Qantas delays Project Sunrise Airbus A350 purchase to end of 2020

Airbus will need to wait a little longer for Qantas to sign on the dotted line for its fleet of Project Sunrise jets.

By David Flynn, March 19 2020
Qantas delays Project Sunrise Airbus A350 purchase to end of 2020

Qantas will delay the purchase of Airbus A350-1000 jets for non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London and New York, pushing back its final decision until the end of 2020, as the airline moves into 'survival mode' to deal with the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline had previously been working to an Airbus-imposed deadline of March 31 to sign on the dotted line, which in turn hinged upon issues of how the new jets would be crewed, with Qantas in negotiations with its pilots but also flagging the willingness to hire new pilots dedicated to the Sunrise fleet.

Earlier this month, as Covid-19 flared across the globe, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce confirmed that he had asked Airbus for an extended deadline.

“Airbus had given us the delay until the end of March," Joyce said. "That was based on the fact the slots were potentially valuable and could be sold to other airlines. We think in the current environment that may not be the case, nobody seems to be ordering aircraft.

"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 says that Airbus has now given it until the end of the year to place its order for up to 12 Airbus A350-1000s, which would be modified to include an additional fuel tank for making the 18-20 hour flights needed to connect Sydney and Melbourne to the likes of New York, London and Paris in a single globe-striding leap.

At a list price of US$366.5 million per jet, that represents a massive outlay of US$4.4 billion, although airlines typically receive a discount of up to 50% off the sticker.

Further A350-1000 orders could follow as eventual replacements for Qantas' 12-strong Airbus A380 superjumbo fleet, all twelve of which will now be mothballed due to reduced travel demand in the wake of the coronavirus.

Although Qantas announced its Project Sunrise proposal in August 2017, and has dedicated years of research to the concept, the airline has yet to officially give Project Sunrise the green light, with that go/no-go decision previously due to be made by the end of March 2020.

Read more: Here's what you need to know about Qantas' Project Sunrise


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

19 Jun 2019

Total posts 8

Joyce is clever, buy when the demand is lowest for new planes and get a better deal

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 450

And don't rule out the B777-X making a comeback into the negotiations either!

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 987

I would rule it out. This whole saga reinforces that too much capacity is a problem so the smaller A350 looks even smarter now than it did a few months ago.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 450

You miss my point. It will be a negotiating tactic. I've always expected that, prior to the end of March, AJ was going to suddenly announce that Boeing had made a new offer - and the negotiations would start all over again!

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 202

Boeing would like Qantas to be the launch customer for the B777-8 but I don't see that happening, as the B777-8 is still in design stage. Anyway, Boeing has enough on its plate with the B737 MAX fiasco, a clean sheet design for a single aisle replacement for the B737 and delivering the B777-9 to customers. The other factor in Airbus favour, the B777-8 has no operational track record where the A350 has.

Anyway, Airbus wants Qantas to be the launch customer for the A350-1000 'extend range' model which will be a direct competitor to the B777-8.

Whilst we are not privy to what deal was offered for the A350-1000 purchase, I would suspect that Airbus have given Qantas good deal in regards the A380s and good discounts on the A320neo/A321neo/A321XLRs as replacements for the aging B737-800 fleet.

04 Dec 2017

Total posts 70

Don't rule out many never flying QF again if the went 777x. It's an old airframe and represents nothing other than a loud cramped cabin. Perfect for cargo and as a replacement for 747. Past its use by-date. 787/350 are the future.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Dec 2017

Total posts 52

The whole saga shows you can't rule anything out. It's all but certain that both airframers are making lucrative pitches at QF thanks to the A380 grounding. Only time will tell what Qantas' fleet/destination mix will look like at the end of all this, all we can hope for is that the travelling public do well out of any deal(s) QF are looking to do!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2015

Total posts 15

The deal will get done with Airbus, it is just a matter of timing. Qantas have leverage now with both Airbus and the pilots. the Airbus deal was delayed to finalize a new pay deal with the Pilot union, who already said the deal was unsatisfactory. Now with many of those members without standard hours because of A380's being mothballed...... the pilot deal will get done and then Airbus deal will get done with more options than if signed in January, as said just a matter of timing

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1393

All those jets are also a whole lot more expensive with the current AUD as well.

Possibly totally changes the financial case if that becomes the long term trend.


13 Sep 2013

Total posts 115

You'd wanna hope they've got reserves in USD!

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 99

Qantas are looking for a fleet of around 12 A350-1000. Interestingly, Cathay has a current A350-1000 of 12, and whilst I I do hope Cathay pull through, there could be an opportunity to pick some up later in the year...... just saying. Wouldn't think it would be too hard to add the extra fuel tank as required by Project Sunrise.


16 Nov 2011

Total posts 618

Except the version of the -1000 that Qantas needs is a modified version not the standard version.

No doubt once this is all done and dusted there will be plenty of near new planes on the market. Only of use if there are enough airlines with the money to buy them.

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 99

Agree - hence, my suggestion that it shouldn't be too hard to add the extra fuel tank required by the Qantas version to any existing -1000, which gives a slightly larger MTOW.

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