Airbus has confirmed that it will be able to offer Qantas both A350 variants to enable its “Project Sunrise” nonstop flights between Sydney and London.
Qantas is currently evaluating the A350 as well as the Boeing 777-8 to meet its distance requirement on nonstop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.
The longest flight currently operated by the A350 is Singapore Airline’s Singapore – Newark route, making use of the -900ULR on the 19-hour 8,277nm flight.
Though the -900ULR variant is technically capable of the 9,000 nm journey between London and Sydney, load restrictions mean that Qantas would have to compromise on capacity, opting for a similar layout to Singapore Airlines, which only offers premium economy and business class seats on its Singapore – Newark route.
The expectation is that Airbus will develop a modified version of the A350, offering a greater range without the need to compromise on payload.
Speaking at the IATA AGM in Seoul, Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer said he was “very, very excited” about Airbus’ ability to respond to Qantas’s requirement for “ultra-long-range flying and high-capacity flying, with the A350.”
He added that the manufacturer can offer both variants of the A350 for the Sunrise requirement, in particular, the -1000.
A350 vs 777-8?
This week, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce met with representatives from both Airbus and Boeing and is now issuing a call for the best and final offers. Results are expected in August, detailing acquisition costs, performance guarantees and maintenance costs.
“They’re still not full payload on both aircraft, but there is enough we think to make it commercially viable if the other parts of the business get there,” he said.
As the aircraft will not be capable of flying the ultra-long routes with a full load, Qantas is planning to add what it calls a “fourth zone” to the aircraft that will offer a stretching space and hydration stations.
Design work is also underway on a new first class suite for the Sunrise aircraft, and further tweaks to its business, premium economy and economy seats.
Qantas is targetting to take delivery of its Sunrise aircraft in late 2022, allowing it to launch nonstop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London in 2023.