of this calendar year.”

Here’s our latest assessment of what’s happening with Qantas’ Project Sunrise.

The Airbus A350-1000ULR

The consensus is Airbus is offering an ultra-long-range version of their A350-1000 and Boeing is offering an ultra-long-range version of their 777X.

Airbus is calling their offer “the perfect solution for Qantas”.

Earlier this week, news leaked that Airbus was preparing to launch the A350-1000ULR this year. It’s a step up from the A350-900ULR used by Singapore Airlines on their marathon Singapore-Newark flights. 

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An Airbus A350-1000 takes flight. Photo: Airbus.

Local speculation in Australia is that Qantas will choose the A350 and that it could be announced at the Dubai Air Show in November. That would fit nicely with the end of 2019 deadline Qantas set itself choose an aircraft for Project Sunrise.

That said, it remains mere speculation. Aside from its fleet of A380s, mainline Qantas services have long been served by Boeing aircraft and the 787-9 is proving a success for the airline. Choosing the A350 would break the Boeing stranglehold at Qantas.

But Qantas CEO Alan Joyce isn’t particularly sentimental about things like this. He likes profits, market share, and strong loads. He’s waving goodbye to the airline’s 747s and has set a timeline for the retirement of the A380s without a backward glance.

The Boeing 777-8

And at Boeing, the torrid year continues. This week, word came from Seattle that development work on the 777-8 had been “frozen”. The 777-8 is destined to be the ultra-long-range member of the 777X family. This week’s development comes as Boeing grapples with ongoing 737 MAX and 777-9 problems.

The 777-8 has a range of over 16,000 kilometers, giving it the legs to get to London nonstop from Australia’s big east coast cities. But Boeing this week said they were pushing back the 777-8 launch date to an unspecified time.

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Rendering of both the 777-9X and the 777-8X. Photo: Boeing.

Boeing also notes that it has made a compelling offer to Qantas. Compelling could mean a deep discount to offset production and delivery delays. Boeing desperately needs a win and a burst of good publicity. 

Flight Global, citing an informed source, says the delay at Boeing won’t necessarily rule the manufacturer out of the race. Boeing is keen to participate. 

Finally

Qantas is great at making splashy announcements. Expect one regarding the choice of Project Sunrise aircraft by the year’s end. 

Less widely discussed is the delivery timeframe and when the ultra long haul flights would commence.

Project Sunrise has a way to play out yet.

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