Qantas is aiming to have its ultra-long range Project Sunrise jets carry over 300 passengers across four classes, with new seating on the radar from first class to economy and possibly a lounge or bar.
The airline is now working through the configuration of the globe-striding jets which will make the 18-20 hour trek from Sydney and Melbourne to London, New York, Paris and other key destinations.
Speaking to Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the IATA aviation summit in Sydney, Qantas International CEO Alison Webster said the airline was "looking at an aircraft configuration... around over (a) 300 passenger seat count for the economics to be in the right place for us," adding that "we're also looking at a four cabin configuration."
That's a lofty target compared to Singapore Airlines' Airbus A350-900ULR – one of the two aircraft competing for the Qantas' Project Sunrise order, up against the Boeing 777X – which will sport a two-class layout of just 67 business class seats and 94 premium economy seats when it begins non-stop flights to New York and Los Angeles towards the end of 2018.
Airbus has since said that it's considering an ultra-long range version of the larger A350-1000 which could help address Qantas' capacity goals, although Webster stressed that "we’re still moving around on the final numbers... these are all still works in progress (and) no definitive decisions have been made."
New seats for Project Sunrise
What's more certain is that new seats are on the agenda, even towards the back of the bus.
"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," Webster said.
If the globe-striding jets also come with first class, then passengers at the pointy end will also be looking at an all-new design from the circa 2008 Marc Newson suites of Qantas' Airbus A380.
Webster says her team is also "looking at flexibility and different zoning in those aircraft."
Could this includes social spaces such as bars and lounges? “Potentially, yes," she allowed.
"We're looking at all the space within the aircraft and how we use that most effectively. This is about reimagining how ultra-long haul travel will take place."
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce highlighted the ides of having sleeping berths, family rooms and other passenger facilities in the cargo hold, which Airbus has formalised into a family of custom-designed 'lower deck modules' which would be interchangeable with a standard cargo container.
"There's some really good ideas coming from Airbus and our team," he told Australian Business Traveller, "so we're bouncing ideas off each other about what you could do with the aircraft. If it doesn’t have the full capability of all-premium seats, is there something else that we could do there?"
Joyce also says the Project Sunrise jets will come with superfast WiFi capable of streaming HD video, using the same high-speed satellite technology as its domestic fleet.
Qantas expects to place its order for what Webster calls "a hub-busting aircraft" in 2019, with flights to London and New York beginning in 2022.