Non-stop flights between Australia and Europe are firming up as among the first of the ultra-long range routes for Qantas' Boeing 787, due to be announced from early 2017.
The Dreamliner's long reach and fuel efficiency, coupled with a relatively low headcount in Qantas' chosen configuration of just 236 passengers, has already seen extended US routes such as Sydney to Chicago, Melbourne to Dallas and Brisbane to Dallas being pencilled in on the network map.
But opening up Europe to direct Dreamliner flights from Australia – and especially Perth to London – is the real prize.
Speaking on the sidelines of this week's reveal of the airline's Boeing 787 business class and economy seats, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the advanced jet would be a "game-changer" for the Qantas international network.
"Australia has never been connected to Europe with a regular (non-stop) passenger service" Joyce reflected.
"When you think of it, they're the only two continents on the globe which do not have regular direct services – apart from Antarctica, which doesn't have a lot of airports!" he adds with the humour that's become more evident since Qantas bounced back from a swelling tide of red ink to a billion-dollar profit. "So that will be something we are looking forward to."
Fly direct on the Dreamliner
Qantas' passengers must currently break their journey at the Dubai hub of partner Emirates in order to continue to London on the airline's double daily A380 superjumbo services or change to an Emirates flight to European cities.
Direct flights on the red-tailed Dreamliner would provide travellers with the option to skip that stop-over, provided they didn't mind as much as 18 hours spent sitting in a flying tube.
However, conditions on the route would mean that Qantas wouldn't always be able to fill all 236 seats in order to reduce weight and thus boost fuel efficiency and range.
"We've modelled all of the routes, we know what the loads can be and we know the restrictions on some parts of the year," Joyce explains.
"As you can imagine, sometimes the winds are heavy – like on our Sydney-Dallas service, where some parts of the year we can't take a full load. That's fine because the (Boeing 787) economics work superbly across the entire year."
Qantas' new flagship route
Perth to London would become a new flagship route for Qantas, which is in discussions with Perth Airport alongside state and federal government, "and we hope to get to conclusions on that soon," Joyce says.
While Joyce wouldn't be drawn further on specifics of the discussions, it's believed that the plans would see international gates and customs posts set up at Qantas' domestic terminal in Perth in order to provide a seamless connection into the airline's Australian network.
London-bound passengers would fly west from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide on regular Qantas domestic services, possibly freshen up at the domestic Qantas lounges and then go through to an 'international zone' in the terminal to board the Boeing 787-9.
Inbound travellers, especially Brits, would be encouraged to break their journey in Perth and sample the WA capital – and it's superb Margaret River wineries – before continuing onto the east coast.
Joyce says he is "absolutely hopeful" of a green light for the proposal, "because it's such a great opportunity for Western Australia... it would be a shame if we couldn’t close a deal."
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