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.