SYDNEY • Australia's Qantas yesterday unveiled plans for the world's longest non-stop commercial flight, calling it the "last frontier of global aviation", as it posted healthy annual net profits on the back of a strong domestic market.
The carrier, which hopes to fly non-stop from Australia to London and New York by 2022, announced a 17.2 per cent slip in annual net profit to A$852 million (S$916 million) after record results last year.
The airline's underlying profit before tax - its preferred measure - was the second-highest in its history at A$1.4 billion for the year to June 30, matching forecasts.
The results came after the completion of an aggressive three-year restructuring process that saw it slash jobs and reduce its fleet.
"Three years ago, we started an ambitious turnaround programme to make the Qantas Group strong and profitable," chief executive Alan Joyce said. "We tackled some difficult structural issues, became a lot more efficient and kept improving customer service. Today's announcements show this plan has well and truly paid off."
Qantas shares closed 3.79 per cent higher at A$6.02.
Mr Joyce unveiled ambitious plans for non-stop flights from Australia's eastern seaboard to Europe, a major undertaking the airline has dubbed "Project Sunrise".
Qantas'annual net profit to June 30. Its underlying profit before tax of A$1.4 billion was its second highest.
"Qantas will challenge both Airbus and Boeing to deliver an aircraft capable of regularly flying direct services like Sydney to London, Brisbane to Paris, Melbourne to New York non-stop with a full payload by 2022," he said.
"This is the last frontier of global aviation, this is the antidote to the tyranny of distance and a revolution for air travel in Australia."
Fall in annual net profit.
Mr Joyce said the two manufacturers were working on planes that were almost capable of doing the job - the 777X and the A350ULR. "We believe that advances on the next few years will close the gap," he added. "This will be one of the most strategically important aircraft orders" in Qantas' history.
He said the non-stop flights would cut up to four hours off the Sydney-London journey, which is now just over 24 hours. Currently, the longest non-stop commercial air service is Qatar Airways' Doha-Auckland 14,535km flight, with a flight time of over 16 hours.
Qantas' planned Sydney-London flight would be about 17,000km.
The carrier's profits were supported by a strong showing in the local market, with the domestic arm reporting a record underlying profit of A$645 million, up 11.6 per cent on the previous corresponding period.
Its international division recorded its second-highest underlying profit at A$327 million.
The airline declared a final dividend of seven cents and announced a share buyback of up to A$373 million. It plans to pay a A$2,500 bonus for each of its 25,000 non-executive employees.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS