Qantas’s plan to fly non-stop between eastern Australian cities, London and New York within years could very well have wings – but it may be costly for regular travellers, aviation experts say.
The airline’s services from Sydney to London and New York, and Melbourne to London, would take up to 21 hours, but CEO Alan Joyce believes his company can make it happen.
Qantas pitched the concept of what it has dubbed Project Sunrise in mid-2017, but Mr Joyce on Tuesday revealed the finer details, which would see passengers aboard direct flights in 2022.
Mr Joyce revealed he’d already thrown down the challenge to aircraft companies Airbus and Boeing to create a plane with the technology to tackle the long-haul flights.
“… They both put huge teams behind it. And we now believe that there’s an aircraft capable of doing it,” Mr Joyce told the Amazon Web Services Summit Innovation Day in Sydney.
He said he hoped Qantas would be able to submit an order to have the aircraft made, by the end of this year.
Who’s taking flight
While aviation experts The New Daily spoke to saw no problems with the feasibility of Qantas’s plans, they agreed it would be mostly business travellers who would fork out for the flights.
Monash University’s Greg Bamber said because of the amount of fuel the planes would be required to carry, ticket costs would be pushed beyond the reaches of the everyday Australian traveller.
Strategic Aviation Solutions chairman Neil Hansford agreed, and said the routes would appeal most to those travelling to the US and Europe purely for business purposes.
“Flying direct to London is not going to be everyone’s route of choice,” Mr Hansford said.
“I’m not sure if the economics will favour people in economy [class]. I think it will have more emphasis towards people in business class.
“Qantas is the company that invented business class, it was made in Australia to satisfy the market. Traditionally, when we wanted to do business, we have to go a bloody long way.”
In March last year, Qantas made aviation history when it successfully completed the first non-stop flight between Australia and London, at a 17-hour flight time between Perth and Heathrow Airport.
The return price for the route hovers between $2400 and $2600, compared with tickets about $1800 for stop-over flights on the same dates. It’s likely direct services from Melbourne and Sydney would cost more than this.
The challenges that Qantas must overcome go beyond attracting passengers: The airline must also cater for the extended on-duty hours for cabin staff.
Professor Bamber said flight attendants and pilots would likely be rostered on 24-hour shifts to cover the flight time, plus surplus on and off-loading duties at either end.
This means, Professor Bamber said, significant amounts of the plane must be rededicated to providing adequate rest areas for staff, plus legal requirements such as negotiating new enterprise bargaining agreements.
He also suggested the planes are likely to carry dedicated lounge and gym areas where passengers can “stretch their legs”, and a reliance on bunk bed and sleeper-styled seating arrangements, over traditional recliners.
Mr Hansford also raised the quandary of passenger comfort, suggesting the airline needed to investigate the possibility of introducing specified “change rooms” – although on-board showers would be the ideal situation.
“People are going to be sitting in their own sweat for 20 hours,” he said.
Mr Hansford does not believe the aircrafts will carry as many snazzy features as has been talked about, and that developers will instead focus on the health of its occupants, introducing and advancing air pressure measures to lessen the effects of jet lag, and lighting that syncs with people’s natural sleep cycles.
As for the technology involved, Mr Hansford is placing his bets on the final aircraft running on two engines, with fuel efficiency at the forefront of design.
Despite its initial costings for those flying, Mr Hansford still predicts the ultra-long-haul flights will have a positive impact on the aviation industry.
“It’s just going to make travel more and more available,” he said.