Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas, said it has named the Airbus A350-1000 as its “preferred aircraft” for its ultra-long-haul Project Sunrise, which could see the airline implement regular flights of 20 hours between Sydney and New York or Sydney and London. The airline has already conducted two test flights and the third and final test flight will occur on 17 December on a flight from New York to Sydney.
The A350-1000 uses the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine, which has been in service with airlines for more than two years. Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum take-off weight to deliver the performance required for Project Sunrise routes. No orders have been placed but Qantas will work closely with Airbus to prepare contract terms for up to 12 aircraft ahead of a final decision by the Qantas board.
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 in a statement announcing its plane choice.
With the third and final test flight, Qantas says it will have almost 60 hours of ‘Sunrise flying’ experience and thousands of data points on crew and passenger well-being. 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.
Negotiations with representatives for Qantas pilots, AIPA, are continuing, Qantas said in its statement. “The discussions are aimed at closing the last remaining gap in the Project Sunrise business case. Qantas has put forward a number of suggestions to AIPA on how the gap might be closed while still offering three per cent annual pay increases and promotional opportunities to its long haul pilots. 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.”
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.
“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.”