Qantas has its eye on non-stop Sydney to New York flights using the advanced Boeing 777-8X jetliner, which the airline has touted as a potential replacement for its flagship Airbus A380 superjumbo.
The direct route would swap the long-standing Los Angeles stopover for a 19 hour 'Harbour Bridge to Hudson' trek, which would not only be Qantas' longest flight but the world's longest.
But it will require the next-generation of aircraft due in the early part of the next decade, when Qantas will look to refresh its long-range international fleet.
Speaking at a media lunch in Sydney last week, Qantas Airways CEO Alan Joyce revealed that the airline “puts 300 people a day to New York anyway, so the market’s growing – it’s just that we can’t do (non-stop) with the technology (we have today).
“Once the technology happens we would go there straight away" Joyce told Australian Business Traveller.
"We’re looking at the new 777-8X that would potentially have the range to do it, but that doesn’t come until (the early) 2020s.”
“We’ve got people that work with Boeing and Airbus – we have worked (together) on the A380, we did a lot of work with the 787 (and) we’re doing work with them on the 777(-8X),” Joyce said.
When asked if there was really a market for passengers willing to take such a long flight, Qantas International CEO Gareth Evans gave an unequivocal “yes”.
“It might not be for everybody,” Evans continues. “If you don’t want to do that then there are plenty of opportunities to connect over Dallas or LA, but there will be a market of people who want to get on the plane and get off where their ultimate destination is.”
Evans also highlights that on a route this long, the aircraft needs to be “configured appropriately”, with a “premium configuration” currently under assessment, paired with “the right amount of galley space” to store and prepare what could become three inflight meals for each passenger.
“It’s going to have to have the ability to look after customers for long amounts of time… (and) the technology that’s coming with the 777-X can facilitate that, absolutely; we’d want to fly it.”
Ultra-long flights: the new norm
Joyce takes a page out of history when looking to the future of flying, noting that Qantas’ flights from Sydney to Vancouver in 1954 detoured via Fiji, Hawaii and San Francisco, which meant a total of 31 hours spent flying in between, but with the stops helping to break up the time.
“Back then, people were saying ‘imagine flying direct – that would be too long on an aircraft for 14 hours’”, Joyce continues, “yet now people would never do those kinds of (routings) with today’s aircraft.”
Would passengers really want to fly non-stop?
Passengers on today’s Qantas Sydney-New York flights break the journey at LAX with 1hr 55m between touchdown and take-off, during which they can stretch their legs and squeeze in a quick shower in the lounge before completing their 21hr journey.
Eliminating that stop would bring the trip closer to 19 hours, but that’s still 3.5 hours longer than today's Sydney-Dallas/Fort Worth run.
Singapore Airlines is also eying non-stop flights to New York from its home hub in 2018 using a special long-range version of the Airbus A350.
Those long-legged A350s will also carry fewer passengers than the conventional A350 which SQ will begin flying in January 2015, but they'll enjoy more comfort thanks to all-new business and first class seating.
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