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;  

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“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.

15 comments
  1. “Earlier this week, news leaked that Airbus was preparing to launch the A1000-350ULR this year.”
    A1000-350ULR? I think you mean A350-1000ULR.

  2. Boeing does not have the plane for this project.
    777x will fly maybe next year.
    777-8 will be finished maybe in 2-3years.
    That are optimistic scenarios.
    Airbus has already a plane that could make this trip today(a350-900ulr).
    A350-1000 with bigger tanks is easy to do.
    So why consider boeing when they dont have a plane and their plans are not something that quantas could relay on?
    But they also need to get airbus for lower price, so negotiate with both is the best way.

    1. Well, not all CEOs appear to be rational: for example, Mr. Walsh (IAG) recently showed us that he prefers grounded planes to late-delivered planes 😉

  3. Reasons to choose Airbus:
    -Airbus may ‘trade’ used A380s for A350 discount (like with Lufthansa).
    -Qantas’ subsidiaries like Jetstar operate other Airbus products which could negotiate a discount.
    -A350 incorporates a carbon fibre fuselage allowing a better cabin environment, unlike the 777X.
    -A350 is readily available unlike the delayed 777X still in development.

    Reasons to choose Boeing:
    -Pilot training commonality with 787 fleet.
    -Allows future 777-9 order for A380 replacement.
    -Possible discount on 737 MAX order to replace ageing 737-800 fleet.
    -Possible discount on follow-up 787 orders to replace A330 in long-term.

    Whilst the 777X seems like a more flexible option, the A350 may win given the current circumstances with Boeing and it’s ability to be ready by 2022, when Qantas want to start London-Sydney/Melbourne flights.

  4. Anyone know how many aircraft are being considered for this purchase? How many ULR aircraft does one need to connect London with western Australia? I would be it’s not much more than 10 units. If I were Boeing, I’d concede this “win” to Airbus. I know that Airbus makes a good product, but sometimes I think their driven by ego. The A380 being a good example – a great airplane with very limited market.

    1. Magman….every single A350-900 that leaves the line today is a potential ULR with a few minor modifications by either the customer or Airbus. The wings for the 1000 are only marginally different from the 900 and have been given the ULR treatment by Airbus. The stock standard original 1000 does not have much range penalty over the 900 for being a stretch. The same cannot be said between the 777-8 and the 777-9. Every A350-1000 that comes off the line soon will also have ULR capability and if the figures i’ve heard are correct, the 1000ULR range has actually surpassed the 900ULR due to a 5 tonne MTOW increase and the larger winglet that originated on the 1000. It won’t be as if Airbus are investing hundreds of millions for 2 dozen units.

      1. Nate Dogg – Thanks for the update. If so, I agree that this fact would put Airbus as a favorite for any ULR competition. But I would think that there would be consequences for making every copy capable of ULR performance. I would think that their costs would be higher than their competition where ULR performances aren’t needed.

        Thanks.

  5. There are very few airlines that have the requirement for the extreme range demanded by Qantas, so the market is limited. Two aircraft designed for extreme range , the A340-500 and the 777-200LR both sold around 50 units. Singapore Airlines pioneered the non stop route from Singapore to Newark with 340-500 until rising fuel prices made it uneconomic; this was done with a 100% Business Class arrangement. The 200 LR eventually provided the basis for the 777 F but little penetration of the passenger market. It would seem A350-900ULR is ready to do the job and a -1000ULR would not be a huge step. The 777-8 is going to be several years later. How many people fancy flying steerage from Sydney to London ?

    1. Agreed.

      Nice to get off in Singapore for the day, have a shower, and a good sleep in a hotel.

      Break the trip.

      And suck on a few beers around the hotel pool, of course.

      1. Absolutely agree .
        I’ve flown the SYD- LHR route perhaps about 20X times . I couldn’t think of anything worse that a non stop service . I’ll be doing it again in 4 weeks time , and the stopover in Singapore is happening and is so welcoming . I was offered SYD- PER- LHR , it took me about 2ms to think about it ! . No way am I spending upward of 18 hours cramped up on any aeroplane .

      2. Better still, John, the Raffles has reopened. Have a Singapore Sling!!
        I did 10 return trips SYD-LHR, with a quick connection to Geneva, in 12 months in the early 90’s. There for a week, then back again. I liked my stops in BKK or SIN. Flew Speedbird: Club World far superior to the QF offering. Even so, these stops – even when falling short of a full lay-over – made things bearable. Hate to think what a Project Sunrise trip would do to a human being if in the back of the a/c at the hands of QF ‘service’…….

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