LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Qantas Airways' vision for the first direct flights from Sydney to London is inching closer to reality as Boeing Co and Airbus SE finalise proposals for longer-range jets needed to span the 17,060km trip.
Qantas is also stepping up work on making the estimated 20-hour journey to the British capital and cities including New York and Paris more comfortable, chief executive officer Alan Joyce said in an interview. That includes picking the right number of seats and a cabin layout that may include beds in the hold.
In linking spots on the opposite sides of the globe, the new flights will be the last word in distance. Only a direct London-Auckland service would be longer among routes that airlines have actively studied. A trip from Sydney or Melbourne to London would beat the longest-flight record held by Singapore Airlines' service from its home city to New York by 1,609km.
Planemakers will submit best and final offers on models capable of making the journey from south-east Australia to northern Europe and the north-east United States in coming months, according to Mr Joyce, who said the choice will be between derivatives of Boeing's 777-8X and the ultra long range A350-900ULR and -1000ULR from its European rival.
"Boeing and Airbus are still working on the request for proposals," he said in London. "It's not just about adding a few extra fuel tanks. The plan is to finalise everything by the year end and reach a decision on start up in 2022."
Qantas is seeking a new deal with its pilots to cover the changes in working practices required to undertake such long-endurance flights, as well as engaging with the authorities on regulatory changes, the chief executive said.
Destinations that will be reachable direct from Australia's two biggest cities under the plan, code-named Project Sunrise, include London, Paris and Frankfurt in Europe and New York and Chicago in the US, Mr Joyce confirmed. The chief executive has described such services as the "last frontier" of aviation, after which all major cities will be within range of non-stop flights.
Qantas has already begun opening up new routes with existing jets, adding the first direct flights from London to Perth - which sits opposite Melbourne and Sydney on Australia's west coast - last year using a stripped back Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The carrier is looking at using the model for services from Brisbane to Chicago, Dallas and Seattle.
The Perth service relies on a higher-than-usual number of business- and premium economy-class seats for its viability, something that may be necessary to support the routes envisaged by Project Sunrise. Mr Joyce has also said that part of the cargo hold could be utilised for sleeping berths.
Flying to far-flung destinations will reduce Qantas's need to serve gateway hubs such as Los Angeles, helping to explain why the carrier does not plan to take eight Airbus A380 superjumbos on which it has options, to add to 12 in the fleet, the chief executive said in London.
"When people are flying direct, we don't need that," he said. "The network is changing quite significantly and becoming much more point to point."