Airbus A350-1000 set for Qantas' Project Sunrise countdown

Airbus is confident that the A350-1000 has what it takes to beat Boeing for Qantas' prestigious Project Sunrise flights.

By David Flynn, October 17 2019

Airbus has made its final pitch for Qantas' ambitious Project Sunrise project, proposing a fleet of A350-1000 jetliners capable of flying non-stop for up to 20 hours from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London and New York.

The long-range jets will have a capacity of around 300 passengers in four cabin classes, from new first suites through to economy, unlike the two-class (business and premium economy) layout of Singapore Airlines' slightly smaller Airbus A350-900ULR jets, which dart daily between Singapore and New York for almost 18 hours.

"The A350-1000 is the perfect airplane to answer (Qantas') ultra-long range challenge with significant passenger payload," Airbus Head of A350 Product Marketing Maria Lucas-Ugena tells Executive Traveller.

"It is by far the most capable, large wide-body aeroplane flying today, it is also more capable than the future (Boeing) 777x," Lucas-Ugena added.

"It is extremely light, compared to what the competition can offer, and when it comes to range capability and economics and everything that is needed for such a long flight, weight is most important. It can take off 45 tonnes lighter than the competition. That implies huge savings in terms of fuel (and) emissions."

However, Lucas-Ugena would not commit to the proposed Sunrise A350-1000 being a modified ULR version with increased fuel capacity.

"In 2022 we are introducing a higher maximum take-off weight (for the A350-1000), and 8,700 nautical miles with 375 passengers is something that the airplane will be able to fly in 2022."

If Airbus sticks to a standard non-ULR version of the A350-1000, it would reduce the number of seats – closer to Qantas' target of around 300 – to further extend the range to reach the 9,200+ nautical miles required for the longest Sunrise route of London-Sydney.

Proposed routes for Qantas' Project Sunrise.
Proposed routes for Qantas' Project Sunrise.

The Irish Times reports that Qantas Group CEO met with Airbus executives last week, and later confirmed "We’re working on the price of the aircraft and the performance of the aircraft and we’re nearly there."

Lucas-Ugena tells Executive Traveller that Airbus "is working with Qantas very closely" on the cabin design and travel experience "for passengers and crew well-being."

"In terms of noise, air quality, cabin pressure and humidity levels, all of that is on the A350 and it's unbeatable, today and tomorrow even. What we have been discussing with Qantas and would be driving with Qantas (are) some of the different features that such a long flight will have to have, for the passengers and for the crew as well."

What the A350-1000s won't have space: sleeping bunks and social areas in the cargo hold, despite initial forays by both Qantas and Airbus into creating bespoke 'below-decks' passenger modules which could replace cargo containers.

An Airbus concept for below-decks sleeping bunks.
An Airbus concept for below-decks sleeping bunks.

Photo gallery: How Airbus plans to put passengers in the cargo hold

“The package we looked at – putting things in baggage holds – didn’t work,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told Executive Traveller in June this year.

Instead, there'll be a communal area on the main deck "for a number of people to stand up and do exercise: there’ll be video screens with stretching exercises to work on, and an area that the scientists have thought out that’ll be more of a ‘hydration station’.”

Read: Qantas rules out below-deck sleeping bunks on Project Sunrise jets

Airbus A350 vs Boeing 777X

Airbus is going up against Boeing to supply Qantas with a fleet of globe-striding jets, although the Project Sunrise aircraft will also be rostered onto relatively shorter routes such as to Los Angeles – one reason why Qantas has insisted on a conventional four-class configuration.

However, Boeing has pushed back development of the extended-range 777-8 which was initially eyed for Project Sunrise and a 2022 launch, while the larger 777-9 has faced a series of delays and is not expected to make its first test flight until 2020.

In stark contrast, Lucas-Ugena says, "we have the airplane ready right now" – and, Airbus says, the A350-1000 is also a better fit for Qantas' entire network and as a replacement for the A380 superjumbo, which are expected to be retired towards the end of the 2020s.

Qantas' Project Sunrise jets would also replace the current flagship Airbus A380s.
Qantas' Project Sunrise jets would also replace the current flagship Airbus A380s.

