Executive Traveller exclusive
Non-stop Qantas flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York will take off late 2025 after the Flying Kangaroo this morning confirmed its ambitious 'Project Sunrise' plans.
Speaking at a packed media event at the Sydney Airport’s Hangar 96, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce confirmed an initial order for 12 Airbus A350-1000 ultra-long range aircraft, which will enable the 18-20 hour direct flights from Australia's east coast.
"The A350 and Project Sunrise will make any city just one flight away from Australia," Joyce said. "It’s the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance."
Joyce promised the A350 would make those marathon flights more bearable than potential passengers might expect, with a cabin "specially designed for maximum comfort in all classes for long-haul flying."
This will start with fully-private A350 first class suites with a separate armchair and bed: there will be six First suites in a layout of two 1-1-1 rows.
Each Project Sunrise A350 will also feature what Qantas refers to as 'Wellness Zones' - dedicated spaces for passengers in all cabin classes to stand and stretch, which will undoubtedly become popular areas during these ultra-long journeys.
These spaces will feature video screens with recommended exercises to help increase blood flow and improve overall passenger wellbeing, along with a self-serve snack bar.
Our guide to Qantas Project Sunrise, below, dives more into what will be the world’s longest commercial flights.
- When is the Qantas Project Sunrise A350 launch date?
- The Qantas Airbus A350 order
- Qantas Project Sunrise A350 routes
- Qantas Project Sunrise flight numbers
- Qantas Airbus A350 seat map
- Qantas Project Sunrise A350 first class
- Qantas Project Sunrise A350 premium economy and economy class
- Qantas Project Sunrise A350 Wellness Zone
- What about those Qantas Project Sunrise ‘sleeping bunks’?
- Will the Qantas Project Sunrise A350s be equipped with WiFi?
- How much will Qantas Project Sunrise A350 flights cost?
- How much time will Qantas’ non-stop Project Sunrise A350 flights save?
- Qantas Project Sunrise research flights
When is the Qantas Project Sunrise A350 launch date?
The first flights under the Project Sunrise banner are expected to take wing towards the end of 2025. Launch routes will be Sydney to London and Sydney to New York, with other city-pairs to follow.
This is much later than Qantas’ original plans to begin Project Sunrise flights in early-mid 2023 – plans which were in place at the start of 2020, until Covid-19 brought the aviation industry to a standstill.
In fact, Qantas was set to finalise its A350 order in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic struck.
“We were pretty close… within a couple of weeks of placing orders for the aircraft,” Joyce previously told Executive Traveller.
Instead, Qantas put the brakes on Project Sunrise while it dealt with more immediate matters of sheer survival.
And with those worst times behind it, Qantas expects to see demand return to 2019 levels by 2024 – which puts Project Sunrise back in the picture.
Joyce remains “very optimistic” on the appeal of these non-stop flights – indeed, Project Sunrise is a shining ray of hope on the travel horizon.
“Our latest customer research shows that demand for direct long-haul flights is even stronger than it was pre-Covid, so our focus on delivering non-stop services from Sydney and Melbourne to New York and London remains,” Joyce noted in February 2022.
"People in the post-Covid world will want to fly direct" rather than make stopovers, he believes, “which I think makes the Project Sunrise business case even better than it was pre-Covid.”
“We think this is one of the big things that will change in the next decade, and allow us to have a suitable competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce.”
The Qantas Airbus A350 order
Qantas' initial order is for twelve Airbus A350s, although more may follow.
At a previously-published list price of US$366.5 million per A350, even one dozen A350s for Project Sunrise represents a massive outlay of US$4.4 billion, although airlines typically receive a discount of up to 50% off the sticker for bulk fleet orders.
(Boeing pitched its next-generation 777X to Qantas for for Project Sunrise routes, but Qantas voted against it – which is just as well, considering the 777X’s development has suffered ongoing delays and Boeing now says the first 777-9 won’t be delivered until sometime in 2025.)
The A350 is “a fantastic aircraft,” Joyce enthuses, “and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.”
“This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to,” he added.
An Airbus A350 marketing executive has echoed this thought to Executive Traveller, saying “we consider the airplane can operate economically and flexibly on the entire long-haul wide-body network of Qantas.”
“So I think that would be a tactical decision to go for an airplane that can serve in an efficient manner not only on those ultra-long range routes but anywhere else in the network.”
Those comments capped speculation that Qantas will boost its A350 orders to effectively replace the double-decker Airbus A380 when those superjumbos are retired around the end of this decade.
Indeed, Joyce has previously told Executive Traveller the jets ordered for Project Sunrise routes could also need to take on relatively shorter and more conventional routes to Los Angeles and Asia.
“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.”
