In a first, on October 21, 2019, Qantas Airlines flew non-stop from New York City to Sydney, Australia in a flight lasting 19 hours 16 minutes.
Then, on November 15, 2019, Qantas flew another first: a non-stop flight from London to Sydney, lasting 19 hours, 19 minutes.
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These ultra-long-haul flights have been dubbed by the airline "Project Sunrise" on account for the peculiar phenomenon of passengers seeing two sunrises on the London-Sydney flight.
For the flights, Qantas used two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners that were fresh off the factory floor in Everett, Washington. But, for the flights to be economically feasible, Qantas has said that it would like to use either the more fuel-efficient Boeing 777-8Xs or the Airbus A350-100ULR.
Both Boeing and Airbus got rejected
On Tuesday, November 19, 2019, Qantas announced that it had rejected both Boeing's and Airbus's proposals for the new planes based on both price and design. Back in August 2019, both companies had submitted their "best and final offers."
Speaking to the price issue, at an investor briefing in Sydney on November 19th, Qantas International chief executive Tino La Spina said, "We’ve asked them to go back and re-look at that, to sharpen their pencils, because there still was a gap there. So we’re eagerly awaiting to see what we get back from that."
According to Mr. La Spina, price was not the only issue. He also wanted the aircraft manufacturers to consider "what if" scenarios in their designs, saying, "This aircraft is going to be in the fleet for the next 20 years and we want to cover off eventualities ... making sure that it's future-proofed."
At that same investor meeting, Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, said that there was "huge demand" for the ultra-long-haul non-stop service, and that he expected that Qantas could charge a 30% price premium over other airlines for the service.
Other long-haul non-stop flights
The current longest non-stop flight is operated by Singapore Airlines between Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Changi International Airport in Singapore. Using an Airbus A350-900ULR, the flight covers a distance of 9,534 miles and clocks in at 18 hours, 30 minutes.
Just behind the Singapore Airlines flight is Qatar Airways Auckland - Doha flight. It uses a Boeing 777-200LR, covers a distance of 9,032 miles, and takes 17 hours, 50 minutes to complete.
Coming in third is Qantas's Perth – London route which flies a Boeing 787-9 aircraft, covers a distance of 9,009 miles and takes 17 hours, 25 minutes.
Fourth is Emirates Dubai – Auckland flight. It uses an Airbus A380, flies 8,824 miles and takes 17 hours, 10 minutes.
Fifth is Singapore Airlines Singapore – Los Angeles flight which uses either an Airbus A350-900 or an A350-900ULR. It flies 8,770 miles in 17 hours, 50 minutes.
Sixth place goes to United Airlines Houston – Sydney route which uses a Boeing 787-9, covers 8,596 miles and does it in 17 hours, 30 minutes.
Number seven is Qantas's Dallas Ft. Worth – Sydney route flying an Airbus A380, and covering a distance of 8,578 miles in 17 hours, 10 minutes.
Coming in eighth place is Philippine Airlines Manila – New York JFK route which uses an Airbus A350 to fly 8,520 miles in 16 hours, 35 minutes.
Ninth place is a tie between United Airlines and Singapore Airlines on their San Francisco – Singapore routes. United flies a Boeing 787-9, while Singapore flies an Airbus A350-900 or Airbus A350-900ULR. Both cover a distance of 8,447 miles, with United taking 17 hours, 20 minutes and Singapore taking 17 hours, 35 minutes.
Rounding out the top ten is Delta Airlines Johannesburg – Atlanta route which uses a Boeing 777-200LR to cover 8,439 miles in 16 hours, 50 minutes.
It's all a matter of cost
Challenges to "Project Sunrise" include production delays at Boeing that will push the 777-8X back. Also, on October 22, 2019, Air New Zealand announced a new non-stop Auckland-New York route.
At the same investor meeting, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce insisted that in order for the new service to be financially viable, Qantas's pilots needed to agree to a new pay structure which would guarantee "productivity improvements" of 30%.
Joyce also told the investors that before he invested hundreds of millions of dollars on new airplanes, "We have to get the premium from our customers … we have to get in the position where the manufacturers contribute their contribution, we have to get the regulator on side and we have to get the pilots on side."
In sending both Boeing and Airbus back to the drawing board, Joyce wasn't afraid to turn his back on "Project Sunrise" entirely, saying, "I have no problem… in saying 'we gave it a good try but it didn’t work'."