Qantas has unveiled details of the ultra-long-haul flights it plans to operate on direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York by the end of 2025, as the airline’s dire financial situation shows signs of improvement.
Confirming reports that have been swirling in recent days, Qantas announced its mega order from European aircraft manufacturer Airbus for 12 of its A350-1[ads1]000 aircraft. These will be run on the so-called “Project Sunrise” flights, with the first to be delivered in 2025.
The airline says the planes will be “able to fly directly from Australia to any other city” in the world, while being 25% more fuel efficient than previous planes.
The wide-body aircraft will be able to carry 238 passengers, and will have “wellness zones” for passengers to move around in the cabin as a way to break up the ultra-long-haul flights that will reach up to 20 hours.
CEO Alan Joyce said that Project Sunrise is “the ultimate frontier and the ultimate solution to the tyranny of distance”, and that the cabin of the A350s “will be specially designed for maximum comfort in all long-haul classes”.
The airline has been planning the project for years, and the pandemic delayed the launch. The estimated 20-hour service from Sydney to London would be the longest commercial flight in the world.
Despite Qantas’ claim that direct flights and new aircraft will provide “major emission improvements”, experts say the benefits will be negligible.
Currently, an average return trip from Sydney to London with a stop in Singapore generates around 3,500 kg of CO2 emissions per passenger, according to estimates based on Atmosfair data.
Dr Tony Webber, a former chief economist at Qantas who now heads the Airline Intelligence Research group and works at the University of New South Wales’ aviation school, said that ultra-long-haul flights “are not normally very fuel efficient at all”.
“It is true that reducing four movements – one take-off and one landing for each leg – means that less fuel is burned, but for an aircraft to stay in the air for 20 hours without refueling, it means that they carry enormous amounts of fuel. amounts of fuel.
“The extra fuel is extra weight, which in turn means you have to burn more fuel in total to carry it. There’s a real inefficiency compared to flights that can carry less and refuel at a stopover,” Webber said.
Webber said the need to carry so much fuel would create payload restrictions, meaning the plane could tolerate less cargo and passengers.
Conversely, these weight restrictions could lead Qantas to choose a more spacious seat configuration in the A350s, Webber said, since it can not maximize the number of seats in line with available cabin space. Qantas has already said that more than 40% of the cabin on the A350s will be “dedicated to first-class seating”, in addition to the “wellness zones”.
“Being confined to a small space, especially an economy seat, for 18 hours or more is torture. Personal space will have to be increased, as well as space for pilots and crew to rest.
While Qantas has not yet released the cost of the ultra-long flights, Webber predicted that at least non-stop routes would be $ 300 more expensive per leg, increasing with the amount of time the route saves the passenger.
Qantas has also ordered another 40 Airbus aircraft – the A321XLR and A220-300 – for domestic operations, with the first of these aircraft to be delivered next year. The deal is believed to be valued in billions of dollars.
While the airline says the exact cost of the new aircraft is commercial in confidence, it said that “a significant discount from the standard price should be assumed”.
On the order to renew its domestic fleet, Joyce said that the range and economy of the new aircraft Qantas had ordered “will enable new direct routes, including better service to regional cities” and that “these newer aircraft and engines will reduce emissions by at least 15%. if it runs on fossil fuels, and significantly better when it runs on sustainable aviation fuel.
Qantas Group – which includes budget operator Jetstar – also released its third-quarter financial update on Monday. While the resurgence of domestic and some international travel markets has increased revenues, the airline still expects to post “a significant” loss for the full year. Net debt has decreased from $ 5.5 billion at the end of December to $ 4.5 billion at the end of April.
Regarding the cost of the huge flight order, Joyce said that the phasing in of the delivery means that “it can be financed within our debt area and through earnings”, and that “the business case for Project Sunrise has an internal return in the mid-teens”.
“The Board’s decision to approve what is the largest airline order in Australian aviation is a clear vote of confidence in Qantas Group’s future. Our strategy for these aircraft will see us generate significant benefits for those who make it possible – our people, our customers and our shareholders, Joyce said.