"We consider the airplane can operate economically and flexibly on the entire long-haul wide-body network of Qantas, which is something that the 777-8 couldn't do with the right economics. So I think that would be a tactical decision to go for an airplane that can serve in an efficient manner not only on those ultra-long range routes but anywhere else in the network."

And while Airbus vs Boeing is mathematically a 50/50 split, Lucas-Ugena believes that Airbus has more than an even-money chance to snare the prestigious Project Sunrise contract and help Qantas carve out this "final frontier" of aviation.

"If this is to be based on pure aircraft evaluation, I would say yes. We have an aircraft that is very efficient, very capable and much superior to the competition, so we are confident."

Qantas will this week begin the first of three Project Sunrise 'research flights' with a Boeing 787-9 carrying just 50 people (including crew), and no cargo, flying from New York to Sydney for 19½ non-stop hours, with a similar London-Sydney service scheduled for November.

The airline is expected to make its choice on which aircraft will fly the commercial Project Sunrise routes by the end of this year, with a proposed launch date of 2022-2023, although Joyce has noted that Project Sunrise "is not a foregone conclusion", circling back to the all-important bottom line: "This is ultimately a business decision and the economics have to stack up... we’ll be making the final YES-NO decision on Sunrise by the end of this year."

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

30 Nov 2016

Total posts 14

How does Airbus think this that this is suitable for Sunrise when, given it's stated rage in the article of 16,100 kms, it doesn't make the distance on either SYD-JFK (16,200 kms) or SYD-LHR (17,800 kms) which I thought was the whole purpose of sunrise?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2341

This is why we found it odd that Airbus didn't commit to and would not comment on a ULR version :)

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 82

I suspect they'll do what they did with the 359URL - find a way to liberate more fuel capacity within the existing fuel tanks, and bump the MTOW up by a few tonnes.

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 82

The article seems to be missing some information. The quoted range for the A350-1000 is 16,100klm which doesn't appear to be enough, yet the 787-9 max range is only 14,100 and Qantas is about to run one London to Sydney, albeit with only 40 or so people on board.

To look at it another way - the A350-1000 has a max fuel capacity of 124 tonnes, and a fuel burn of around 6 tonnes per hour (the A359ULR is 5.8 T/h, this version is a little heavier). Based on this, it can fly for around 20 hours, or 18,000klm at a cruise speed of 900km/h, which would put Sydney to London within range.

However the A350-1000 has a MTOW of 316 tonnes, meaning that after you add the weight of the plane (155T) and a maximum load of fuel (124T) there's only 37 tonnes to play with. Assume another 10 tons or so for the weight of the crew, food, water, etc. , and that probably explains the 275 passenger limit.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 569

I think you'll find the quoted range is with 375 pax. As QF is not planning for anything like that number of people (probably more like 280-300), the range is increased through ability to carry more fuel and/or less weight.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 938

The Airbus quoted range is with around 380 pax in 2 classes.

Qantas wants around 300 pax in 4 classes. The weight deifference between 380 2 class and 300 4 class isn't going to allow for an extra 2000kms of range.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Nov 2016

Total posts 89

Sounds like airbus are counting their chickens before they hatch. There's going to be a lot more of Qantas toing and froing with both manufacturers before any decision is made. For a start the weekend and upcoming test flights out of NY and London to Sydney will surely provide input into the equation before a result is derived.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 47

Actually, Airbus and Qantas are both playing mind games here! Airbus is just doing the sell job and trying to convince themselves and qf that there is no better choice! And... QF is doing the big sell job and usual over-hype while knowing full well they're going to struggle to get the unions onside...

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 44

Hardly worth the effort is it, aren't we all supposed to be avoiding air to save the planet? Start cashing in those frequent flyer points, you'll be a social pariah if you fly soon apparently.

We all knew the Qantas sleeping bunks were going to be in our dreams.

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 137

Yes like the pipe dream of gyms and pools on the A380 back in the day.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 76

All those announcements are publicity stunts in the short term that only turn out to be bad publicity in the long term. Just shows you the mentality of how people running these companies think.

