Alan Joyce, the chief executive of Australian flag carrier Qantas says that post-COVID he expects there to be high demand for passengers to take a 17,750 kilometre, 19-hour direct flight between Sydney and London, along with similar flight times between Sydney and New York and between Melbourne and London and New York.
Qantas was just weeks away from ordering $4.39 billion worth of brand new planes to operate these kinds of routes when the pandemic struck Australia hard in March 2020.
The airline immediately put the order for 12 new Airbus A350-1000 jets on ice but Joyce says in a recent interview that the business case for what it calls Project Sunrise is even stronger now than what it was before the pandemic.
“We are still committed to our plan to operate non-stop flights from Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York. When COVID hit we were just weeks away from ordering the aircraft. We had picked the Airbus A350 as our preferred aircraft and we’d negotiated a deal with airports and had done a deal with our pilots,” Joyce said.
“We think post-COVID the demand for direct long-haul flights will be extremely high. The business case is stronger now because people are going to want more direct flying,” he continued. “We think it’s going to be one of the big moments in Qantas history.”
Qantas’ gain, however, will be someone else’s loss and Joyce believes airlines that operate hub and spoke models, like Emirates and Singapore Airlines are going to lose customers off of the popularity for direct ultra-long-haul flights.
But when Qantas might actually have an opportunity to resurrect Project Sunrise is anyone’s guess.
Australia has some of the toughest border restrictions in the world and the Morrison administration has shown no interest in easing those restrictions or even indicating a timeline for when restrictions might be lifted.
Joyce is still working on an assumption that regularly scheduled international flights by December 2021 which would coincide with Australia’s planned vaccine rollout. Government ministers, however, have said it might not be until mid-2022 at the earliest that travel bans are revoked.
“We don’t want Australia left behind when the rest of the world opens up. It is likely Australia will open up more travel bubbles with other countries before all international routes are opened back up,” Joyce says of the government’s current international travel policy.
And when international travel does get going again, Joyce is sticking with his demand that passengers are fully vaccinated. “Airlines also have a duty of care to provide a safe environment for our customers and crew,” Joyce explains, saying that polls suggest 90 per cent of Qantas customers agree.
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.