Non-stop Qantas flights between Sydney and Chicago are firming up as a new route carved out by the airline's Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Although the first batch of red-tailed Boeing 787s due from late 2017 is intended to replace the older fuel-gUzzling Boeing 747 jumbo jets on current routes, the Dreamliner fleet will also be used to launch new international destinations.
Qantas has inked an initial order for eight of the next-generation jets, with deliveries split between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 financial years, but still has 15 purchase options and 30 purchase rights up its sleeve – which leaves plenty of room to grow the Flying Kangaroo's overseas network.
Here's why we're tipping Sydney-Chicago as a frontrunner.
1. Because Alan Joyce keeps hinting at it
Since first announcing the Boeing 787 purchase in August this year, alongside the airline's near-$1 billion profit, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has repeatedly name-checked the Sydney-Chicago route in speeches, presentations and media briefings.
It's right up there with "Melbourne to Dallas/Fort Worth" and "direct flights from Perth into Europe".
That doesn't mean that Sydney-Chicago is a lock, of course.
Having cut his teeth in the local airline industry planning routes and schedules at Qantas and Ansett, Joyce is keenly aware of the challenges in trying to see two years into the future through a cloudy crystal ball.
“The routes we have in mind today will probably be very different to the routes we end up having this aircraft on” cautioned the Qantas chief in a media Q&A following the August press conference.
“The actual network the aircraft will end up operating will depend on what we think the market considerations will be at the time.”
2. Because, Chicago
Chicago is the third-largest city in the USA – and Qantas already flies to the first two, New York and Los Angeles. It's big in finance and commerce, as well as being a fascinating destination in its own right.
And non-stop from Sydney to the Windy City holds another allure: it'd be a route unique to Qantas.
With no other airlines currently flying the Sydney-Chicago corridor, Qantas would enjoy a 100% share of the market – an advantage it also holds on the Sydney-Dallas run.
And airlines love monopoly routes, provided the 'bums on seats' calculations add up.
(Of course, the Chicago-based United Airlines could always roster one of its own Boeing 787-9s onto the same path.)
3. American Airlines joint venture
Chicago is a primary hub for Qantas' partner American Airlines, although this doesn't only open up the possibility of onwards connections such as New York and the northeast.
Beyond that, the same Qantas-American Airlines joint venture which sees Qantas sharing the American's Sydney-Los Angeles and Auckland-Los Angeles flights could work in reverse, with AA tapping into Qantas' Chicago-Sydney flights.
“Another great example of the joint venture is that we have different fleets that have different planes that do different missions,” observed American Airlines CEO Doug Parker during a media briefing in Sydney last month.
“We can’t fly DFW to Sydney but Qantas can, and consumers get that benefit and we share in that. And we have the better airplane right now to fly LA-Auckland with the 787, so we serve that."
Speaking at the same briefing, Alan Joyce reiterated that the Boeing 787-9 "can do Sydney to Chicago, that’s another American hub as well, so there are lots of opportunities that this partnership opens up eventually."
4. Sydney-Chicago is an ideal route for the Boeing 787
It's not only that Qantas' Boeing 787-9s will have the long legs to conquer this route, which at just shy of 15,000km would take some 15½ hours to fly.
The economics of what boffins call 'long thin routes' – routes which need long range but don't have the demand for the largest aircraft such as the Boeing 747 or Airbus A380 – work in the Boeing 787's favour.
Each Qantas Boeing 787-9 will carry around 250 passengers in business class, premium economy and economy compared to an average 360 on the Red Roo’s Boeing 747s.
Add the 787's fuel efficiency feeding and relatively low operating costs, and that Qantas could well be the only airline to fly this route, and the numbers are likely to stack up in Chicago's favour.
That's our take: what's yours?
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