Not sure you want to spend 20 hours on a non-stop Qantas flight from Sydney to London or Melbourne to New York?
You'll have no argument from Airbus, with the company behind the globe-striding ultra-long range A350 agreeing this is a very much a "niche market".
“Ultra-long haul is a complicated beast, it is a niche market," Iain Grant, Airbus' vice-president for the Pacific region, admitted to Australian Business Traveller during a media briefing in Sydney.
"Do you really want to be in a seat for 20 hours? How many people would do that? There are mixed views on whether you are willing to go ultra-long haul or not, but we definitely see that as more of a premium market."
All the same, Airbus is tossing its hat into the long-distance ring as Qantas plots direct flights from 2022 from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London, New York and potentially Brazil and Capetown.
“We are very excited about the Sydney-London project," Grant says. "We are heavily involved with all of the teams (at Qantas). We are bringing in our A350-900ULR which is going to do the Sydney-London mission and we are very comfortable with that, and we will continue to work with them to meet their requirements."
Airbus is up against Boeing's 777X – specifically the 777-8 – in what Qantas has dubbed 'Project Sunrise', with both companies working to extend the range of their respective jets to meet Qantas' demands while also carrying around 300 passengers, which the airline has pegged as the magic number for maximum revenue over these long range routes.
The A350-900ULR is the same long-legged jet which Singapore Airlines will use to restart non-stop flights to New York and Los Angeles in the second half of 2018 – using a premium two-class configuration tipped to be business class and premium economy – and is also on the radar of Air New Zealand for direct flights between Auckland and New York.
However, Grant wouldn't be drawn on the likelyhood of Airbus resurrecting plans for the smaller Airbus A350-800 as a "compact" ultra-long range jet for Qantas and other potential ULR customers.
"We don’t want to comment on our particular discussions with (Qantas)," Grant said. "We are very happy with the A350-900ULR that is coming out.”
Earlier this week Qantas CEO Alan Joyce – in London for the opening of the airline's new London Heathrow lounge – told Flightglobal that Airbus was "saying they may" consider an A350-800ULR if the A350-900ULR couldn't make the distance.
Airbus originally offered the A350 in three versions – the -800, -900 and -1000 – but put the A350-800 on ice due to lack of interest from airlines.
A similar fate befell the Boeing 787-300, although some see the seeds of the littlest Dreamliner-that-never-was could flower into the Boeing 797, which Qantas is eyeing for domestic and possibly Asian flights from the mid-2020s.
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