MELBOURNE • Australia's flag carrier Qantas yesterday completed a non-stop test flight from New York to Sydney, researching how the world's longest potential commercial airplane journey of nearly 20 hours would affect pilots, crew and passengers.
Qantas Flight 7879, carrying 50 passengers and crew members on board a new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, touched down in Sydney yesterday morning after a 16,200km journey which lasted 19 hours and 16 minutes.
"This is a really historic moment for Qantas, a really historic moment for Australian aviation and a really historic moment for world aviation," Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce, who was on the flight, said after landing.
With demand for air travel rapidly growing and aircraft performance improving, carriers are increasingly looking into ultra-long-haul travel.
The International Air Transport Association expects the number of annual passengers worldwide to grow from 4.6 billion this year to 8.2 billion by 2037.
No commercial aircraft as of yet has the range to fly such an ultra-long haul with a full passenger and cargo load.
To give the plane the needed range, the Qantas flight took off with maximum fuel, only a few passengers, restricted baggage load and no cargo.
The goal was to gather data, with a team of researchers to monitor, among other things, lighting, activity, sleep and consumption patterns of passengers, and the crew's melatonin levels.
The pilots were equipped with brain monitoring devices to track their brain wave patterns.
The flight was very successful from two components - the first one was research. And also the feat of distance - that flight was 16,200km. We were airborne for 19 hours and 16 minutes, and we landed here in Sydney with a comfortable 70 minutes of fuel.
QANTAS CAPTAIN SEAN GOLDING
The aim of the research was, Qantas said in a statement, to increase health and wellness, minimise jet lag and identify optimum crew rest and work periods.
"The flight was very successful from two components - the first one was research," Captain Sean Golding said.
"And also the feat of distance - that flight was 16,200km. We were airborne for 19 hours and 16 minutes, and we landed here in Sydney with a comfortable 70 minutes of fuel."
The airline is planning to also test a non-stop flight from London to Sydney and expects to make a decision by the end of the year whether to start the routes, which would commence in 2022 or 2023.