In 2017, Qantas announced a challenge for Boeing and Airbus to manufacture an aircraft that could fly non-stop from Syndey and Melbourne to London, which clocks in at about 9600 Nautical Miles. In terms of distance, these will be the world’s longest routes. Qantas wants the aircraft to be able to fly 300 passengers in a four-class version (First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy) as well as cargo. Known as Qantas Project Sunrise, the challenge is now coming close to fruition.
Qantas also wanted to put below deck bunk beds, a gym, children’s play area and so-on. A bit far fetched? Currently, Singapore Airlines operates the world’s longest flight between Singapore – Newark, a 9,534 miles long route with an A350ULR. It isn’t that long if you compare it with the routes which Qantas wants to add.
The routes proposed by Qantas are 400-1000 miles longer than Singapore – Newark. Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR has a premium heavy configuration of 67 business class seats and 161 premium economy seats.
The A350-900ULR has a range of 11,200 miles but with reduced capacity. So it is possible that the A350-900ULR can be further modified for extra capacity with a longer range to suit Qantas’ requirement. At the IATA AGM in Seoul, Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer confirmed that,
Both [variants] for the Sunrise requirement and in particular [the -1000]. We will fight for it [the order].
So not only the A350-900 but the A350-1000 may be offered with a ULR option. We already know that Airbus is increasing the Maximum Takeoff weight (MTOW) of the A350-1000 by 3-4 tons over and above the existing 316-ton higher MTOW in 2020. This will be the second increase in MTOW for the A350-1000. Qatar Airways’ will be taking delivery of five A350-1000 with the higher MTOW A350-1000.
According to Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker,
The ordered -1000s will be a new high-gross-weight version that Airbus has in development. The new batch will be delivered in 2020-21.
So is Airbus planning a further increase (a third one) in MTOW to give the A350-1000 enough range to operate routes under Project Sunrise?
Boeing, on the other hand, is giving Airbus a tough fight with the 777-8, more well known as the 777X. The 777-8 has a range of 8,690 miles. Boeing is also working on modifying the 777-8 to increase the range of the aircraft to meet the requirements of Project Sunrise.
Qantas’ CEO, Alan Joyce is expecting Airbus and Boeing to put in their best and final offers by August 2019 following which a decision will be made. Delivery is expected for 2022 with the first flight taking off in 2023.
Alan Joyce also confirmed that they have dropped the idea of below deck bunk beds and gym due to weight restrictions. Instead, the aircraft will have a separate area where Economy & Premium Economy passengers can stretch and exercise. He said, “Some airlines are going for bars, we’re going for health and wellbeing, which is a lot better for you!”
The aircraft will also have a completely new First class and Economy class seat. Airbus is offering two aircraft A350-900 and A350-1000 against Boeing’s 777-8.
The size of the fuselage will also have a role to play, because of Qantas wish to add amenities, and that will require space. After all, you are almost spending a day on the plane, so as many amenities, the better.