Qantas has confirmed an order for 12 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, which will enable it to launch nonstop flights from Sydney to cities including New York and London by the end of 2025.
As we reported yesterday, the A350-1000s are part of a major Airbus order which also includes 20 A321 XLRs and 20 A220-300s, as well as purchase rights for a further 94 aircraft through to at least 2034.
Qantas first announced Project Sunrise back in 2017, and had hoped to launch nonstop flights between the east coast of Australia and cities including London, Paris and New York by 2022.
But the Covid-19 pandemic led to significant delays to these plans – indeed in May 2020 it was reported the carrier had indefinitely postponed the project.
Qantas said that the new A350-1000s would be configured with a total of just 238 seats across economy, premium economy, business and first class, “with more than 40 per cent of the cabin dedicated to premium seating”.
First class will offer a separate bed, recliner lounge chair and personal wardrobe, while a new premium economy seat will have a seat pitch of 40 inches, and a new economy seat will offer a seat pitch of 33 inches. There will also be a “next-generation” business class suite.
The carrier said that the aircraft cabin would be “specially configured for improved comfort on long flights”, including a “wellbeing zone” in the centre of the plane, “designed for movement, stretching and hydration”.
Qantas already operates nonstop flights between Perth and London (and temporarily from Darwin), using its B787 Dreamliner aircraft.
Commenting on the news Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said:
“New types of aircraft make new things possible. That’s what makes today’s announcement so significant for the national carrier and for a country like Australia where air travel is crucial.
“Throughout our history, the aircraft we’ve flown have defined the era we’re in. The 707 introduced the jet age, the 747 democratised travel and the A380 brought a completely new level of comfort. The A350 and Project Sunrise will make any city just one flight away from Australia.
“It’s the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance. As you’d expect, the cabin is being specially designed for maximum comfort in all classes for long-haul flying.
“The A320s and A220s will become the backbone of our domestic fleet for the next 20 years, helping to keep this country moving. Their range and economics will make new direct routes possible, including serving regional cities better.
“These newer aircraft and engines will reduce emissions by at least 15 per cent if running on fossil fuels, and significantly better when run on Sustainable Aviation Fuel. This order brings us closer to our commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Project Sunrise will be carbon neutral from day one.
“We have come through the other side of the pandemic a structurally different company. Our domestic market share is higher and the demand for direct international flights is even stronger than it was before Covid. The business case for Project Sunrise has an internal rate of return in the mid-teens.
“The Board’s decision to approve what is the largest aircraft order in Australian aviation is a clear vote of confidence in the future of the Qantas Group. Our strategy for these aircraft will see us generate significant benefits for those who make it possible – our people, our customers and our shareholders.
“The phasing of this order means it can be funded within our debt range and through earnings, while still leaving room for shareholder returns in line with our financial framework.”