Qantas chooses A350-1000 over 777X for Project Sunrise

Qantas has tentatively selected the Airbus A350-1000 over Boeing’s 777X for its Project Sunrise ultra-long-haul route initiative.

The Australian carrier wants to be able to operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from the east coast of Australia to London and New York, and said today it would order up to a dozen aircraft.

A final “go or no-go” decision is set to take place in March 2020, extended from February by Airbus to provide additional time to negotiate an industrial agreement without impacting the planned start date of Project Sunrise flights.

Qantas plans to commence the ultra-long-haul services in the first half of 2023.

The airline says it carried out a detailed evalutation of both twinjets but says the A350-1000 will be its “preferred aircraft” should the Project Sunrise programme go ahead. The programme remains dependent on other factors.

Qantas chief Alan Joyce says: “The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.”

The carrier says the A350, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, has a “strong reliability record.”

Airbus will increase the maximum take-off weight of the jet, and install additional fuel tank capacity, to deliver the required performance for the Sunrise routes, says Qantas.

777X delays continue

In recent months, Boeing’s 777X programme has been plagued by delays due to various stress-test related issues, as well as issues with General Electric’s new GE9X turbine engine that will power the jet.

Delays to the 777X programme have no doubt played a role in Qantas’ decision-making process, though Qantas did not mention these directly. Instead, CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement that the A350-1000’s next generation technology has already proven itself in operation.

Joyce said it was a “tough choice between two very capable aircraft, made even harder by innovation from both manufacturers to improve on what they had already spent years designing.”

He thanked both Airbus and Boeing for “the tremendous effort they have put into Project Sunrise.”

Qantas plans to operate three Project Sunrise research flights from October to December this year, using its new Boeing 787-9 aircraft scheduled for delivery during the same period.

Qantas has already carried out two test flights operating non-stop to Sydney from New York and London, and will conduct the final one, on the New York-Sydney route, on 17 December.