The Australian company Qantas is running its first test of an ultra-long-haul flight between New York and Sydney, a journey of nearly 20,000 kilometers that should take about 20 hours non-stop.
The flight QF7879 took off on October 18, 2019, and will arrive at its destination on October 20, 2019. It is the first of three test flights called Project Sunrise, made in collaboration with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and aimed at studying the impact of such long flights on the health of passengers.
Onboard a new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner will be a maximum of 40 people, crew included, to minimize weight and provide the necessary fuel autonomy. Six Qantas Frequent Flyer volunteer passengers “will be fitted with wearable technology devices and follow a specially designed sleep, food and beverage, and physical movement schedule,” said the carrier in a press release. Their level of melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” will also be monitored. The airline will study the impact of cabin environment, food and beverage menus and service timings in adjusting to the destination time zone. There is a 15-hour difference between New York and Sydney.
The alertness of the four pilots and six cabin crew members will also be monitored, using activity monitors, sleep diaries and rest and alertness logs, as well as cameras mounted in the cockpit. Qantas aims at finding solutions to maximize both alertness during operations and rest during free time on these flights.
Qantas has already conducted a study on passenger sleep strategies in some of its long-haul flights, and some of these initial findings will be further evaluated as part of the dedicated search flights.
“Every time a new aircraft has allowed us to fly for longer, people naturally ask about the comfort factor,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, adding that “the fact that the longest flight on our network today, Perth to London, also has our highest customer satisfaction rating shows that you can design an ultra-long service that passengers enjoy”.
In addition to the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, Flightglobal reports that Airbus plans to offer its A350-1000 to participate in Project Sunrise, as recent documentation shows that the aircraft can now operate with sufficient range.
The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), Qantas pilots’ main union, warned however that these tests might not be sufficient to assess the feasibility of those flights when it comes to health. The test flights “are special services restricted to a much reduced complement of passengers and crew,” said Mark Sedgwick, President of the AIPA, in a press release. “More work would need to be done on fatigue risk management, looking particularly at the cumulative effects of long range operations on crew”.
Currently, the longest commercial air route in the world is a connection between New York and Singapore launched in 2018 by Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) . Operated on an A350-900 ULR it lasts about 18 hours.