Qantas officials have said that Boeing and Airbus are both vying to make modifications to their aircraft that would make 20-hour passenger flights viable, after the airline issued a challenge to the manufacturers to develop aircraft capable of flying non-stop from Sydney to London and New York.

According to the airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce, the head of Airbus recently described the project as “a bit like the space race to me, it’s a bit like getting to the moon”, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Such ultra-long-haul flights would give Qantas the crown of longest commercial flight in the world. A non-stop flight between Sydney and London would take approximately 20 hours and 20 minutes – almost three hours longer than Qatar Airways’ Doha-Auckland service, the world’s current longest commercial flight.

The airline announced its ambitions two months ago, however no passenger aircraft can currently make the journey whilst remaining viable – Boeing’s upcoming 777X and Airbus’s ultra-long-range version of its A350-900 both come close.

Joyce added that Qantas would also like to connect Melbourne and Brisbane with such ultra-long-haul destinations, while also eyeing non-stop flights to Brazil and Cape Town.

Qantas’s aim is to have the first of its ultra-long-haul flights between the Australian east coast and London and New York up and running by 2022.

The carrier’s first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner recently rolled out of the paint shop ahead of its December deployment on Qantas’s Melbourne-Los Angeles route. The aircraft is also planned to fly the airline’s upcoming Perth-London non-stop flights in March.