The A350 vs 777X – What Aircraft Will Qantas Pick For Ultra Long Haul Flight?

Qantas are edging a step closer to their decision about which aircraft will operate the world’s longest ever flight. Narrowing it down to a choice between the A350 and the new 777X, they are pitting the world’s two biggest aircraft manufacturers head to head to see who can come up with the goods.

Qantas
Will Qantas pick Boeing or Airbus?

Boeing and Airbus are due to pitch Qantas on their proposals for the mammoth flight very soon. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has made no bones about the fact he wants to squeeze the two manufacturers for every cent he can, as the more he saves, the more financially viable the ultra-long haul route will become.

The next step is a tender process where Qantas will determine the cost of the proposed aircraft themselves, as well as other associated costs such as maintenance and engines.

“I had an executive from Boeing tell me it was like the space race, the first person to get to the moon,” – Alan Joyce, CEO, Qantas

With only two viable plane manufacturers to choose from, it’s no surprise that Qantas are keen to crank up the rivalry between Boeing and Airbus. After all, making the aircraft which runs the worlds longest ever route is an accolade both companies would be pleased to hold.

What do Qantas want?

Qantas have challenged Boeing and Airbus to come up with a plane which will not only bee capable of travelling the 9,600 nautical miles between Sydney and London, but which can do it in style. They want to offer an exceptional service to travellers who are stuck inside a metal tube for almost an entire day, and that’s a pretty tall order.

London to Sydney

Dubbed Project Sunrise, Qantas want to become the ‘antidote to the tyranny of distance’. When their 20 hour route begins service in 2022, it will become the longest flight the world has ever seen, replacing the current 9,534 mile leader, a route operated by Singapore Airlines between their hub and New York.

We’re expecting Qantas to announce their London to Sydney planes at some point this year, and we also know that it’s either going to be the B777X or the A350. They issued a challenge to both Boeing and Airbus some time ago, and CEO Joyce was feeling positive about progress.

“We’re now comfortable that we think we have vehicles that could do it… We’re challenging ourselves to think outside the box. Would you have the space used for other activities – exercise, bar, creche, sleeping areas and berths? Boeing and Airbus have been actually quite creative in coming up with ideas.”

The airline has already chatted with frequent fliers to see what they would like on board for this mega journey. Some of the ideas were very exciting, from a creche for kids (yes please!) to an exercise zone and even VR relaxation amenities.

In order to implement any of these suggestions, they need something really special from the world’s greatest plane makers; so, who will come out on top?

Which one will it be?

Qantas aren’t the only airline weighing up the B777X against the A350. Thai Airways have previously said these are the two models in contention for their widebody fleet renewal, and Korean Air are also weighing up the two aircraft for a large order to modernise their fleet too.

Boeing 777X
The Boeing 777X

When we put the 777X and the A350 up against each other, there were pros and cons with each. The 777X has a greater seating capacity both in one class and two class configurations. However, the A350 trumps the 777X on range, offering an impressive 8,400 nmi compared to the 7,525 nmi of the 777X-9.

Although details on the yet to be released 777X are still sketchy, it looks like it’s going to be an altogether heavier aircraft. In fact, Airbus have gone so far as to say a full A350 still weighs less than a 777X will empty. Heavier means more fuel burn, which will be a big consideration for Qantas on this epic route.

The Airbus A350
The Airbus A350

What we don’t yet know is whether there are some special considerations being given to Qantas in terms of the plane design. There has been speculation that an A350-1100 could be in the pipeline, which could trump the 777X on seating capacity, making it a logical choice.

Having said that, more seats isn’t always a winner, as we’ve seen with the demise of the A380. Nothing costs more than empty seats, and if you can’t fill a 777X to capacity, then the A350 is always going to win.

We can’t wait to see what Qantas opt for as their plane of choice for the longest route in the world. Which do you think they’ll go for?

23 comments
  1. “There has been speculation that an A350-1100 could be in the pipeline, which could trump the 777X on seating capacity, making it a logical choice.Having said that, more seats isn’t always a winner, as we’ve seen with the demise of the A380. Nothing costs more than empty seats, and if you can’t fill a 777X to capacity, then the A350 is always going to win.”

    Seems like you accidently contradicted your own argument.

    1. You can add the fact that in 2025, the A350-2000 or 1100 will be an A350 NEO. Compared to the Trent XWB, the new engine, the “Ultrafan”, should improve further the fuel efficiency of the A350.
      Compared to the earliest Trent engine, the Trent XWB is 16% more efficient.
      And the Ultra fan will be 25% more efficient.
      So compared to the Trent XWB, the Ultrafan will be 11% more efficient.
      (to the people who will say that it’s 9%, when I compare to the Trent XWB instead of the Trent engine, I modify the reference number….)

      1. John….you don’t know this for certain. RR have yet to create a prototype of the XWB Ultra-fan that is sized up to A350 proportions. Secondly, Airbus are already in the process of putting together an A350-1000ULR prototype. Giving it the ULR treatment is not difficult or pricey. Airbus are only 5 years into a delivery programme with 240 aircraft delivered. By 2025 the number delivered will probably be about the 650 mark. If Airbus are planning to NEO the A350 that early into a programme then it doesn’t bode well for existing A350 second hand market values. Remember, Project Sunrise is a very limited number of aircraft and the stock standard A350-1000 will otherwise be far more economical than any of the new 777x series over most sectors as it is. It is not viable for RR to introduce a new engine for the A350 so soon into the programme.

