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Australian flag carrier Qantas is moving one step closer to its goal of operating the world’s first commercial nonstop flights from both London (LHR) and New York (JFK) to Sydney (SYD). The carrier announced on Thursday that it was set to commence three test flights on these routes — albeit, without paying passengers.

Qantas is set to receive three more 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft from Boeing’s Seattle production line this year in October, November and December. Although the aircraft can comfortably make the delivery journey to Australia without stopping — especially without the weight of passengers or cargo — the Flying Kangaroo has a novel way of delivering the new planes to Australia while assisting its long-term ‘Project Sunrise‘ at the same time.

The aircraft will detour to London (LHR) once and New York (JFK) twice to then simulate nonstop flights to Sydney (SYD). No commercial airline has ever flown from New York to Sydney nonstop, and it will only be the second time an airline has flown from London to Sydney nonstop. The first being 30 years ago when Qantas received its first Boeing 747-400.

While Qantas’ new 787 Dreamliner aircraft technically have the range to make these ultra-long-haul flights nonstop, Qantas will have a maximum of just 40 people on board (including crew) to minimize weight on these special research flights. Those on board, who will mostly be Qantas employees, will be fitted with wearable technology devices to monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement and inflight entertainment to assess impact on health, wellbeing and body clock. The data will be analyzed by science and medical experts at Australia’s Charles Perkins Centre as part of the ongoing investment into Project Sunrise.

Qantas has been working on this strategy for several years under the name ‘Project Sunrise’. The goal? To work with aircraft manufacturers to develop planes that can comfortably fly farther than the current longest routes.

The airline’s longest-range aircraft currently is the Boeing 787-9, which it uses on its longest commercial route — a 9,000-mile, 17+ hour marathon between London (LHR) and Perth (PER). But it’s a farther almost 1,500 miles for the aircraft to fly to the East Coast city of Sydney (SYD), the airline’s biggest hub with similar distances to other major hubs in Melbourne (MEL) and Brisbane (BNE).

Qantas 787 Dreamliner. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)

The route from New York to the East Coast of Australia is slightly shorter, at just under 10,000 miles each way. Notably, it’s still longer than the world’s current longest flight, which is Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR service from Singapore (SIN) to Newark (EWR).

Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO, has explained the need for this research, saying, “Flying non-stop from the East Coast of Australia to London and New York is truly the final frontier in aviation, so we’re determined to do all the groundwork to get this right. No airline has done this kind of dedicated research before and we’ll be using the results to help shape the cabin design, inflight service and crew roster patterns for Project Sunrise. We’ll also be looking at how we can use it to improve our existing long-haul flights.”

Qantas 787 Business Class. (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

So how far away is Qantas from claiming the world’s longest flights and selling tickets on these more than 10,000-mile marathon journeys? It will still be a few years away as right now, commercial aircraft cannot make the range fully loaded with passengers and cargo. Qantas has been working with both Boeing and Airbus to design planes that can complete the longer-than-ever-before flights.

Qantas has stated that it will make a decision on which aircraft manufacturer will provide the planes needed for Project Sunrise by the end of this year, though it is likely to be either a longer-haul version of the Airbus A350 or the new Boeing 777X.

The flights from New York and London to Sydney will each take around 19 hours, subject to wind and weather conditions. After each of the test flights in October, November and December, the aircraft will be deployed into scheduled Qantas service.

Featured photo courtesy of Qantas. 

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