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Qantas will run a series of non-stop flights from London and New York to Sydney from October 2019 as research into its ambitious Project Sunrise program.
The flights will be made by three factory-fresh Boeing 787 jets and used to assess factors such as wellbeing and comfort for both crew and passengers, as well as researching crew rostering and break times – although only 40 people will be on board each flight to ensure that the Dreamliners can make the trip with a single load of fuel.
And before you can ask: no, Qantas won't be selling seats on these special flights. Other than crew, those in the cabin will mostly be Qantas employees taking part in testing.
They'll be fitted with wearable technology devices and taking part in specific experiences at varying stages of the approximately 19 hour flights.
Non-stop guinea pigs
Scientists and medical experts from the Charles Perkins Centre will monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement and inflight entertainment to assess impact on health, wellbeing and body clock.
Monash University researchers will work with pilots to record crew melatonin levels before, during and after the flights. Pilots will wear an EEG device that tracks brain wave patterns and monitors alertness, with the aim of establishing data "to assist in building the optimum work and rest pattern for pilots operating long haul services."
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce says the flights will give medical experts the chance to do real-time research that will translate into health and wellbeing benefits. “Ultra-long haul flying presents a lot of common sense questions about the comfort and wellbeing of passengers and crew. These flights are going to provide invaluable data to help answer them.”
“For customers, the key will be minimising jet lag and creating an environment where they are looking forward to a restful, enjoyable flight. For crew, it’s about using scientific research to determine the best opportunities to promote alertness when they are on duty and maximise rest during their down time on these flights.”
Boeing 787s to test Project Sunrise
One Dreamliner will fly directly from the Boeing facility at Seattle to London, with two more making their way to New York, from where each will embark on an estimated 18.5 hour trek to Sydney – in effect, they'll be delivery flights taking the scenic route.
"These flights are ground-breaking in themselves," Joyce notes. "No commercial airline has done these types of experiments before. No commercial airline has ever flown direct from New York to Sydney before. The things we learn will be invaluable not just for Sunrise, but for all our long-haul services.”
As for the choice of the Project Sunrise jets themselves, Joyce says "we’ll be making the final YES-NO decision on Sunrise by the end of this year."
Both Airbus and Boeing are in the race – even allowing for potential delays to the ultra-long range Boeing 777X.
"We know that Boeing and Airbus have aircraft that can do the job, and we have their best-and-final offers on the table – including a compelling offer from Boeing to deal with any delay to the 777X."
Joyce added that the airline also has "a high-level design of what our cabins would look like," but sounded a note of caution over the bottom-line economics.
"There’s plenty of enthusiasm for Sunrise, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. This is ultimately a business decision and the economics have to stack up. One of the hurdles is a deal with our pilots to fly the aircraft. We’re asking for them for some productivity gains – just as we did with the introduction of the Dreamliner – and those discussions are ongoing."