MIAMI — Qantas Airways has officially selected the Airbus A350-1000 as its vehicle of choice over the Boeing 777X for its ultra-long-haul program, dubbed Project Sunrise.
While no firm order has been placed yet, Qantas is currently drafting a contract for 12 A350-1000s expected to enter service with the airline in 2023.
Project Sunrise was first announced in August 2017, jumpstarting a program which would include flights from Sydney (SYD) to New York (JFK) and London (LHR), with the London route expected to become the longest non-stop flight in the world.
When first publicized, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce called the project the “last frontier in global aviation. The antidote to the tyranny of distance.”
Test flights are currently underway to gauge the feasibility of such long-distance routes and how to improve inflight conditions for passengers.
The Sydney-London route will cover over 10,000 miles and exceed 20 hours, outlasting the current longest flight operated by Singapore Airlines between Singapore (SIN) and Newark (EWR).
In order to ensure that all parties involved had sufficient time to achieve their goals, Qantas had extended its deadline for the final decision of the project from February to March of next year.
Ultimately, there were several features that tipped the balance in favor of the A350. Qantas cited that the aircraft’s Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines have proven reliable over two years of service with several international airlines.
In addition, Airbus has shown a willingness to add an additional fuel tank and increase the model’s maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) to accommodate the new routes. There are currently no aircraft in production that is capable of flying nonstop over such distances with a full cabin.
The decision comes a month after Qantas rejected both manufacturers’ proposals, and represents for Boeing’s 777X program a substantial blow.
Unlike the A350-1000, which is already in service with several airlines, the 777X has never flown, and its first flight has already been pushed back to next year.
Boeing also reported that it would be suspending land testing for the 777X in September. To make matters worse for the manufacturer, progress was further set back when its fuselage fractured during a stress test in November.
The tentative contract serves as a crucial win for Airbus, which has significantly lagged behind Boeing in the widebody market. However, several hurdles remain for Qantas.
Agreements still need to be made with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) in order for crews to be able to operate beyond 20 hours non-stop.