Qantas says it will be ready to fly passengers directly from Sydney and Melbourne to London, as well as Sydney to New York non-stop, by the end of the year.
The airline’s CEO Alan Joyce says he has challenged plane manufacturers to build a plane capable of a 21-hour journey and now believes there is an aircraft capable of the task.
The long haul project, dubbed Project Sunrise, threw up complications for the airline including regulations that limit the length of a single flight for a pilot as well as passenger entertainment and health.
But Mr Joyce said it was a vital step in the airline’s growth to make the world’s longest flight path a reality.
“For the future of Qantas, what’s the next big thing that we have to do,” he said at an Amazon innovation conference in Sydney today.
“And for the next decade, we think it is the ability to fly from Sydney to London non-stop, Melbourne to London non-stop, and Sydney to New York non-stop.”
The flight from the two major Australian cities to London will take 21 hours and 19 hours from Sydney to New York.
Mr Joyce said leading plane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus responded to the challenge.
“I wrote notes to the CEO of Airbus, the CEO of Boeing and said ‘we want you to help develop an aircraft … can you do it by 2022?” he said.
“The reaction of businesses was huge — Airbus said it was a bit like the space race, the race to the moon; that’s how they’re treating it in their organisation.”
Qantas launched its Perth to London direct flight last year, which takes 17 hours.
“We started Perth-London last year, and it has really given us confidence with this,” Mr Joyce said.
“We got $100 million of free publicity. It got the world’s imagination … it had the highest customer satisfaction rating after a year of any route on our network, and it’s been the most successful launch of a new route.”
Mr Joyce said it was important for the airline to expand on that capability to connect Australia with the rest of the world and make the “flying kangaroo” a world-leading travel service.
“We think it’s a unique idea for Qantas, we think we can do something really special with it, and we think it will revolutionise aircraft transportation,” he said.
“We now believe there’s an aircraft capable of doing that.”
Mr Joyce also used the conference to share news the airline had developed flight-planning software, called Constellation, with Sydney University, which analyses paths and weather data to plot the most economical journey.
The software was launched last year and is hoped to improve flight paths by 1-2 per cent, which will save the airline $40 million in fuel costs a year.
Mr Joyce said a flight to Sydney to Santiago will save one tonne of fuel using Constellation.