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Qantas just made history with the first flight from Australia to Europe nonstop. It may be just a bit short, 22 miles, of the longest route in the world — which is still held by Qatar Airway’s Doha (DOH) to Auckland (AKL) — but it has required Qantas to analyze every aspect of its flight operations to make this long of a flight possible. And that’s also because the Australian flag carrier has its sights on a bigger prize than just Perth – London. As part of its so-called Project Sunrise, Qantas plans to not only take the prize for operating the longest route in the world, but launch an entire network of ultra long-haul flights.

Instead of having to route passengers through Perth — Australia’s fourth-largest city — to get to London, Qantas wants to launch nonstop flights between Sydney and London. And instead of stopping in Los Angeles, Qantas wants to fly nonstop from Sydney to New York’s JFK. Other Project Sunrise destinations include Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Paris — from Australia’s three largest cities Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Image courtesy of Qantas.

That’s great, but there is a small problem: No airplane made today can get there without stopping to refuel. To make its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners reach London from Perth without the risk of occasionally having to stop for fuel when the winds aren’t right, Qantas has gone to great lengths to reduce weight on board: for example, switching to lighter-weight tableware, developing much lighter trolley carts and even removing unnecessary cabinet doors in the galleys.

But, that’s not enough. In order to launch many of these routes, Qantas needs aircraft manufacturers to stretch the range of their longest-legged jets: The Airbus A350-900ULR and the Boeing 777-8. The Airbus is an ultra-long-range modification of the existing A350-900; Singapore Airlines will be its first operator, using it to link Singapore to New York nonstop later this year. The Boeing is a redesigned version of the current 777, complete with new engines, expected to enter service in 2020. Neither has the legs to make it to New York from Sydney — yet.

But, what about the on-board experience on these flights? I can tell you from personal experience that 17 hours in economy is a very long time — and that’s coming from someone who practically lives on a plane. For flights that would top 20 hours, even more drastic measures may needed beyond what Qantas has already done, such as creating a yoga studio in its new Perth lounge, creating a menu designed to reduce jetlag and timing the cabin lighting to reduce sickness.

That’s not all. Qantas unveiled this Tuesday what else it could do to ease the journey. And no idea is off the table. In a speech to the Aviation Club of the UK on Tuesday, CEO Alan Joyce floated some of the possibilities the airline is considering:

We are also looking at do we need and should we have four classes? Is there a new class that’s needed on the aircraft? … Could some of the freight areas we may not use [for baggage] be used as an exercise area? Could they be used for berths for people to sleep in?

For now, these are just ideas. But, as I learned from talking to Joyce, airline project managers and designers surrounding the launch of Perth-London, this is a group that’s excited about completely rethinking the passenger experience as it pushes the limits of aviation. So, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some of these “out there” ideas come to fruition.


Cabin Tour: Qantas 787-9 Business Class

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