"Over time hopefully we will have enough of the A350 aircraft to fly direct and overfly a lot of the hubs, and that will take the burden off having the big (A380) aircraft needed for those big destinations.”
This is one reason why Qantas chose to fit out the A350s in a four-cabin configuration, because "all of the seats have to be usable for those routes", Joyce explained – in contrast with Singapore Airlines' decision to kit out its own long-range Airbus A350 jets with only business class and premium economy.
For Project Sunrise, Qantas has specifically selected the A350-1000 model – the larger cousin of the more common A350-900.
In fact, it’s a special version called the A350-1000ULR, where ULR stands for ‘Ultra Long Range’ (Singapore Airlines relies on an A350-900ULR for its own non-stop flights such as Singapore to New York).
Qantas worked with Airbus to develop the Project Sunrise A350-1000ULR, which will be fitted with an extra fuel tank, along with other engineering modifications and design and technical refinements needed to fly non-stop for up to 21 hours, which Qantas considers will be more than the longest Project Sunrise flight and allows some leeway for extra flying time caused by strong headwinds and unexpected delays in landing.
Qantas Project Sunrise A350 routes
Thanks to this extra fuel tank and additional modifications to boost their efficiency and range, the Qantas Project Sunrise A350s will be able to tackle the world’s longest routes.
The Qantas Project Sunrise A350 launch routes will be from Sydney, specifically Sydney-London and Sydney-New York. Further destinations for the new aircraft could include Paris, Frankfurt, Chicago and Rio de Janeiro.
Sydney’s status as the prestigious launchpad for Project Sunrise was one condition of a $50 million offer made by the NSW state government in April 2021 to keep Qantas based in Sydney, rather than see it decamp to Melbourne or Brisbane.
In its statement on the decision to retain its Sydney HQ, Qantas confirmed that “Sydney will be the launch city for the first Project Sunrise flights (non-stop to cities including New York and London) once international travel recovers and this investment goes ahead.”
Those Sydney flights will be followed by Melbourne-London and Melbourne-New York, while other Qantas Project Sunrise A350 destinations will include Paris and potentially Frankfurt, although admittedly that was in the rosier pre-pandemic days.
Speaking with Executive Traveller in late 2019 about the airline’s broader European strategy, Joyce has previously said one plank of the playbook was "to fly direct, where those direct flights are with Sunrise, and we may only have three destinations we'll ever do that with: London, Paris and Frankfurt.”
“We think other (European destinations) are going to be too small to be able to justify it."
(Joyce has in the past also alluded to Paris and Frankfurt as potential Boeing 787-9 routes from Perth, but non-stop Project Sunrise flights from Sydney and Melbourne would trump the WA capital.)
Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro were also pencilled in as nominal Project Sunrise A350 routes when the plans were first proposed.
Qantas also nominated Brisbane as a likely launching pad for its A350 flights, although the Queensland capital has traditionally not fared as well as Sydney or Melbourne when it comes to ‘flagship’ routes.
There have been suggestions that Perth-London might be upgraded from a Boeing 787 Dreamliner to an Airbus A350, based on the established success of this one-hop Kangaroo Route, with Alan Joyce suggesting “we can do Project Sunrise in addition, we wouldn’t take Perth-London out.”
Likewise, Qantas' non-stop Project Sunrise A350 flights to London won't replace the long-standing stopover flights from Sydney to London via Singapore, which for years have featured the A380 superjumbo.
Those flights will remain on the Qantas schedule for travellers who prefer to break their journey and stretch their legs, but they’ll be less expensive than the direct Project Sunrise A350 flights to London.
Qantas Project Sunrise flight numbers
Given that Project Sunrise flights will be on Qantas' flagship routes, we expect they’ll carry equally-significant flight numbers.
Our tip is that the non-stop Sydney-London service will inherit the prestigious QF1/QF2 badge, which has traditionally been assigned to the Sydney-Singapore-London flight.
Likewise, we'd expect the non-stop Sydney-New York flights to launch as QF3/QF4 (today those numbers belong to Qantas' Sydney-Honolulu route which in the 1960s used to continue to San Francisco, Qantas' primary US hub for several decades before it switched to LAX).
Qantas Airbus A350 seat map
The Qantas Airbus A350 seat map shows 238 seats across four travel classes – first, business, premium economy and economy – along with a dedicated Wellbeing Zone located between premium economy and economy.
The A350 sees all-new seat designs in each of those cabins, with Qantas having completed the A350's cabin configuration with the stated aim of "redefining" all four travel classes from tip to tail.
Significantly, the Project Sunrise A350 jets have just over 40% of their space assigned to premium cabins (first class, business class and premium economy), dominated by a 52-seat business class section.
