Qantas Plans Project Sunrise Test Flights

Qantas Plans Project Sunrise Test Flights
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce with Captain Lisa Norman

Qantas will operate non-stop flights from both London and New York to Sydney, as it prepares to make a final decision on Project Sunrise later this year.

Project Sunrise refers to Qantas’ goal to operate non-stop commercial flights from the Australian east coast to both New York and London by 2022. Qantas already began flying non-stop from Perth to London in March 2018, but there is currently no aircraft capable of operating between Sydney and London profitably with a full planeload of passengers.

The test flights will be re-purposed delivery flights for Qantas’ next three new Boeing 787-9s, which are due to be delivered to the airline between October and December this year. There will be two flights from New York to Sydney, and another from London to Sydney. These aircraft would ordinarily fly empty from Boeing’s factory in Seattle to Australia.

To keep the weight down and make these test flights viable, there will only be around 40 passengers on each flight – mainly Qantas staff, researchers and the flight crew. No seats will be available for sale to the public.

Airbus A350 vs Boeing 777X for Project Sunrise

Although the Boeing 787-9 is currently used for Qantas’ Perth-London flights, it won’t be used for the ultra-long-haul Project Sunrise routes like Sydney-London, Melbourne-London, Sydney-New York and Brisbane-New York. Later this year, Qantas will choose either the Airbus A350-1000ULR or Boeing 777X, the latter of which is not yet in production. Qantas says that they’ve now received their “best and final offers” from both Boeing and Airbus.

The Project Sunrise aircraft will be fitted with approximately 300 seats across four classes of travel – First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce warns, however, that regulators and the airline’s crew would also need to be on board, and the economics would need to stack up, if Project Sunrise is to go ahead.

“There’s plenty of enthusiasm for Sunrise, but it’s not a foregone conclusion,” Mr Joyce said.

Flying Non-Stop from Sydney to London

So, what would a non-stop flight from Sydney to London or New York actually look like? Well, the flights would last approximately 19 hours (depending on winds, among other things) and the schedules could look something like this:

Sydney to London:

  • Sydney 20:00 – London Heathrow 06:00 (+1 day) – flight time approximately 20 hours
  • London Heathrow 12:30 – Sydney 17:30 (+1 day) – flight time approximately 19 hours

Sydney to New York:

  • Sydney 13:00 – New York 16:30 – flight time approximately 18 hours, 30 minutes
  • New York 19:30 – Sydney 06:00 (+2 days) – flight time approximately 19 hours, 30 minutes
Great circle routes from Sydney to London and New York
Great circle routes from Sydney to London and New York

As Qantas will carry almost no cargo on the Project Sunrise flights, the airline had floated the idea of fitting some of the below-deck cargo area with bunk beds, a gym or even a children’s play area. This would make these flights a little more bearable for passengers, but the airline has already dismissed the idea.

It will be exciting to see what comes of Project Sunrise. A 19-hour non-stop flight won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But others will welcome the possibility to have dinner in Sydney and then fly non-stop to London in time for breakfast the next day.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Project Sunrise: A350 or 777X?



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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]