Qantas’ first non-stop Project Sunrise test flight from New York to Sydney touched down yesterday morning to much fanfare.
After leaving New York at 9pm on Friday night (local time), QF7879 flew for 19 hours and 16 minutes before touching down just after 7am on Sunday morning. On board the research flight were four on-duty pilots, two off-duty pilots and six cabin crew. Other passengers included Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, Sunrise host David Koch, researchers and six volunteer passengers, making a total of 49 people on board.
Although the Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner operates the airline’s ultra-long Perth-London flights, the aircraft does not have the range to operate from New York to Sydney – an even further distance – with a full payload.
Qantas plans to use the data collected on this flight to aid its “Project Sunrise” case for regular, non-stop flights between Australia’s east coast, New York and London. However, it first needs to overcome several hurdles. One of these is the lack of an existing aircraft with sufficient range – although Boeing and Airbus have already been working towards a solution.
As flight times of over 20 hours are not currently commonplace, Qantas will also need to prove to government regulators and unions that such crew duty times are safe. In spite of this, the Unite union claims that Qantas retracted permission for the Australian flight attendants’ union to access data from the test flights. Following a dispute, the union alleges that Qantas was forced to roster UK-based cabin crew for the test flight at the last minute.
AFF member HockeyMonkey happened to be in the American Airlines Flagship Lounge on Friday evening, prior to boarding Qantas’ current QF12 service from New York to Sydney via Los Angeles. This is where passengers of QF7879 began their journey.
In the JFK American flagship lounge right now and there is a Qantas special guest area set aside for the passengers of the Project Sunrise test flight that departs tonight.
A well-executed PR exercise
Qantas claims that its direct New York-Sydney flight was for research – which is true – but this was just as much a PR exercise designed to generate maximum media attention. Considering the amount of global airtime Qantas has received over the weekend – including here – it has worked.
It’s no accident that David Koch (the host of Channel Seven’s Sunrise program) and other journalists were on board. It’s also no accident that all of the passengers sat in Business class.
The real test will be cattle class
Qantas has publicly stated that it wants its ultra-long haul flights to New York and London to have four cabin classes. Obviously, the journalists and frequent flyers that flew Business class at Qantas’ expense are going to say positive things about their experience. But the real test will be how passengers cope in a full Economy class cabin for 20+ hours.
If Qantas is serious about its research, it will test this scenario in one of the two remaining test flights. It is unlikely the media will be invited to that test!
AFF moderator JessicaTam flew on the inaugural Qantas flight from London to Perth in Economy, and found it incredibly uncomfortable.
The next test flight will depart from London Heathrow Airport to Sydney in November. This will actually be the second time a Qantas aircraft has flown non-stop from London to Sydney. The first time was in 1989, when Qantas took delivery of its first Boeing 747-400, VH-OJA. The aircraft flew without passengers from London to Sydney without stopping, then went on to serve in the Qantas fleet until 2015. Today, VH-OJA can be found at the HARS museum in Wollongong.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Qantas Sunrise special event tonight