Qantas Airways hangs the $4.4 billion-worth Airbus order in obscurity as it delays Project Sunrise, its ambitious goal of connecting Sydney with London and New York via direct, non-stop flights. The Aussie airline was previously expected to order up to 12 A350-1000 jets for the task.
The airline’s CEO Alan Joyce told the Executive Traveller that the airline certainly would not be placing the Airbus order in 2020. Joyce did not indicate an alternative date either, stating that “we’ll keep a review on when is the appropriate time, when has the market recovered, when is Qantas in a position to commit to more aircraft and more capital.”
Qantas picked Airbus A350-1000 as preferred aircraft for the 20-hour flights in December 2019. The A350XWB was competing against Boeing’s up-and-coming 777X, the 777-8 in particular.
The plane order halt follows the Australian airline’s decision to suspend Project Sunrise, an intention to launch ultra-long-haul direct routes from Australia to London, UK, and New York, the U.S.
While still arguing there was a “good” business case for Project Sunrise, the timing was not, Joyce told the publication. “We do think there is a huge potential for Project Sunrise but the time is not right now, given the impact that COVID-19 has had on world travel,” Joyce was cited as saying.
The project was first announced in August 2017. The flights from two Australian cities, Melbourne and Sydney were previously expected to begin in 2023.
In October 2019, the airline launched research flights to find out how to minimize jet lag and create a suitable environment for passengers as well as how to promote alertness of the crew on duty and maximize rest during their down time on these flights. The first test flight was nearly 20,000 kilometers journey between New York and Sydney, lasting approximately 20-hours.
In late-February 2020, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) approved a new fatigue risk management system specifically for the ultra-long-haul flights. At the end of March 2020, a pilot union representing Qantas pilots approved a new pay deal, clearing up one more hurdle that had stood in the way for Project Sunrise.