Qantas wants to begin non-stop flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London, New York, Paris and Rio by 2022 – provided it can convince Airbus or Boeing to develop an ultra-long range jet capable of conquering the 18 to 20-hour direct routes.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce formally launched the ambitious initiative at today's declaration of the airline’s 2017 financial results, where the airline listed a pre-tax profit of $1.4 billion – the second largest in its history.
While Airbus and Boeing are already working on range-topping jetliners in the form of the Airbus A350-900ULR and Boeing 777-8X, Joyce noted they still fall short of making direct flights from Australia’s east coast capitals to London and New York "with passengers and luggage at full capacity."
The aircraft manufacturers will be challenged to push the envelope in technology, design and engineering, with the longest-legged jet slotting in alongside the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the vanguard of Qantas’ international fleet.
For its part, Qantas is already crunching the numbers on up to a decade of real-world weather patterns on these routes to identify optimal fuel-saving flight paths for a world in which a transit stopovers would no longer be necessary.
For example, news agency Reuters suggests that flights between Australia's east coast capitals and London would follow a "northern polar route" – which although longer than the conventional Asia/Europe corridor boasts "the benefit of strong tailwinds rather than fierce headwinds".
From A to B with more Zzzz
It’s estimated that passengers on a non-stop version of today’s QF1 flight from Sydney to London would be in the air for 20 hours and 20 minutes – a saving of almost four hours compared to the total journey time of today’s route via Dubai.
Similarly, a non-stop flight from Sydney to New York would take just over 18 hours, shaving almost three hours off the total travel time when flying via Los Angeles.
Although Qantas will talk up the savings in time and convenience provided by skipping such stop-overs, for many passengers it’s also about a more contiguous journey with the chance for longer uninterrupted periods of sleep.
That’s certainly the expectation of Singapore Airlines, which will restart non-stop flights to New York and Los Angeles next year as the global launch customer for the Airbus A350-900ULR.
"When you actually measure the total time (between Singapore and New York) – let’s say you transit through Frankfurt – there’s not much of a difference (between non-stop and transit)," Mr Tan Pee Teck, Singapore Airlines' Senior Vice President for Product & Services, previously told Australian Business Traveller of the direct route.
"The only thing is that you can have a longer sleep – instead of 13 hours and then (another) 7 hours, you’d fly non-stop."
The A350-900ULR came about as a result of a campaign by Singapore Airlines which tasked Airbus and Boeing to deliver a jet with the necessary range to resume LA and New York flights.
Airbus achieved this by modifying the standard A350-900 with additional fuel capacity and engineering tweaks, although it also relied on reducing the passenger count to around 170 seats, compared to 253 in SQ's standard A350-900.
It's understood that Qantas is wary of sacrificing too many seats in its quest for a longer-legged jetliner.