SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Qantas Airways picked Airbus to provide ultra long-range planes for planned direct services that will stretch halfway round the world, a blow to Boeing after a two-year competition to land the deal.
The Australian airline chose the A350-1000 over Boeing's 777X for proposed services connecting Sydney with New York and London. Qantas is preparing an order for as many as 12 planes, it said in a statement on Friday (Dec 13).
The choice of aircraft brings Project Sunrise, as Qantas calls the unprecedented non-stop services, closer to reality. But the airline on Friday also pushed back its final decision to go ahead with the long-haul routes until March next year. That wins it time to secure a new agreement with pilots that's required for the extra-long flights.
The rival plane manufacturers had been chasing the contract ever since Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce in 2017 invited them to take up the challenge. Qantas, which plans to start the commercial services as soon as 2022 or 2023, has flown test runs on the routes - using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Qantas shares added 0.3 per cent to A$7.295 at 10:39am, taking the airline's market value to about A$11 billion (S$10.3 billion).
The 20-hour flights, if they go ahead, will be the longest in the world. A key hurdle has been finding a plane that can make the distance with a full load, and still have fuel in hand for emergencies. Airbus will fit an additional fuel tank on the A350 in order to give the aircraft the range to fly the routes, Qantas said on Friday.
"We look forward to working together to make non-stop services between cities such as Sydney and London a reality," Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer said in a statement.
Qantas's announcement is a further blow to Boeing at the end of a horror year. Its best-selling 737 Max has been grounded since March after two crashes killed 346 people. Meanwhile, some older versions of the 737 workhorse have developed cracks near the wings.
"We are disappointed but we respect Qantas' decision and we look forward to continuing our long-standing partnership with the airline," Boeing said in a statement.