Qantas selects Airbus A350-1000 for ‘Project Sunrise’

Computer rendering showing the A350-1000 in Qantas' livery. Image: © Airbus

Australian flag carrier Qantas has announced that it will opt for a new variant of the Airbus A350-1000 to operate its ‘Project Sunrise’ ultra-long-haul flights. The competition for the potential deal was stacked between unannounced, modified versions of the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X. The airline now plans to place an order for ‘up to’ 12 modified A350-1000 next year, once it has reached an agreement with the European aircraft manufacturer.

Qantas is currently evaluating the feasibility of ultra-long-haul flights such as non-stop routes from London and New York to Sydney. Trial versions of these routes have been operated with limited capacity test flights using the airline’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with the intent on discovering how to best sculpt the service and soft products on board such extensive flights of around 19 hours duration. The airline also claimed to be testing the effects of the flights on the human body.

Critics of the program claim that it is one large PR stunt, citing that ultra-long-haul flights already operate with durations of just over 17 hours. The announcement that Qantas has decided on the aircraft it plans to use, could mean that the plans are seriously firming up.

The proposed version of the aircraft will feature additional fuel tanks over the standard A350-1000 and also have an increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW). Cabin configurations are still yet to be announced, but it is likely that it will feature larger premium cabins and smaller economy products, as is the standard for increased range operations due to weight limitations.

The standard A350-1000 has a range of 8,700 nmi / 16,100 km, while the smaller, extended range A350-900ULR used by Singapore Airlines, specifically for its Singapore-New York (which is currently the longest non-stop commercial flight in the world) and Singapore-Los Angeles routes, has a range of 9,700 nmi / 18,000 km.

In the single-isle sector, Qantas is apparently also looking at extending the range of its network. The airline ordered 36 of the newly announced Airbus A321XLR (‘Extra Long Range’) at the Paris Air Show 2019 in June.