Qantas is set to push the big green ‘go’ button on Project Sunrise and launch what will be the world’s longest flights: epic 18-21 hour non-stop treks from Sydney and Melbourne to New York, London and Paris.
Facing an Airbus-imposed deadline of March 31 to lock down its tentative order for up to a dozen globe-striding A350-1000 jets, and frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations with the Australian & International Pilots Association over a new enterprise bargain agreement, the airline has said that Project Sunrise will go ahead with or without union support.
Qantas would instead strike a deal directly with individual pilots or, if necessary, create a new non-union “employment entity” of specialist crews dedicated to the Sunrise flights, Qantas International CEO Tino La Spina told Qantas pilots in an email sent late Thursday.
"It’s become clear that Sunrise is something that our international business needs to maximise its long-term success and defend its competitive position,” La Spina wrote.
"If we are unable to secure a new long-haul EBA10 with our pilots that meets the Sunrise investment case within Airbus’ timeframe, we will be left with no viable alternative but to have Sunrise flying performed by a new employment entity that can provide the cost base we need for this important business opportunity.”
This would allow the airline to begin Project Sunrise flights “in the first half of calendar 2023,” the airline has said.
London calling (also Paris and Frankfurt)
While London and New York are considered flagship destinations, Paris and Frankfurt are also on the non-stop list, along with Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro.
Qantas now “has daily rights to Paris”, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has said, and that consistency is paramount for bringing travellers to The City of Light.
“(The) last time we were in Paris we only could do three days a week, which made it sub-economical and meant that we weren’t attracting the business market, but now that has changed,” Joyce told Executive Traveller on the delivery flight of Qantas’ first Boeing 787-9 in October 2017.
Likewise, “Germany is still a big market and it's been hard for us in the past when we were flying through a hub, so the opportunity there is actually quite real.”
The Kangaroo Route, now in three flavours
However, Joyce says that Qantas' non-stop Boeing 787-9 flights between Perth and London will continue to run alongside the east coast-focused Sunrise flights.
"What we’re seeing, which is really encouraging, is how well Perth-London is doing, particularly with our passenger traffic. Over 75% originates or terminates in Perth for that flight. So what that has shown is that we can do Project Sunrise in addition – we wouldn’t take Perth-London out."
This would see Qantas serving up the Kangaroo Route in three flavours:
- the non-stop Boeing 787-9 from Perth to London (with the option for Melbourne-based travellers to begin this with a domestic Melbourne-Perth leg)
- the long-range Airbus A350-1000 Project Sunrise fleet flying non-stop from Sydney, Melbourne and potentially Brisbane to London
- the Airbus A380 superjumbo from Sydney to London via Singapore
Fares on the two non-stop routes would be priced higher than flights involving a Singapore stopover, based on their appeal to time-pressed travellers – Qantas has suggested the Project Sunrise services will carry a premium of "20 to 30 per cent".
Joyce remains keen on extending its Perth-based non-stop network to Paris and Frankfurt, provided the airline can settle its ongoing dispute with Perth Airport over fees for access to the runways and other airport infrastructure.
“Today, we would be in the process of preparing for further services out of Perth into Europe – we would be ordering aircraft to do Perth to Paris, which would be the next one on our list, except for the fact that there’s a dispute with Perth Airport," Joyce suggests.
As it happens, Paris and Frankfurt are also Project Sunrise destinations, "so there’s a possibility with Paris and Frankfurt where you could have both an east coast and a west coast operation."
'Super first class' for Project Sunrise jets
As previously reported by Executive Traveller, the Project Sunrise A350s will carry around 300 passengers, some of whom will be cocooned in what Joyce describes as a "super first class" suite, with a hint that the design could include sliding doors – a flourish already adopted by many airlines for not only first class but some leading-edge business class suites.
"Given the nature of the routes there is definitely a market for first class," 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.
Could this 'super first class' include privacy doors? "I want to save that for another announcement some day," Joyce teased.
The Airbus A350s are expected to have a relatively small first class cabin, following a global trend towards reducing the number of first class suites, sometimes purely to rationalise against reduced demand and in other instances to increase the physical footprint of each suite.
Qantas has already completed "a high-level design of what our cabins would look like," Joyce has previously said, with the aim of "redefining" all four travel classes. The airline has also 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.
Nestled behind first class will be all-new business class seats – where the bar has already been set high by the superb Qsuites of fellow Oneworld member Qatar Airways – and further back, fresh takes on premium economy and economy, the latter of which will also have extra leg-room compared to today's economy seats.
"There'll be more legroom, and a special area for exercise," Joyce says. "That's all part of the proposition, this aircraft is going to be designed for 19-20 hour flights."
Qantas' intent to fit all four travel classes to its Project Sunrise fleet contrasts with Singapore Airlines' decision to kit out its long-legged Airbus A350 jets with only business class and premium economy.
Not just for the ultra-long haul
But the Project Sunrise jets won't be solely dedicated to those record-breaking non-stop journeys – they'll also take on relatively shorter and more conventional routes to Los Angeles and Asia, especially as Qantas retires its Airbus A380s towards the end of the next decade.
“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 has told Executive Traveller. This is driving Qantas towards a full four-cabin configuration “so that means all of the seats have to be usable for those routes."
The Project Sunrise jets will also come with superfast WiFi capable of streaming HD video, using similar high-speed satellite technology as Qantas' domestic fleet.