(By comparison, the airline's current Boeing 787-9 configuration is almost 30% premium, based on the combined 70-seat tally of business class and premium economy out of 236 seats in total – a much higher ratio than three-class Dreamliners flown by other airlines.)
Qantas Project Sunrise A350 first class
As befits Qantas’ newest flagship on these marathon non-stop flights, the Project Sunrise A350 aircraft will be crowned by what Joyce has described to Executive Traveller as “super first class” suites, and shown in these concept illustrations.
The A350’s first class flyers will be cocooned in these fully-private suites with a separate armchair and bed, a personal wardobe and fronted by a massive 32" HD video screen.
Only six first suites will be available per flight, making up the first two rows in a 1-1-1 layout across the cabin, in line with a global trend towards reducing the number of first class suites – often driven by softer demand as business class continues to get better – while also allowing a larger physical footprint for each suite.
This video teases more of what's in store for Qantas' A350 first class flyers.
Qantas Project Sunrise A350 business class
The Qantas A350s will boast a sizeable business class cabin to suit the ‘premium-heavy’ nature of the Project Sunrise routes.
After all, if you’re setting out on The World's Longest Flight™ with 18-20 hours aloft, you'd want to be in some of the most spacious and comfortable seats on the plane.
The Project Sunrise A350s will debut an all-new business class seat which raises the bar above the well-regarded Business Suite of today's Qantas Boeing 787s, Airbus A330s and A380 superjumbos.
While Qantas has yet to share full details of the A350 Business Suites, indications are that each business class suite will be surrounded by a higher wall for privacy: it appears that Qantas has opted to forego sliding doors, with those being a privilege of first class alone.
This could prove a controversial decision, given that doors are a flourish already adopted by many airlines in leading-edge business class cabins.
It also appears Qantas has chosen a seat that is broadly similar in design to its current Business Suites, but is not the same seat per se.
The Qantas Project Sunrise A350s will split business class into two cabins: a main section of 28 seats, and a smaller secondary cabin of 24.
Executive Traveller will share more details of Project Sunrise business class as they come to hand.
Qantas Project Sunrise A350 premium economy and economy class
Of course, not everyone can fly in first class or business class – and mindful of the trail these bum-numbingly long Project Sunrise flights could represent, especially down the back of the (Air)bus, Qantas has spec'd out all-new designs for the premium economy and economy seats.
The airline promises these will be more comfortable and spacious than today's equivalents.
"That's all part of the proposition”, Joyce has told Executive Traveller, “(because) this aircraft is going to be designed for 19-20 hour flights (and) there’ll be more legroom.
While we don’t yet have images of these seats, we do know some basic specs:
- the 40 premium economy seats of the Project Sunrise A350 jets will have 40” of pitch, compared to 38" on the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787, giving passengers ample room to stretch out their legs and even cross their knees
- the 140 economy class seats also slightly boost legroom with a 33" pitch, compared to 31-32" on the Qantas Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s, and at 18” across would slightly wider as well, with Airbus A350's extra-wide cabin allowing travellers a little more room at the hips
Qantas Project Sunrise A350 Wellness Zone
In addition to more open space around the exit areas where passengers can stand and limber up a little, a dedicated ‘Wellness Zone’ will be stategically located between the premium economy and economy cabins.
Here is where Project Sunrise passengers from any cabin class can limber up to help battle non-stop flight fatigue, with the help of guided video exercises to get the blood flowing and alleviate the muscle aches which can set it after you’ve been sitting for too long.
What about those Qantas Project Sunrise ‘sleeping bunks’?
In the early days of Project Sunrise, Qantas floated the idea of turning part of the jet’s cargo hold – the space below the passenger deck – into railway-style bunk beds and exercise areas.
“One of the concepts that we have is maybe if we're not carrying freight you do something lower where cargo is on the aircraft, do you have an area where people can walk? Do you have berths like on a train?” he posed.
“Could some of the freight areas we may not use be used as an exercise area (or) berths for people to sleep in?” Joyce posed in March 2018, shortly after the launch of the airline's non-stop flights between Perth and London.
He readily admitted these were “out there’ ideas, but said “there's a lot of ‘out there’ thinking that’s going on" in helping Project Sunrise take shape.
Airbus got on board, creating mockups of bespoke ‘below decks’ passenger modules.
Designed to be interchangeable with a standard cargo container, the modules would let airlines convert part of an airplane’s downstairs cargo hold into passenger facilities to suit the needs of different routes or even different times of the year, such as peak travel seasons.
Airbus estimated that 32 bunk beds could fit under the main deck, with primarily appeal to passengers in premium economy and economy who would buy the beds as an ‘upgrade for sleeping”, although these areas couldn't be occupied during takeoff or landing.
Other possibilities for the downstairs spaces include a lounge or a conference room above the clouds, family rooms or a ‘medical care zone’.
