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An Airbus A350-1000 at the Farnborough Airshow (Photo: AirlineGeeks

Qantas Breaks Down Next Steps for Project Sunrise

Qantas has announced that it is intending to use the Airbus A350-1000 for its Project Sunrise program.

This comes after a detailed evaluation of both the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350 due to its Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines, which hold a strong reliability record and also offer the economics to do other long-haul routes should Qantas choose to use the aircraft for them.

Discussions with Qantas pilot representatives at AIPA are currently ongoing to close the last remaining gap in the project’s business case. The airline currently operates Airbus A330s, which has a common type rating with the A350, and hopes to be able to use the same pilots for both aircraft and is offering a three percent annual pay increase and promotional opportunities to long-haul pilots.

Airbus has promised that to optimize the aircraft for Project Sunrise, it will add an additional fuel tank and increase the maximum takeoff weight to make sure that it can carry the extra fuel required to operate the flights with a full load of passengers.

Qantas hasn’t placed an order yet but will be working with Airbus to prepare contracts for up to twelve aircraft ahead of a final Qantas Board decision. The manufacturer has agreed to extend the deadline to confirm delivery slots by a month to March 2020 to provide additional negotiation time for an industrial agreement, while not impacting on the planned Project Sunrise start date in the first half of 2023.

The Project Sunrise flights can last up to 21 hours so Qantas is continuing to look at the design of the customer experience onboard. This includes new First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy Class cabins following research highlighting the importance of dedicated stretching and movement space. Furthermore, a re-design of the onboard service to actively shift people onto their destination’s timezone is underway.

The CEO of Qantas Group, Alan Joyce, said that Qantas’ support for Project Sunrise was stronger than ever following on from the success of the research flights, which were carried out on Boeing 787 Dreamliners. He also said, “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.”

Project Sunrise is still to obtain regulatory approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, who will need to approve an extension to current operating limits for ultra-long-haul flights. The authority has provisionally advised that it sees no regulatory obstacles to the flights based on data provided by Qantas on its fatigue risk management system.

The last of the three Project Sunrise research flights is to be conducted on December 17 between New York and Sydney and will give Qantas almost 60 hours of Sunrise flying experience, as well as thousands of data points on crew and passenger wellbeing to put towards CASA’s research.

The final yes or no decision on Project Sunrise will be made in March 2020, prior to any aircraft order. Joyce added, “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.”

Qantas’ CEO concluded his statement in a press release by saying “Can I thank both Airbus and Boeing for the tremendous effort they have put into Project Sunrise. 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.”

Connor Sadler
Connor Sadler
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