While the coronavirus pandemic forced Qantas to suspend its ambitious plans for non-stop flights to the likes of London, Paris and New York – and the new Airbus A350 jets which would form the 'Project Sunrise' fleet – Airbus says it hopes to "hit the defrost button" on that A350 order.
While many other airlines already fly the A350-1000, the special Qantas version was to be fitted with an extra fuel tank in order to tackle the globe-striding routes of 18-20 hours, in a deal valued as high as US$4.4bn based on Airbus' list price.
Speaking at a global market update overnight, Airbus International boss and Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said the aircraft manufacturer hoped to “hit the defrost button" on Qantas' A350 order "as soon as possible."
Unlocking a multi-billion dollar order
Airbus saw off a competing offer by Boeing for its new 777X jetliner, which remains beset by delays, to be selected by Qantas for the prestigious and high-profile Project Sunrise.
"The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce enthused at the time.
"The aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it's thoroughly proven after more than two years in service."
"This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to," he added.
Airbus has locked in its pricing for Qantas' A350-1000 deal, and Joyce has said "at the end of 2021 we can revisit (Project Sunrise) and look at what's the appropriate time" to set things back in motion.
If anything, he believes that direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London, New York and Paris will have even more appeal in the post-COVID era.
"People in the post-COVID world will want to fly direct" rather than make stopovers, "which I think makes the Project Sunrise business case even better than it was pre-COVID."
"This is one of the big things that will change in the next decade, and allow us to have a suitable competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce."
Qantas has already confirmed that Sydney will be the launch city for the first Project Sunrise flights "once international travel recovers and this investment goes ahead."
The Qantas Airbus A350s were also to mark the debut of new-design 'super first class' suites, business class and premium economy seats and even a wider economy seat with a few extra inches of legroom, with the plane's entire cabin "designed for ultra-long haul" flying.
That was rumoured to include six spacious private first class suites set in two rows of 1-1-1, similar to Emirates' latest Boeing 777s, which Joyce has previously described to Executive Traveller as "a super first class, something that is a lot better than any product we’ve ever put in the air."
There would also be relatively large business and premium economy cabins plus 'stretch spaces' for all passengers, including economy class, while the new-design economy seats themselves would have more legroom than their current counterparts.
It was also speculated that Qantas would order a second tranche of A350s to replace its Airbus A380 superjumbos towards the end of the 2020s as the double-decker jets headed for retirement.
"Over time hopefully we will have enough of the A350 aircraft to fly direct and overfly a lot of the hubs, and that will take the burden off having the big aircraft needed for those big destinations."