Qantas flags Airbus A350-1000 for Project Sunrise

Potential US$14.4 billion aircraft order under consideration by Qantas Board

Qantas has revealed that it favours the Airbus A350-1000 for its potential non-stop ultra-long haul flights from Australian East coast hubs to destinations including London and New York.

The carrier today [Friday 13 December, 2020] said that after a detailed evaluation of the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350, it is leaning towards the Airbus carbon-composite aircraft as the preferred vehicle to operate the flights, should Project Sunrise proceed.

Qantas said the A350-1000, with its reliable Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines and additional fuel tank option, and increased maximum takeoff weight would deliver the better performance for its planned ULH services.

The Australian airline said that no aircraft orders had been placed, but it was looking to finalise a contract with Airbus for up to a dozen A350-1000 XWBs, with a final decision to be decided by the Qantas Board.

At current list prices, the full order of 12 jets would be valued at around US$4.4 billion, however airlines tend to negotiate costs down significantly from the one-off unit cost.

“Airbus has agreed to extend the deadline to confirm delivery slots from February 2020 to March 2020. This provides additional time to negotiate an industrial agreement without impacting the planned start date of Project Sunrise flights in the first half of calendar 2023,” Qantas said.

The last of three Project Sunrise research flights (New York to Sydney) will be conducted on 17 December. Once complete, Qantas will have almost 60 hours of ‘Sunrise flying’ experience and thousands of data points on crew and passenger wellbeing.

The data for crew will be used as part of final discussions with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to approve an extension to current operating limits required for these ultra-long haul services. Based on detailed information already provided by Qantas on its fatigue risk management system, CASA has provisionally advised that it sees no regulatory obstacles to the Sunrise flights.

Qantas will also need to finalise the final gap in an industrial negotiation contract with its pilots’ union, AIPA. Discussions centre on productivity and efficiency gains, including the ability to use the same pilots across its A350 Sunrise aircraft and the airline’s existing fleet of Airbus A330s.

The airline will also need to address the likely development of new First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy cabins for flights of up to 21 hours. Qantas said that its research flights have underscored the importance of dedicated space for stretching and movement for Economy passengers in particular.

Alan Joyce, Qantas Group CEO on board Research Flight 2 operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, from London to Sydney.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the national carrier’s support for Project Sunrise was stronger than ever, particularly after the success of recent ‘dry run’ research flights.

“Between the research flights and what we’ve learned from two years of flying Perth to London, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia.

“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 aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it’s thoroughly proven after more than two years in service. This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to.

Qantas Research Flight 2 (Boeing 787-9) touches down in Sydney after its 19 hour and 19 minute flight.

“From the outset, we’ve been clear that Project Sunrise depends on a business case that works. We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks.

“We’ve done a lot of work on the economics and we know the last gap we have to close is some efficiency gains associated with our pilots. We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs.

“Airbus has given us an extra month to lock in an aircraft order without impacting our planned start date, which means we can spend more time on hopefully reaching a deal with our pilots.”

Joyce concluded by thanking both Airbus and Boeing for the “tremendous effort they have put into Project Sunrise”, saying the final decision was “a tough choice between two very capable aircraft”.

Lead image: Sunrise aboard Research Flight 2 from London to Sydney, albeit it on the Boeing Dreamliner 787-9.

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