Qantas is operating a nonstop test flight from London to Sydney today
Qantas is continuing its ultra-long test flights today with a nonstop flight from London Heathrow (LHR) all the way to Sydney (SYD).
As part of its Project Sunrise initiative, the more than 10,500-mile flight, operated by a brand new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, is lightly loaded with just a few dozen "test subjects." They are being monitored by onboard scientists and medical experts from Charles Perkins Centre — a medical research institute affiliated with the University of Sydney — who are observing the effects of the marathon flight on things like sleep patterns, well-being and how body clocks adjust to changing so many time zones in one flight.
Rather than taking a 787 out of service for the special test flight, Qantas is using an aircraft delivered brand new from Boeing. Since the plane had to be delivered from Boeing's Seattle (SEA) production line to Qantas in Australia, the airline had a creative way of making the most of the delivery flight by routing VH-VNJ via Los Angeles, and then London to conduct the test flight. It departed just before 6 a.m. London time (1 a.m. ET) on Thursday morning, and arrives into Sydney Friday morning.
The Australian flag carrier hopes to operate commercial flights on this route within the next few years, but no fully loaded aircraft currently have the range to make the journey of more than 11,000 miles. Qantas executives have said they plan to decide by the year’s end whether to proceed with the plan. If so, the Project Sunrise routes likely would begin in 2023 as the carrier starts taking delivery of the first aircraft that would fly them.
Qantas does operate two daily flights from London to Australia — one is operated by a Dreamliner, but to the Western Australian city of Perth (PER), which is several hours closer to London than Sydney. The other Qantas flight does fly from London to Sydney, but must make a stop to refuel in Singapore (SIN). Qantas has been working closely with both Boeing and Airbus to develop aircraft capable of flying the route non-stop with paying passengers which would give both the airline and aircraft manufacturer the honor of operating the world's longest commercial flight.
This is not the first time Qantas has operated this route nonstop. Thirty years ago, to celebrate receiving its first dash-400 variant of the Boeing 747, it flew London to Sydney nonstop — also with a nearly-empty plane.
Qantas has already conducted a Project Sunrise test flight from New York (JFK) to Sydney. TPG was onboard for the grueling but unique experience — you can read all about Ben Mutzabaugh's experience here.