The promise of non-stop flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London is now closer than ever, with Qantas having confirmed the Airbus A350-1000 as its globe-striding jetliner of choice for the 20 hour journey.
A few details remain to be ironed out – not the least of which is a wage deal with the pilots who will fly the Project Sunrise routes – but if all falls into place, Qantas will place an order with Airbus valued at $6.4bn for 12 of the long-legged A350-1000s, with first flights by the middle of 2023.
Yet while the airline trumpets these marathon treks as the final frontier of commercial aviation, Qantas says that London flights which make a stopover in Singapore will remain on the schedule.
They'll take slightly longer than the non-stop service, of course, but will be less expensive, with Qantas aiming to charge a premium of "20 to 30 per cent" for the direct flights compared to a stopover route.
"We now have three different components of our European strategy," explains Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, speaking with Executive Traveller at the official opening of the new Qantas Singapore First Lounge.
Stop-over vs straight through
The hero option is, of course, "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. We think the other (destinations) are going to be too small to be able to justify it."
"Singapore is still a massive part of our strategy," emphasises Tino La Spina, CEO of Qantas International.
Sunrise is really about point-to-point, if you want to go from Melbourne to London for example. But we're still going to have the ability to hub through Singapore. Some people will want to have a stop in the middle, either because they want a break or because they're actually flying to two destinations – they want to spend some time in Singapore and some time at the other end."
Singapore also serves as a convenient point for joining the European-bound flights of Qantas partners such as Air France, KLM and Finnair, none of which fly directly to Australia.
"And then the third component is Emirates," Joyce says, alluding to the Qantas-Emirates alliance inked in 2013.
"We put a lot of traffic onto the 40 ports that Emirates serve in Europe, and maybe 37 of them we will never operate to. So that is the strategy in how we pull all of Europe and Asia together, and they compliment each other."
Of Singapore and superjumbos
The opening years of the Project Sunrise era will see the Airbus A350-1000s darting straight from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London and back, while the double-decker Airbus A380s will continue to detour via Singapore.
However, by 2028 the first Qantas superjumbos will have notched up 20 years of solid flying and will be ready for retirement – with the possibility that more Airbus A350-1000s will take their place.
This is the main reason why the Qantas Airbus A350s will be fitted with all four standard travel classes, unlike Singapore Airlines' ultra-long range Airbus A350 jets which sport only business class and premium economy.
“What we have to have is an aircraft that not only can fly Sydney-London and Sydney-New York, and Melbourne-London and Melbourne-New York, but also can be rotated to do Sydney-Hong Kong and Sydney-LA," Joyce told Executive Traveller earlier this year. This is driving Qantas towards a full four-cabin configuration “so that means all of the seats have to be usable for those routes."