Qantas has today announced plans to carry out a series of special research flights for its eagerly anticipated Project Sunrise services that it has dubbed the “final frontier in aviation”. In the next few years, the airline hopes to launch direct flights between Sydney and London and New York – what would be the longest flights in the world.
The approximately 19-hour flights would just pip a Singapore Airlines service between Singapore and New York City which currently holds the record as the world’s longest flight.
The special test flights will have just 40 people onboard, including crew and mostly made up of Qantas employees, to simulate what Project Sunrise flights would be like. Those on board will be hooked up to wearable tech and will be monitored by researchers from the Charles Perkins Centre to see what affect these flights could have on both passengers and crew.
Along with monitoring sleep patterns, the researchers will also look at food and beverage consumption, and the effect that lighting, physical movement and inflight entertainment can have on health and wellbeing.
Rather than operating flights just for the sake of these tests, Qantas will be re-routing the delivery flights of three brand new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners that are set to be delivered in the next few months. Instead of flying empty from the Boeing factory near Seattle, the new aircraft will position to London or New York and then complete the flight to Sydney.
No commercial airline has ever flown direct from New York to Australia, although Qantas has once flown a non-stop from London to Sydney in 1989. That special flight marked the entry into service of the Boeing 747-400 but to make it possible there were just 23 people on board and internal fittings had to be stripped back to give the aircraft enough range.
“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,” explained Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce.
“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.”
Joyce said the airline intends to choose its preferred aircraft for Project Sunrise flights by the end of this year. Both Airbus and Boeing have put forward pitches but doubt has emerged about Boeing’s ability to deliver an aircraft after it confirmed it would be delaying the development of an extended version of its brand new 777X.
Of course, there’s even the chance that Project Sunrise might not actually takeoff at all. Joyce cautioned: “There’s plenty of enthusiasm for Sunrise, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. This is ultimately a business decision and the economics have to stack up.”