Airbus and Boeing have thrown their hats into the ring to produce ultra-long range jets capable of non-stop flights from Australia's largest cities to New York and London.
Under Qantas' ambitious 'Project Sunrise' program, the highly-competitive Kangaroo Route from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London would forego stopovers such as Dubai and Singapore for a direct flight of upwards of 20 hours from 2022.
Non-stop flights to New York would be slightly shorter, at around 18 hours, while direct flights to Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town are also mooted.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce formally wrote to the CEOs of Airbus and Boeing on August 23, prior to the public announcement of the project, offering that "over the next 12 months we would like to work independently with both companies on performance and design parameters that would deliver an aircraft with the right range and the right economics for Qantas to make this vision a reality."
"This would ultimately lead to a competitive tender process ahead of a potential order for the successful aircraft type."
Joyce now says that "both Airbus and Boeing have responded to the challenge," telling Sky News that both companies "have said they believe they can create an aircraft by 2022 that will get that range."
Boeing is slightly more circumspect, with a spokesperson telling Australian Business Traveller "while we don’t share details of our discussions with customers, we are confident the 777X will advance the world’s most efficient twin-aisle family by providing the best payload, operating economics and range combination in the market."
An Airbus spokesperson says the company will "have the A350-900ULR in service next year for ultra-long range flights of up to 20 hours and we look forward to working with Qantas to see how we can meet its requirements for Sydney-London non-stop.”
However, Qantas has set the bar high for both companies, specifying that the long-legged jets cannot be fitted with additional fuel tanks and must be capable of carrying "a full commercial payload" of passengers, with 300 seats said to be the target.
Qantas' Boeing 787-9, which will begin non-stop flights from Perth to London in March 2018, has been configured with 236 seats – a relatively low number for the long-range Dreamliner.
This will put the onus on Airbus and Boeing to dig deep to uncover design and engine efficiencies beyond those already planned for the Airbus A350-900ULR and Boeing 777X jets.
Earlier this year Airbus revised the range of its A350-900ULR to 9,700 nautical miles (17,960km), up from an initial 8,700 nautical miles (16,110km) as specified for launch customer Singapore Airlines, which will begin flying the A350ULR in 2018 on non-stop services to Los Angeles and New York.
It's been speculated that Qantas could opt for a 10,000 nautical mile polar route between Sydney and London, to take advantage of strong tailwinds, rather than the conventional 9,200 nautical mile route across Asia and Europe.
Qantas is already crunching the numbers on up to a decade of real-world weather patterns on these routes to identify optimal fuel-saving flight paths for a world in which a transit stopovers would no longer be necessary.
It's estimated that the benefits of non-stop flights from Australia's largest markets to the likes of London and New York could allow Qantas to levy a 20% price premium compared to longer flights with stopovers.