However, in June 2019 Joyce said Qantas had ruled out the use of below-deck space for Project Sunrise.
“The package we looked at – putting things in baggage holds – didn’t work” for feasibility and overall economics.
Will the Qantas Project Sunrise A350s be equipped with WiFi?
The Project Sunrise Airbus A350 jets are intended to have WiFi – in fact, they’re likely to have broadband WiFi capable of streaming HD video.
Satellite technology with high-speed worldwide coverage has been slow to develop, but two options have emerged as contenders for Qantas’ international fleet:
- the ViaSat-3 network, which technology provider ViaSat plans to have fully operational in the next few years (by the time Project Sunrise flights take off)
- the Starlink constellation of ‘micro-satellites’, developed by tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX group, which is already in place with several airlines signed up as customers
How much will Qantas Project Sunrise A350 flights cost?
Qantas intends to price its non-stop Project Sunrise flights at a premium over conventional routes.
Joyce has predicted prices of “20 to 30 per cent” higher compared to fares on the same routes but involving a stopover, such as London via Singapore or New York via Los Angeles.
“When you do something unique that gives you a customer value proposition that’s quite special, you can charge a premium for it,” Joyce has reasoned.
It’s hard to imagine Qantas Project Sunrise fares could be as much as one-third higher – especially in economy, where travellers are typically price-sensitive – but there’s no doubt that people who want to fly direct and get to their destination sooner would be expected to pay more than the stopover set.
How much time will Qantas’ non-stop Project Sunrise A350 flights save?
The notion of darting non-stop from Sydney or Melbourne to London or New York implies a substantial time saving compared to the conventional stop-over in Singapore or Los Angeles.
After all, you’re immediately slashing those two hours you might spend on the ground, along with the necessary time for your flight to land and take off again.
Surely flying direct means getting where you’re going a lot sooner?
Not quite. Sooner, yes, but the most significant benefits of these Project Sunrise flights won’t be measured by a stopwatch.
Take as an example the Sydney-Singapore-London ‘Kangaroo Route’. This notches up almost 23 hours in the air – add the time spent on the ground in Singapore, and the start-to-finish journey stretches close to 25 hours.
Qantas’ initial pitch for Project Sunrise promised a saving of ‘up to four hours’ by skipping Singapore.
Nobody’s going to argue with winning back four hours, but it doesn’t seem all that much in the scheme of things – and many people (especially those not flying in first or business) would maintain that breaking their journey in the Singapore lounges is worth the longer trip.
But the real benefits of those direct flights are less about the time shaved off from start to finish, than the fact that all of that time is yours without interruption.
Project Sunrise flights, like Singapore Airlines' non-stop flights to New York, hand you 18-20 hours as a single contiguous block, to divvy up as you like, rather than have it broken into two segments with a stop-over in between.
Work, then dine, then sleep? Sleep, eat, then work and relax again? It's all about letting you set your own schedule – one where mandatory stop-overs don't get a look in.
This is especially useful if you're following a very specific anti-jetlag timetable for eating and sleeping.
“I’ve had business travellers tell me they’d rather stay on board and watch an extra episode of their favourite show before arriving at their final destination, rather than spending 90 minutes on the ground waiting for a connecting flight,” Joyce says.
But it's not just be about road warriors. “I’ve also had a few parents tell me they would rather not disturb their kids if they are settled in and avoid having to bundle them and all their carry-on luggage off and back on a flight during a stopover.”
And harking back to the Kangaroo Route as our example, there’s another upside on the return leg from London to Sydney or Melbourne. Regular travellers from London or Singapore can attest that this final part of the journey short-changes you on sleep.
With 7-8 hours from wheels-up at Changi to landing in Australia, the window for sleep is at best six hours – and that’s six hours in a noisy cabin, on a bed which is never anywhere near as restful and relaxing as the one at home.
A non-stop flight changes that for the better, and there’s every chance that with a longer sleep under your belt, you’ll arrive feeling not only fresher but with less post-flight fatigue and downtime.
That's something which every business traveller and holiday-maker will appreciate.
Qantas Project Sunrise research flights
In evaluating Project Sunrise, Qantas ran three three ‘research flights’ from New York and London to Sydney in late July 2019 to study jet-lag and design an optimum rest and work pattern for crew.
“They were an amazing experience,” Joyce notes, “testing how our frequent flyers would feel, looking at pilot fatigue issues.”
These three special flights were undertaken by Boeing 787-9 jets, which had to be limited to limited to 50 passengers and crew in order to conquer those endless kilometres.
So what was it like to travel non-stop from New York to Sydney on Qantas' Project Sunrise research flight? This Executive Traveller article filed after the flight touched down in Sydney reveals all.