Despite some dark years ahead, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce remains positive, even bullish, on the prospects of the airline's ambitious non-stop Project Sunrise flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London, New York and Paris.
Those 18-20 hour marathons will no doubt be delayed, with Joyce citing the forecast of aviation industry body IATA that "it will take more than three years for global travel to return to 2019 levels" – a timeline which stretches beyond the original mid-2023 inaugural flights.
However, Joyce is confident his sweeping three-year recovery plan will lay the foundations for a restart on Project Sunrise.
"It is my every intent that when we can get Qantas back into flying, when we can turn the business around, that we will be doing Project Sunrise," Joyce affirmed.
This will include taking on an initial fleet of up to 12 Airbus A350-1000s, which will be fitted with an extra fuel tank in order to tackle these globe-striding routes.
"We've gotten Airbus to agree to continue the terms of the A350 (purchase) to allow us to do Project Sunrise," Joyce said, adding that the airline's investment-grade rating and planned $1.9 billion equity raising provided the "financial strength for us to be able to afford to purchase those aircraft and take that great business opportunity, and that’s all part of setting us up really well for the future."
Before the pandemic struck, Qantas was set to push the button on Project Sunrise, which had been in active development since August 2017, with Joyce reflecting that "right before this crisis hit we were actively recruiting, we were gearing up for Project Sunrise, we were getting ready to buy planes."
The new reality is one in which Joyce doesn't expect international flights to return "in any real size from July next year" – and in the short term, Australians will be jetting non-stop to New Zealand rather than New York.
But Joyce says he still holds "big ambitions for long-haul international flights, which will have even more potential on the other side of this."
The Qantas Airbus A350s were also to 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.