Earlier today, Qantas revealed that it was delaying ambitious plans to commence non-stop flights between Syndey and Melbourne to Europe and the east coast of the United States. Codenamed Project Sunrise, the Australian flag-carrier had eyed early 2023 for the first 19+ hour direct flights to start service but now, the very future of those plans look increasingly uncertain.
Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce told reporters Tuesday that the airline had asked for a further extension on a deadline from aircraft manufacturer Airbus to place an order for up to 12 A350-1000’s. The airline had already been given an extension to March to hammer out a deal with its pilots and get regulatory approval before a final ‘go/no go’ decision.
As Qantas announced sweeping capacity cuts and a decision to ground 10 of its 12 A380 superjumbos, Joyce revealed that Airbus still hasn’t responded to its request. No final decision will now be made until at least September.
Coincidentally, the grim update from Qantas came within 24-hours of rumours emerging that British Airways was eyeing up its own direct flights between London and Melbourne. That came in the form of anonymous pilot sources at the Heathrow-based carrier who noted that the on-board airport navigation system on its Airbus A350’s had recently been loaded with maps for Melbourne Tullamarine.
British Airways has already taken delivery of five A350’s out of a total of 18 it has on order. But just because BA has the same aircraft that Qantas plans to use, doesn’t mean the airline is good to go.
Qantas had planned to add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required for Sunrise routes, so British Airways would also have to negotiate changes to its own order. There’s also been criticism of BA’s dense cabin configuration on its A350’s – something else that would need to be resolved.
It’s been 14-years since British Airways last served Melbourne, ending its flights in 2006. Flights to Brisbane and Perth were wiped from BA’s route map the year prior. British Airways does, however, remain the only European airline to serve Australia with a one-stop daily service to Syndey via Singapore.
The outgoing chief executive of British Airways’ parent company has previously said he would like to see the airline expand back into Melbourne but discounted direct flights from London. “Personally, the idea of sitting on an aircraft for 21 hours to get from Heathrow to Sydney, I don’t know, it just doesn’t appeal to me,” Willie Walsh said in 2018.
Then there’s the fact that European safety regulators don’t allow pilots or cabin crew to operate flights any longer than 18-hours. That being said, British Airways will soon find itself with a new aviation regulator when the UK leaves the European Union so a change in rules could be made.
For now, there seems to be more questions than answers. Don’t expect direct flights from London to Melbourne anytime soon.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.