  2. “It’s the wing stupid” an old political statement about the economy, as it will overcome weight and some drag. The best wing wins Project Sunrise. Of course, no one is discussing engines like the GE9X proposal. Put those two considerations into the 7778X and a 300+- passenger globe trotting aircraft won’t be matched for a long time.

    1. This is the most illogical assumption when Qantas wants and needs a plane with range and capacity. The Airbus A350 is a proven product as used on the longest route by Singapore Airlines and the B777X is still a paper plane as far as I am concern as it has not flown yet.

      1. Well… It depends on the size. If Qantas wants the largest B777X, competing with the A350-2000 which is also a paper plane, none will have the advantage…
        But in the end, it’s the economic that will be the decision maker. And the economic depends on so many parameters that both have important chances.

        Plus, Qantas doesn’t want the A350-900, but the A350-1000 ULR. And this one doesn’t exist yet. Even though the transformation procedure from the A350-900 to the ULR already exists.

        But to me, except if you quickly need an aircraft, for Airbus and Boeing, the paperplane factor should only be considered i the following contexts:
        – 1st delivery needed shortly after the aircraft is supposed to be ready. It is an important risk.
        – completely new technologies, new design approach, new shape, new manufacturing procedure.

        If those elements can be eliminated, then the manufacturers can mostly be trusted. And when the economics is similar, of course going for the proven one makes sense.

    1. It’s always funny seeing Boeing fanboys like you troll Airbus. Except it won’t happen. And the 777x will turn out to be less successful than the A350-1000 once airlines get to grips with figures. Boeing always over promise. Airbus always under promise. Just look how the performance of the latest A330 and A350 have grown from the original promises. No Boeing aircraft has ever done that. Not even the epic 777-300ER.

    2. Right! Long live Boeing where safety is just an afterthought, if at all, and their most popular model is a self-crashing design.
      But quick and unmerciful death for its passengers on Lion Air and Air Ethiopia.
      Safety features are optional (and costly) on the 737 MAX.
      I bet you did not see the sad irony of your post.

  3. In addition to seats it’s also cargo.

    What value added shipping benefits from a direct flight?

    What is the incremental value of the 777 cargo capacity vs 350?

    1. Well… When we talk about ULR, in general the payload is limited. So the payload in general will be a parameter. But not specifically the cargo capacity.
      It is highly likely that both aircrafts wont be able to fill the cargo if they want to keep the range as needed.

  4. The large wing and new engine are deigned to compensate for the aluminum heavy frame of the 777-8. The A350-1000 is already at 8400nm range, carries just as many passengers, and is the same size but much much lighter. The 777-8 hasn’t even been built yet, whilst the A350-1000 is ready to modified.

    Also remember that the 777-8 is competitive to the A350-1000 at 10 abreast seating versus 9 for the A350. I doubt very much that Qantas will outfit this with 10 abreast for such long flights. This immediately makes the 777-8 less competitive. You just cant hide the weight.

    The choice is not a slam-dunk for either Airbus or Boeing. The 777-8 is a bit more capable in terms of range and payload but will have higher maintenance costs, landing fees and will be more vulnerable lo losing money of not fully loaded with passengers. On the other hand, it would be easier to install all those amenities in the 777 because it is slightly wider.

    Whats is interesting is that public and skeptics ridiculed the A380 for being designed the have those exact amenities for long distances. Here we are again.

    If I were Airbus or Boeing, I would not sweat this one and keep the investment to a minimum. Let the other guy win if necessary. Not many sane people will put themselves 20+ hours on a plane. This is a very small market and an exercise for Qantas and the manufacturer to have bragging points. The flights between Singapore and Newark are running at average to above average load factors. Who cares really.

    1. When they do not crash for poor design.
      Also, safety features that can prevent random crashes are extra options with Boeing.
      Bottom line vs. body bags.

  5. I think 300+ deplaning 20-hour flight passengers was the subject of an episode of The Walking Dead. Agreed this seems a high profile bragging point. Men and their airplanes…

    As much of a 777 fan as I am, I suspect the A350 has the upper hand here. Having opined, I’m sure Quantas knows better than I…

  6. Sorry but count this individual out. I fly a lot on QF and monthly to London. A 90 minute pit stop in Singapore or previously Dubai was most welcome. Have tried the Perth to London service and came off it feeling fine but not sure whether I’d be all together in one piece with a non stop from Sydney. Adding 90 mins to my journey is a price worth paying in time. However QF will push this and and so keen to see how it plays out

  7. does it really matter what aircraft qantas want. they will go thru endless evaluations, place an order then defer it time and time again.. in the end one of the european carriers will be the first to fly mel/syd to europe direct.

  8. Qantas has been doing a deep analysis of how to develop “Project Sunrise”
    I am sure that Qantas will take the best decision

  9. British Airways just signed a deal for 43 777X. That will have an effect on the decision that Qantas will make.

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