Qantas chooses the Airbus A350-1000 for Project Sunrise

Dec 13, 2019

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Qantas has selected an aircraft for Project Sunrise, its plan to start nonstop flights from Sydney to New York and London that would be the longest in the world — and it’s a win for Airbus over Boeing.

The Australian airline announced that it is working with Airbus to prepare a contract for up to 12 A350-1000s. However, it is not certain that Qantas will actually begin the flights. In a press release, the airline said it will make a final decision in March 2020 on whether to operate the routes.

“After detailed evaluation of the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350, Qantas has selected the A350-1000 as the preferred aircraft if Sunrise proceeds”, the statement read in part. “This aircraft uses the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine, which has a strong reliability record after being in service with airlines for more than two years. Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required for Sunrise routes”.

An A350-1000 twinjet passenger plane, manufactured by Airbus Group SE, takes off from the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. The biggest version of Airbus's A350 wide-body jet will make its first flight Thursday, swelling the twin-engine model's capacity and casting further doubt on the future of four-turbine planes including the manufacturer's own A380 and the Boeing Co. 747. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An A350-1000 takes off from the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (Photo by Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)

The airline has not placed any firm orders for the aircraft yet, but expects its board to come to a final decision about the purchase, and the project, in the coming months.

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Qantas’ decision on the A350 came less than a month after the carrier sent Boeing and Airbus back to the drawing board after tentatively rejecting both manufacturers’ proposals for aircraft to operate the ultra-long-haul routes.

TPG had an opportunity to take part in a Project Sunrise test flight in October, which was operated by a Boeing 787-9. That plane was not under serious consideration for the commercial flights however, since it could not fly the routes nonstop with a full load. No aircraft currently in production can, in fact.

Boeing’s contender was the still-in-development 777X, a version of the 777, which has not flown yet. The A350 has instead a record of several years in airline service, but will need to be modified to serve these proposed new Qantas missions.

Before Project Sunrise flights can take off with paying customers, likely in 2023, Qantas still has a few hurdles to clear. The airline must receive regulatory approval for the new routes, and its pilots need to agree to a new contract that allows for flights that may surpass 20 hours.

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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