Could Qantas’ Project Sunrise flights be Sydney-only for many years?

Qantas says the first Project Sunrise flights will be from Sydney, but it may be years before Melbourne and Brisbane follow.

By David Flynn, June 8 2021
Could Qantas’ Project Sunrise flights be Sydney-only for many years?

While Qantas' Project Sunrise is intended to connect Australia's east coast capitals to London, New York and Paris with non-stop flights, the NSW Government has requested the 18-20 hour treks run exclusively from Sydney for the first five years as part of a secret $50 million bid to keep the airline based in Sydney.

This was among seven conditions attached to the offer made in an attempt to win a bidding war between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland for the location of Qantas' headquarters.

And the pitch appears to have been successful, at least in broad principle, with Qantas announcing on May 6 it would remain based in Sydney having "completed a review of the location of its key facilities across the country" – little more than a week after the proposal from NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was made on April 29.

In its statement on the decision to retain its Sydney HQ, Qantas confirmed that "Sydney will be the launch city for the first Project Sunrise flights (non-stop to cities including New York and London) once international travel recovers and this investment goes ahead."

Qantas will rely on ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000 jets for Project Sunrise flights.
Qantas will rely on ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000 jets for Project Sunrise flights.

While no mention was made of how long after the Sydney launch that Project Sunrise flights would follow from Melbourne and Brisbane, several other items in the airline's "summary of the property review" also appear to have aligned with requirements in the Treasurer's proposal, reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, including:

  • the construction of a new Flight Training Centre with aircraft simulators to be based in NSW from 2023 (the NSW proposal called for "establishment of a Simulator Centre in NSW)
  • plans for expansion of Qantas Loyalty in Mascot (the NSW government asked for "relocation and centralisation of the Qantas Loyalty activity from Melbourne to Sydney)
  • development of "a comprehensive Indigenous and diversity employment program" (the proposal required for "a commitment to meet Indigenous and Gender Diversity employment targets")

The proposal, which put a commitment of $50 million over four years on the table, also called for Qantas to keep its head office in NSW "for at least 30 years" and commit to creating an additional 2,000 full-time jobs at Sydney within the first five years.

Sydney's Sunrise exclusivity not a lock

In announcing the decision to keep Qantas based in Sydney and Jetstar in Melbourne, with heavy maintenance facilities to remain in Brisbane, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce remarked that "each state put a lot of effort into their offers."

"Moving one or both of our headquarters was always a live option and there were times in the process where that seemed to be the most likely outcome. Ultimately, once the final offers were assessed on a like-for-like basis, the set of decisions we made was the most beneficial to the Group overall."

However, spokespeople for both Qantas and the NSW Treasurer have told The Sydney Morning Herald that discussions are continuing on the finer points of the proposal.

"It does not reflect the final agreement which, as we said in our announcement of 6 May, is still being negotiated," a spokesman for Qantas said.

"We won’t be commenting on any detail of the agreements with any of the states because they are commercial-in-confidence."

A spokesperson for Perrottet added "A final binding deal with Qantas is yet to be agreed, and we continue to work on the details after reaching an in-principle agreement in May."

A new dawn for Project Sunrise?

Qantas' ambitious 'Project Sunrise' plans for non-stop flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to key cities around the world were set back by COVID-19, with the pandemic arriving just weeks before Qantas signed an order for the ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000 jets needed to tackle the globe-striding flights in mid-2023.

Qantas' initial set of likely Airbus A350 Project Sunrise routes; Frankfurt was later added to the list.
Qantas' initial set of likely Airbus A350 Project Sunrise routes; Frankfurt was later added to the list.

Joyce says the airline will revisit those plans at the end of 2021, with the aim of launching Sydney-London and Sydney-New York flights in 2024 should the numbers stack up.

And he believes they will, saying that "people in the post-COVID world will want to fly direct" rather than make stopovers, "which I think makes the Project Sunrise business case even better than it was pre-COVID."

"This is one of the big things that will change in the next decade, and allow us to have a suitable competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce."

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce sees a ray of hope in Project Sunrise.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce sees a ray of hope in Project Sunrise.

The Qantas Airbus A350s were also to mark the debut of new-design 'super first class' suites, business class and premium economy seats and even a wider economy seat with a few extra inches of legroom, with the plane's entire cabin "designed for ultra-long haul" flying.

That was rumoured to include six spacious private first class suites set in two rows of 1-1-1, similar to Emirates' latest Boeing 777s, which Joyce has previously described to Executive Traveller as "a super first class, something that is a lot better than any product we’ve ever put in the air."

There would also be relatively large business and premium economy cabins plus 'stretch spaces' for all passengers, including economy class, while the new-design economy seats themselves would have more legroom than their current counterparts.

It was also 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.

"Over time hopefully we will have enough of the A350 aircraft to fly direct and overfly a lot of the hubs, and that will take the burden off having the big aircraft needed for those big destinations."

David

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.