Non-stop flights from Australia to London and New York by 2020?

By John Walton, March 3 2012
Non-stop flights from Australia to London and New York by 2020?

Direct, non-stop flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to New York, London or the rest of Europe by 2020?

That's what Boeing is studying for the next evolution of its popular 777 aircraft -- used by Virgin Australia, Emirates, Delta, Air New Zealand and many others -- and it's less of a pipe dream than you might think.

Airbus already has its eyes on an extended range A380, while Boeing's proposed update to the 777 would embrace new technologies developed since the plane was first built in the mid-1990s.

Now on the drawing board and slated for service by the end of this decade, the Boeing 777-8LX concept (yes, we wish the name rolled more easily off the tongue too) would have a top range of 17,500km according to aviation industry insider Jon Ostrower, writing in Flightglobal.

That'd be sufficent for a non-stop Sydney-London flight with a good 500km still in the tanks.

image: Great Circle Mapper
image: Great Circle Mapper

This marathon would carve a few hours off the Kangaroo Route, bringing the time down to around 19 hours compared to the current fastest run of 22 hours (which includes an hour's stopover).

The question is, how many travellers would prefer to save those three hours rather than taking a break and a stretch in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai or another hub?

Direct flights from Australia to New York would also be possible, as the distances are slightly shorter (although the Pacific Ocean provides fewer potential spots to stop for extra fuel):

image: Great Circle Mapper
image: Great Circle Mapper

Technically possible...

The longest operating flight in the world is currently Singapore Airlines' all-business class journey from Singapore to Newark, outside New York, at 15,345km and 18.5 hours.

Modern aircraft can already theoretically fly the distance between London and Sydney (the furthest of Australia's east coast cities from London).

Boeing's existing 777-200LR (for Long Range) variant has a maximum range of 17,395km, which is just under a hundred km shorter than the proposed upgrades, and which leaves a 300-400km range cushion for London flights from Australia's east coast cities.

This range map from Sydney demonstrates that the proposed 777 version (darker grey circle) only adds a few hundred km onto the range of the existing jet..
This range map from Sydney demonstrates that the proposed 777 version (darker grey circle) only adds a few hundred km onto the range of the existing jet.

However, that relatively small range cushion is a problem because of headwinds when flying westbound, which can lead to diversions.

It's a pain for passengers and for airlines if a plane has to divert because it's running low on fuel, as Qantas passengers discovered when the Red Roo had to iron out the fuel and headwind kinks of its Dallas-Fort Worth route last year.

And alternate airports aren't always equipped for the size of plane diverting to them, as passengers diverted to Mount Isa in Queensland found when they had to be lifted down from a Boeing 767 by forklift since the steps (sized for small planes, not big ones) weren't tall enough to reach the door.

So the extra range is a useful buffer, but it's not the be-all and end-all of the economics behind direct flights.

... but economically feasible?

Such super-long flights are "the holy grail we’re always chasing",  Airbus' executive vice president Tom Williams told Australian Business Traveller in a recent interview, but cautioned that "it all comes down to economics."

Airlines are reluctant to burn fuel just to carry fuel for the longest journeys, unless they can charge a premium for the convenience.

But if the new Boeing 777-8LX can be made lighter and more efficient (Flightglobal quotes a 14-16 percent fuel burn saving per seat over existing planes) the economics might well change.

And the crew problem is there too: pilots and cabin crew couldn't be on duty for the whole 19-hour flight to London, so you'd need a second crew as relief. But with enough space for crew rest (in the amazing secret "loft" bunks above your head on new planes) it's not an insurmountable problem. 

Your say: stop-over or straight through?

Could such direct flights happen? We certainly hope so. A saving of three hours to London or New York is still a saving, and it's business people who place the highest value on time saved.

The possibility of all-business class flights to London or New York would also help airlines balance the economic equation and make the nearly 20 hour trip less daunting for passengers.

Would you rather fly non-stop to London and New York, or are you fine with a stretch in Singapore or Los Angeles? What would make or break no-hop flights on the Kangaroo route for you? Share your thoughts in a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


10 Sep 2011

Total posts 162

If suspended animation pods are an option, then bring it on.  Otherwise, I like the break.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2011

Total posts 231

Sounds like the perfect scenario for deep vein thrombosis to me.

15 Aug 2011

Total posts 33

I would definitley be booking these flights;-)

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2554

I'd be up for a direct all-business class flight to London, or even one which had mainly business class plus a cabin of premium economy (with decent legroom, recline and lumar support) for the 'cheap seats'.

At the same time, spending 20 hours in any seat is a bit of a drain, perhaps they could have small bar/lounge areas where you could have a drink, chat with a fellow traveller or just read a bit, just to get out of that seat.

And yes, anti-dvt compression socks should be part of the in-flight amenities kit! (Go on, Qantas, you've been wanting to release special 'Marc Newson' compression socks for some time now!)


15 Apr 2011

Total posts 582

The plane would have to have more than just the seats... If the plane had a proper bar/lounge (a la EK/KE etc) space for passengers to relax and spread out then I'd definitely consider it, otherwise I'd take the stop/lounge anyday. I refuse to sit in the same seat for 20 hours straight...


04 Nov 2010

Total posts 671

I agree with David and AM, a flight this long can't just be about seats, or even a suite, no matter how comfortable they are. And the food needs to be different as well, forget about one big heavy main meal because all your passengers will probably have a meal in the lounge at SYD or LON anyway. And big meals sitting in your tummy when you're sitting around for 19 hours is not the best anyway. More meals but smaller portions, lighter meals as well so more fresh salads instead of carbs, some nice soups and baguettes etc. If you put all the right ingredients together and really made this different to being in business class on a reguarl SYD-SIN-LON flight then I reckon this would be a hit even if it just few 2-3 days a week at first.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Nov 2011

Total posts 244

If the tickets are cheaper, I would give it a go.

With the stopover, gives me an opportunity to make a short trip en route, if I would like to.


15 Apr 2011

Total posts 582

It wouldn't be cheaper - it would be more expensive... The cost of carrying fuel for these ULH flights is enormous, and I'm sure that QF would try to charge a premium over the one-stop flights (as SQ do to LAX and JFK).

13 Feb 2011

Total posts 31

I just want to get there as soon as I can and am not a fan of the fuelling stop and it's associated disembarkation, waiting, security rescreening (sometimes) and reembarkation.  Bring on teh non stop flights - I would gladly pay a premium!


19 Dec 2011

Total posts 49

from perth to europe it would make a lot of sense but only business.

often find there is not a lot of time to eat & get a decent sleep on a 10 hr flight. 

with the new flat beds available you could really enjoy the flight without the stupidity of having to disembark & then reboard in singapore.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Apr 2012

Total posts 5

I imagine Qantas will miss out due to it's resistance of 777's?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2011

Total posts 231

That is a good point, Qantas does have a resistance to 777s.
My understanding is Qantas prefers the 747s and A380s because they offer a more room for cargo. My guess is that is why out of all the carriers that operate A380s, Qantas arranges their A380 with the fewest number of seats. I think they prefer to fly with fewer passengers and more cargo and make their money that way.
However, the business case for a 777 flying direct from Perth or even Sydney to London might change all that.
If they don't have to stop over in Singapore and avoid the airport charges there, then they might be able to make it work.
I guess we'll have to wait and see what Boeing comes up with.
If it is something similar in size to the 777-300 then Qantas might be really interested.

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