Project Sunrise is 'go' as Qantas pilots agree to ultra-long flights

Qantas pilots are on board, even if the Airbus A350 aircraft order has been delayed.

By David Flynn, March 30 2020
Project Sunrise is 'go' as Qantas pilots agree to ultra-long flights

Qantas' ambitious plans for non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London, Paris and New York are set to take wing, with the airline's international pilots approving a new pay deal which once loomed as a make-or-break for what's been dubbed Project Sunrise.

Qantas says that 85% of the pilots voted in favour of the updated enterprise bargaining agreement, which covers wages and working conditions for flight deck crews on what will be 18-20 hour marathon journeys.

Airline CEO Alan Joyce had previously suggested that should the pilot's union vote down the deal, he was prepared to approach the airline's pilots individually or create a non-union “employment entity” of newly-hired specialist crews dedicated to the Sunrise flights.

Airbus will fit the Project Sunrise A350s with an extra fuel tank to deliver globe-striding range.
Airbus will fit the Project Sunrise A350s with an extra fuel tank to deliver globe-striding range.

With this final hurdle cleared, Qantas is now in a position to lock away its multi-billion dollar order for up to 12 A350-1000s jets, which was due to take place by the end of March but has now been pushed back to as far as December 2020 while the airline focuses 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.

Qantas Chief Pilot Dick Tobiano added that "the extraordinary circumstances facing aviation has seen Airbus agree to extend the deadline on our decision to purchase the A350s so we can both focus on navigating the coronavirus crisis. But when this period has passed, and it will, we will refocus our attention on Project Sunrise and the A350 order.”

Delivery of the first Project Sunrise jets, and the launch of the first globe-striding flights, are slated for the first half of 2023, although further A350-1000 orders could follow as eventual replacements for Qantas' 12-strong Airbus A380 superjumbo fleet.

Inside the Qantas Project Sunrise Airbus A350

Qantas has already completed the design of the A350's cabin configuration, with the aim of "redefining" all four travel classes from tip to tail – topping out with what Qantas has described as a "super first class" suite to cocoon high-end high flyers on these marathon journeys.

"Given the nature of the routes there is definitely a market for first class," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has told Executive Traveller. "We think it's going to be a super first class, something that is a lot better than any product we’ve ever put in the air," he added.

Qantas' current (Airbus A380) first class was launched in 2008.
Qantas' current (Airbus A380) first class was launched in 2008.

There's speculation that Project Sunrise' 'super first class' suites may include sliding privacy doors – a flourish already adopted by many airlines for not only first class but in some leading-edge business class cabins.

When Executive Traveller put that to Joyce, he smiled a coy smile and teased "I want to save that for another announcement some day."

The Project Sunrise Airbus A350s are expected to have a relatively small first class cabin of between four and eight suites.

This is in line with a global trend towards reducing the number of first class suites – often driven by softer demand as business class continues to get better – while also allowing a larger physical footprint for each suite.

The Qantas Airbus A350s are also expected to introduce a new business class seat compared to the well-regarded Qantas Business Suite of today's Qantas Boeing 787s, Airbus A330s and, as part of a refit program, the Airbus A380 superjumbos.

Qantas' current Business Suite.
Qantas' current Business Suite.

Qantas has been consulting with seatmakers on their very latest models, including yet-to-be-released concepts, as candidates for when the first Project Sunrise flights take wing.

Qantas also says the A350's premium economy and economy seats will be far more comfortable and spacious than today's equivalents. "That's all part of the proposition, this aircraft is going to be designed for 19-20 hour flights," Joyce has told Executive Traveller.

"There'll be more legroom," he confirmed, while the Airbus A350's wide cabin should also allow for wider economy seats offering a little bit more room at the hips.

All Project Sunrise jets will also come with superfast WiFi capable of streaming HD video, using similar high-speed satellite technology as Qantas' domestic fleet.

What are Qantas' Project Sunrise routes?

Qantas initially mapped out five likely destinations for Project Sunrise. The long-legged Airbus A350s would depart from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and fly non-stop to New York, London, Paris, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro.

Qantas is ready to add Frankfurt to the Project Sunrise route map.
Qantas is ready to add Frankfurt to the Project Sunrise route map.

Frankfurt has since 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."

Also read: Making a better case for travelling on a non-stop 20-hour flight


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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 354

A bit of good news during an otherwise depressing time.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2019

Total posts 35

One thinks that the Pilots Union probably concluded it was in their best interests; given the monumental changes in the aviation industry in the past few weeks.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 335

Some good news at last. Let's hope when we are on the other end of this awful pandemic, the aviation sector can emerge and grow to be better than they were before.

Australia needs a profitable and strong aviation sector. So many jobs rely on it.


03 May 2013

Total posts 663

The hard product is easy Alan. Try focusing on the crap food in first and business and polish the premium service/product a little. All currently well below par considering prices charged. If you're having problems take a flight with Qatar and Singapore not forgetting your notepad. There is no way I'll sit on a flight that distance for a sub par product, while also adding insult to injury having paid a premium when I could have paid less for a better product elsewhere.


04 Feb 2013

Total posts 7

Horses for courses, I suppose, but I quite like the menus and service on QFi in Business. Can't speak for First.

I've always quite enjoyed the food (well, as much as you can at 38,000ft at a weird time of day), and find the service professional without being too over the top. I do really like the food on QR and SQ, but don't like their service quite as much. A bit too attentive for me.

I'm also intrigued at how much they changed up the on board service on the test flights, to really try to jump start people acclimatising to the new time zone. Will be interesting to see how much of that makes it into the launch product.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 404

Not sure what problem @joe has with the food and wine in first and business. I've never been disappointed. And to all those doubting Tom's about Project Sunrise, what's humble pie like?

KLM - Flying Blue

05 Feb 2019

Total posts 39

I think, non-stop flights avoid the classic stopover problems, like delays due to bad weather conditions, air traffic congestion, IT breakdown, unexpected situations, change in regulation...

I am happy to see this project going ahead, I believe these are good news


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 367

Why would you go to all the trouble, money, time, investment for only ever 3 destinations in Europe. Surely the goal is to expand the Qantas non-stop Europe network, not stop at 3 cities with two of which are also not Oneworld hub cities for partner transfers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2011

Total posts 92

Probably to address the demand for travel to these cities.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 202

It seems Qantas will become the launch customer for the A50-1000LR which will be Airbus answer to the B777-8.



11 May 2015

Total posts 28

It appears that QF and their pilots had agreed on the money. I am interested on the make up of the flight crew - 2 Captains and 2 First Officers, or 1 Capt, 1 FO and 2 Second Officers - or another combination. SQ have done the pionner work on ULR flights (a bit shorter than sunrise) and use 2 Capt and 2 FO. Having done ULR flights previously with SQ and TG in A340-500 aircraft I dont propose to do any more, but I would not even think of going without 2 Capt and 2 FO.

For those of you who complain about the extra cost for ULR flights, it actually costs more in fuel to operate these flights as apposed to a intermediate stop for refueling. The optimum is about 10 to 11 hours non stop. There are charts showing this on several aviation related sites.

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 85

"Project Sunrise" looks like it'll be kaput after this covid19 disaster. Joyce, baby, you can shuffle the shekels, but try sitting in row #55E for 16+ hours. "Project Sunrise", for those who endure the flight from that position, it will become "Project B** Numb".

08 May 2020

Total posts 70

It is bad enough 12 1/2 hrs Singapore - Zurich , No way 18 hours in one go, unless I get Bus class seat for the price of a Premium Economy seat. I don,t fly to London neither as i don,t waste time wandering in Airports.

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