Before the ongoing pandemic affected the airline industry, Australian flag carrier Qantas had big plans for ultra-long-haul travel. Having launched non-stop London-Perth services, it had wanted to do the same for Sydney under the name ‘Project Sunrise.’ Naturally, COVID-19 brought these plans screeching to a halt last year.
What is Project Sunrise?
Project Sunrise is Qantas’ effort to make non-stop flights of up to 20 hours in length a reality. The name reflects the sheer distance of the flights, which allow passengers and crew to witness two sunrises. The flights would focus on connecting the east coast of Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, to parts of Europe and America by 2022.
The 20-hour non-stop flights will eliminate the need for a stopover, ensuring direct connections where they had previously not been possible. Before Project was put on hold, Qantas had selected the A350 over the 777X, but they had not placed a firm order. Instead, the airline worked with Airbus on contractual terms to initially take up to 12 aircraft. The airline was close to placing an order when COVID-19 forced its exciting plans on ice while its international operations were suspended.
Airbus A350 or Boeing 777X?
Qantas issued a request for a proposal in 2019 for an over 300 seat aircraft in four classes. Both Boeing and Airbus submitted proposals in 2019, but Boeing announced some delays in the B777-8 Project in August 2019 after Etihad Airways has dropped its orders made in 2013. However, Boeing has made it clear that it remains in contention for Project Sunrise.
In December of 2019, Qantas announced it had chosen Airbus over Boeing. Both aircraft makers had pitched their jets to Qantas in a competitive months-long process, with Boeing offering up the 777X and Airbus the A350. Joyce called the decision “a tough choice” that was “made even harder by innovation from both manufacturers to improve on what they had already spent years designing.”
Possible Introduction in 2024
Speaking at EuroControl’s Aviation StraightTalk Live, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says the airline plans to revisit the development of these ultra-long-haul routes in 2021 and 2022, to launch in the following two to three years.
We still want to revisit it at the end of ’21, with the potential of doing it [introducing scheduled Project Sunrise flights] in ’24, probably, and onwards.
Nevertheless, it is easy to see why Alan Joyce continues to display optimism towards Project Sunrise, which may yet prove a gamechanger in intercontinental travel as the decade progresses.