Qantas CEO Alan Joyce wants to match his ambitious Project Sunrise program for non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York, with equally bullish plans for the seats and suites which will cradle passengers on those marathon 18-20 hour treks.
“It will be the best product we’ve ever put on an aircraft,” Joyce told Australian Business Traveller at the airline’s financial results presentation this morning, which revealed a pre-tax profit of $780 million across July-December 2018 – a $179m dip from the same period last year, albeit one hampered by a $416m (27%) rise in oil prices.
Joyce confirmed that current thinking will see a first class cabin on the globe-striding jets, although he wouldn’t drawn on the size of that cabin – if it would be a modest four suites or represent a more sizeable slice of the pointy end.
“We’re looking at redefining business class, first class, premium economy and economy, and seeing what else we could do with the space on that aircraft,” Joyce expanded, alluding to recent plans to tap under-utilised space in the cabin – and potentially below decks, in what is nominally the cargo hold – for everything from stretch and exercise zones to cafes and railway-style sleeping bunks.
Qantas is eyeballing a layout which would see the Project Sunrise jets carry over 300 passengers across four classes, Qantas International CEO Alison Webster told Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the mid-2018 IATA aviation summit in Sydney.
At the time, Webster revealed "we've recently put out the challenge around premium economy and economy seating in the Sunrise aircraft cabin to see what kind of a step change we can create for our customers."
The Project Sunrise jets will also come with superfast WiFi capable of streaming HD video, using the same high-speed satellite technology as Qantas' domestic fleet.
Qantas is due to choose between ultra-long range models of the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X for the Sunrise fleet by year’s end, with plans to launch the first flights in 2022.
The most optimistic network map shows the Sunrise jets will spear from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to the likes of London, Paris, New York, South Africa and South America.
However, Joyce added that the long-legged aircraft could also appear on shorter more conventional routes to Asia and the USA.
“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.”
This is said to be driving Qantas towards a full four-cabin configuration “so that means all of the seats have to be usable for those routes,” Joyce qualified.
Joyce confirmed that seasonal weather conditions on the ultra-long range routes mean “there won’t be a full passenger payload year-round on some of these routes, (but) we have those limitations today on certain routes, like Dallas for parts of the year, where we don’t sell all of the seats on the A380. So it’ll be similar to that.”