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 51

I'll have to note that the rumoured launch of the a350-1000ulr is at the Dubai airshow in November, which could explain why their a bit mum on it.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 403

Airbus are showing their weakness by pitching the A350-1000 as an A380 replacement, when they know that the 777-9 is the better choice for QF for this future requirement.

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 82

Not exactly, when it comes to factoring in range versus pax load the 350-1000 is closer than you think.

The quoted range of the 777-9 is not only less than the A380, it's slightly less than the 747-400ER. Given that Qantas used to run into issues on routes such as Dallas-Sydney before they got the 380s, they're going to have to drop a few passengers in order to run those long legs. Meanwhile, the 350-1000 would appear to comfortably outrage both with a full passenger load.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 76

There is no such thing as an A380 replacement. It stands alone as the most unique "Bird" in the sky since the demise of the Concorde.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 76

Hope Project Sunrise doesn't become Project Sunset. We want faster flight not longer continuous time in a plane. Anyone for fresh air and a walk at a SIN or LAX ?

08 Jul 2014

Total posts 8

There is no reason why Qantas couldn't order the A350-1000 for ULR, and also order a version of 777 down the track for A380 replacement

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 569

They could but the cost savings from having one less type in the fleet are substantial. Whoever wins Sunrise will have a significant advantage when replacement for A380 is considered in 6 or 7 years time.

I've flown in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Scoot actually, but never a Airbus A350, mind you the cabin in the Dreamliner was quite quiet, way quiter than a blumen 737 lol, but is the Airbus A350 again more quiter

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 121

Yes, the A350 is quieter than the B787 - especially at the pointy end! Somewhere between 5 and 9 dB quieter, in fact - but because the decibel scale is logarithmic not linear, that means that a B787 is up to four times as noisy as an A350

I've flown both (always at the pointy end) and the A350 certainly seemed quieter to me - and more spacious too, which certainly would help the experience on such a long flight

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 47

I like both and flown both numbers of times, they really aren't that much different...

04 Dec 2017

Total posts 3

I'm sorry my friend there's no truth to that way apples for apples the GEnx engines are more quieter than the Rolls-Royce engines if you ran across a 787 it had Rolls-Royce engines on it that's why it was loud

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 412

I read they are adding another 3 tonne to the gross take off weight, which with fewer passengers should be able to do it.

04 Dec 2017

Total posts 3

Bra
Bra

QF

11 May 2015

Total posts 24

Did QF do a market survey to find out how many prospective pax would want to fly for about 20 hours non stop? They may be in danger of beleiving their own advertising that they will near fill these flights. I could understand many backpackers going along with this but they will normally want the cheapest economy class fares. Its the premium pax who pay the most who will make the flights economic.

As an older business class pax who experienced the SQ EWR-SIN-EWR flights (about 19 hours) in the A340-500 all J class 1-2-1 layout (actually very good) I would never fly 20+ hours in any class. When the SQ non stop flights were replaced by an A380 JFK-FRA-SIN and vv it was so much better even if a little longer - and cheaper too. I have not tried the A350 900 ULR flights - still prefer getting a break in FRA with a quick shower then lunch flying over the alps.

I have my doubts that "Project Sunrise" will get off the ground so to speak.

08 Aug 2017

Total posts 37

Yes they have done a lot of market consultation. I was part of a focus group program. I intend to be on the inaugural to New York. It will be absolutely fantastic compared to transit through LAX and DFW!

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 412

Bra the Perth London flight is going gangbusters busters and they charge a premium. Backpackers can't afford it. This will be the same for the Sydney NY and London flights; the punters like me will love it. Going through LAX or DFW is terrible, and Perth is Singapore not a whole lot better.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 396

Alleluia - hopefully the A350 is it...an aircraft worthy to be called long/and ultra long haul and which takes seriously and respects passenger experience.

Boo to Boeing who have shown of late no respect for passenger life, let alone experience!

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 285

The A350 is an AMAZING aircraft to fly in!! MUCH more civilised that that tin can B777!!

I do hope Qantas go for Airbus as it has both the range and flexibility to do shorter hopes more economically


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