Ultra-Long-Haul QF9 & “Project Sunrise”

Out of curiosity I have been following QF9, Qantas’s 17+-hour flight from Perth to London. Because of the prevailing wind the return flight QF10 is only some 16 hours.

QF9 has gone very smoothly with hardly any disruptions or the need to land prematurely, though I noted one case where it seemed the 787 was going to land in Vienna, but eventually did not have to do so.

On one occasion, a disruptive passenger did necessitate a return to Perth two hours into the flight. On another occasion a bird strike as the flight from Melbourne came in to Perth resulted in the cancellation of the onward leg to London.

It seems that Qantas were surprised at how quickly that flight coupled with the shorter QF10 return became profitable. This has made them even more enthusiastic about their “Project Sunrise”–non-stop flights from Sydney to Europe and to the US East Coast (NYC)–adding three more hours onto the flight.

Before discussing Project Sunrise there are some observations I might make regarding QF9.

Many Economy Seats and “Ungodly” Arrival Time

Firstly I am surprised at the large number of (relatively uncomfortable) Economy Class seats. Qantas say they can charge a premium even for these seats, though at times reviewers have mentioned discounts. Others have mentioned upgrades.

Secondly, the flight arrives at the somewhat inconvenient time of 5:05, often landing even earlier. I wonder whether this time was chosen because it makes QF9 almost the first flight of the day with no risk of it being put in a holding pattern and having to declare a fuel emergency to get priority landing.

Project Sunrise

For Project Sunrise flights from Sydney and so on Qantas is considering a four class layout with First in addition to Business, Premium Economy and Economy as on QF9. Ideas such as having bunks in the cargo area under the cabin floors have been abandoned, it is said because of the extra weight. It must be difficult getting the degree of discomfort in economy right so as not to take passengers away from more profitable Economy Plus and Business classes. It seems the trick will be to have an exercise area to get people out of their seats from time to time without them opting to stay there.

Passengers on QF10 interviewed on their return to Perth have said they would like a bar/cafe area. The problem with that is that some passengers, especially from Economy, would hog the spaces. Rationing time there might cause ill-feeling and be difficult to police.

Choice of Aircraft

Qantas were very lucky with the Boeing 787. As a launch customer they were quoted very keen prices. Then when deliveries were delayed because of initial problems they were paid compensation for being unable to use them. Then when they finally received them (better later models) they benefited from the original discounts.

Boeing and Airbus are competing for supplying the aircraft for Project Sunrise, and at once time it seemed that Qantas (being pleased with Boeing) only invited Airbus to the party for ideas and to get a better deal from Boeing. Now with Boeing having to deal with the 737 MAX fiasco not to mention finding the General Electric engine they would use needing more work, it seems Airbus may be in the lead with their A350-1000 ULR as Boeing may not be able to meet deadlines–no longer will they be able to lever through authorizations and approvals with the FAA.

Qantas have said they should decide on an aircraft by the end of 2019 but Project Sunrise will depend on it being judged PROFITABLE.

787 DELIVERY FLIGHTS TO BE USED TO SEE HOW PASSENGERS AND CREW WOULD FIND LONG PROJECT SUNRISE FLIGHTS

Shortly, three new 787s being delivered to Qantas will be flown non-stop from London and the US East Coast to Sydney with merely 40 test passengers to simulate Project Sunrise flights and see how such long flights would affect both passengers and crew.

At a recent press conference Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said, “Qantas will run three separate research flights, using newly-built 787s before they go into regular service, to assess well-being and comfort. Between October and the end of the year, we’ll collect these aircraft from the Boeing factory in Seattle, position them in New York and London, and fly direct to Sydney.” 

One aspect of great worry for Alan Joyce in deciding whether Project Sunrise is viable is coming to a satisfactory agreement with the pilots who are not only concerned about salaries but also about fatigue and what happens in the event of diversions.

Should Project Sunrise work out it could be great for Qantas. But there are still a number of ifs

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