Qantas has halted its ambitious plans for non-stop flights to London, Paris and New York due to uncertainty over travel demand in the post-coronavirus world.
The airline's Project Sunrise was set to launch in just three years' time, by the middle of 2023, but Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has confirmed to Executive Traveller that "we will be putting Project Sunrise on hold."
"We do think there is a huge potential for Project Sunrise but the time is not right now, given the impact that COVID-19 has had on world travel," Joyce reflected. "But we do think there's still a good business case for it, and a good opportunity."
This also means that Qantas will press pause on its multibillion dollar order of a dedicated fleet of up to 12 Airbus A350-1000 jets intended to tackle those globe-striding flights of 18-20 hours – a deal which was valued as high as $6.8bn (US$4.4bn) based on Airbus' list price.
"We certainly won't be ordering aircraft for that this year," Joyce said, "and we'll keep a review on when is the appropriate time, when has the market recovered, when is Qantas in a position to commit to more aircraft and more capital."
The road to Sunrise
Qantas announced its Project Sunrise proposal in August 2017, initially mapping out five key routes for the long-legged Airbus A350s which would depart from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and fly non-stop to New York, London, Paris, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro.
Frankfurt later joined that shortlist, with Joyce telling Executive Traveller that one plank in Qantas' three-pronged European strategy was "to fly direct, where those direct flights are with Sunrise, and we may only have three destinations we'll ever do that with: London, Paris and Frankfurt."
Qantas steadily worked through the feasibility and practicality of Project Sunrise, including undertaking three non-stop 'research flights' from New York and London to Sydney on a Boeing 787 in late 2019.
In March 2020 the airline finally reached agreement with its pilot for a new pay deal to undertake marathon journeys, vaulting over what loomed as a crucial make-or-break for what would be the world's longest flights.
However, with the spectre of COVID-19 already looming, Qantas pushed back its Airbus A350 order to as late as December 2020 in order to focus on the more immediate and devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We would rather wait for the coronavirus issue to be out of the way before we put a firm aircraft order in for the A350," Joyce explained at the time.
The Airbus A350s were to be delivered from early 2023 and mark the debut of new-design first class suites, business class and premium economy seats and even a wider economy seat with a few extra inches of legroom. Qantas previously said it had completed the design of the A350's cabin configuration, with the aim of "redefining" all four travel classes from tip to tail.
It was 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.
More to follow...