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Qantas takes Project Sunrise evaluation to 40,000ft

written by WOFA | October 18, 2019

Qantas will fly the Boeing 787-9 from New York to Sydney a Project Sunrise research flight. (Seth Jaworski)
Qantas will fly the Boeing 787-9 from New York to Sydney a Project Sunrise research flight. (Seth Jaworski)

Qantas’s long road towards a decision on whether to launch ultra long-haul flights from 2023 will take another step forward over the weekend, when the first of three research flights takes off from New York’s John F Kennedy Airport.

The 787-9 VH-ZNI Kookaburra operating QF7879 will carry some of Qantas’s very frequent flyers, airline staff including chief executive Alan Joyce, researchers and invited media.

It was due to take off at 2100 on Friday, October 18 (US time) and land in Sydney some 19 hours and 10 minutes later at 0710 Sunday, October 20, according to flight schedules provided by Qantas.

Qantas has scheduled a further two of these research flights – one more from New York and one from London Heathrow – between now and the end of calendar 2019 – as part of its Project Sunrise evaluation.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and Qantas Captain Lisa Norman will be on the first Project Sunrise research flight from New York to Sydney. (Seth Jaworski)
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and Qantas Captain Lisa Norman will be on the first Project Sunrise research flight from New York to Sydney. (Seth Jaworski)

During these trips, the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre will conduct passenger research with the aim of reducing jetlag using a wearable device to track movement and light exposure. Passengers will also be assessed during the flight with a test performed on a tablet, among other activities.

Meanwhile, the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity will consider the impact of these ultra long-haul flights on pilots and cabin crew.

Qantas said on Friday four pilots and six cabin crew would will be involved in the data collection. Pilots would wear an electroencephalogram (EEG) brain monitor, while a camera would be mounted in the flight deck to record “alertness cues and operational activities”.


The pilots have tested the EEG in the simulator to ensure it did not interfere with the aircraft systems and standard operations, Qantas said.

Captain Lisa Norman in the flight simulator wearing the electroencephalogram brain monitoring equipment.
Qantas Captain Lisa Norman in the flight simulator wearing the electroencephalogram brain monitoring equipment. (Qantas)
The electroencephalogram brain monitoring equipment being worn by pilots on the Project Sunrise research flight.
The electroencephalogram brain monitoring equipment being worn by pilots on the Project Sunrise research flight. (Qantas)

What is not being assessed is the aircraft itself, given the 787-9 is not a candidate to operate these flights from 2023, should Qantas choose to proceed with Project Sunrise and make an aircraft order.

Instead, that evaluation is being conducted back on the ground based on the best and final offers from Airbus and Boeing that were submitted earlier in 2019.

While it has been known for some time Boeing has pitched its still-in-development 777-8X for Project Sunrise, Airbus had, up until recently, been more tight-lipped about its proposal to Qantas.

Until this week, when the Toulouse-headquartered airframer revealed in interviews with various outlets that it had put forward the A350-1000 for Qantas’s consideration.

Airbus head of A350 marketing Marisa Lucas-Ugena said the company was working on tweaks to the baseline A350-1000 that had 8,700nm range when configured to carry 375 passengers.

“The reason why we are going with the -1000 is because it is the airplane that is most suitable for the combination of super long range and a significant payload that Qantas would like to carry on this super critical route,” Lucas-Ugena told Australian Aviation in an interview from Toulouse on Wednesday (Australian time).

“From our point, this is the platform that is closer to be able to accomplish that mission.”

New York-Sydney measured 8,646nm, according to the Great Circle Mapper, while London-Sydney was 9,188nm.

Chief executive Alan Joyce with the Airbus A350-1000 when the aircraft visited Sydney in June 2018. (Bernie Proctor)
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce with the Airbus A350-1000 when the aircraft visited Sydney in June 2018. (Bernie Proctor)

Lucas-Ugena said it was not possible to go into any great detail what changes and modifications were being made to the exisiting A350-1000 to give the aircraft some additional performance “because Qantas hasn’t made a decision yet”.

“But what I can tell you is it is an airplane that is pretty much the baseline airplane and the things that we will have to tweak are pretty much in line with what we’ve done for the A350-900ULR,” Lucas-Ugena said.

“One of the key things on this project is that we can offer an airplane that can do the mission in terms of range and in terms of payload and that we have an airplane that is flying today in a very reliable manner and the things that we need to do to make that mission are going to be available by the time Qantas would like to put this in place, would like to start operating this.

“The key thing is that it is the most modern airplane in this category and it will be more technologically advanced than the 777 even when that that airplane gets certified and gets in service.”

When developing the A350-900ULR used by Singapore Airlines to operate the world’s longest flight between the city-state and New York Newark, Airbus modified the layout of the piping and valves in the fuel tanks, introduced larger winglets and a slight twist to the wing, as well as changes to the flap fairing and belly fairing.

Asked if these sorts of changes were similar to what was being worked on for the A350-1000, Lucas-Ugena said: “Yes, along those lines.”

“Knowing that the -1000 baseline already has some of the things that we incorporated on the -900 because we learned all the lessons on the -900 and the A350-1000 getting into service was already an enhanced version of it,” Lucas-Ugena said.

Earlier in 2019, Airbus outlined it was working on increasing the maximum takeoff weight of the A350-1000 to 319 tonnes, from 316 tonnes currently.

In addition to operating these ultra long-haul services, Lucas-Ugena said the A350-1000 was a “very capable airplane” that could operate anywhere in the network.

“That is the beauty of the A350, both the -900 and -100. Both the versatility that it offers and the fact that it is extremely efficient and capable,” Lucas-Ugena said.

It was also an aircraft that was already in service with British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic and therefore would be available to Qantas in 2023.

F-WLXV, as flight AIB107, departs Sydney on its demonstration flight. (Victor Pody)
F-WLXV, as flight AIB107, departs Sydney on its demonstration flight. (Victor Pody)

That sits in contrast with the 777-8X, which has an unknown entry-into-service date after Boeing in August pushed back the timetable for the program from 2022 to an unspecified future date.

An artist's impression of the Boeing 777-8X. (Boeing)
An artist’s impression of the Boeing 777-8X, a Project Sunrise contender. (Boeing)

Despite the 777-8X – which the Boeing website lists as having up to 8,730nm of range and a passenger capacity of 384 passengers in a two-class layout – not being ready in time for Project Sunrise, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said in August Boeing had submitted a “compelling offer” to deal with the delay to the program.

And Boeing Commercial Airplanes senior managing director for marketing Darren Hulst said the Chicago-headquartered airframer was continuing to develop the specific timing of when the 777-8X would enter service.

“Our timetable on the 777-8 obviously is still under consideration,” Hulst told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

“I would say we are absolutely committed to the 777-8 as a product and as a model but it is really more of when the combination of the demand from our customers and how it aligns with the design and production system for the 777-X as a program.

“We will continue to develop when specific timing is but absolutely committed to what it can do and working with Qantas to make sure we have a solution that fits their needs as well.”

VIDEO: A Qantas video looking at the work behind the three research flights as part of the Project Sunrise evaluation.


  • Rod Pickin


    I have no doubts that the skills and expertise of the QF family will achieve the coming ULR flts ex JFK and LHR to SYD in full and it will be a massive feather in the caps of all concerned. I am happy to be corrected but commercially in the short to medium term can you seriously think that a daily direct SYD JFK SYD or even just JFK SYD will be a viable proposition and effective cost/usage of any aircraft currently at or near production/delivery, I think not. At best, I think it would be a niche service only to coincide with the Sydney New York financial/diplomatic/political arena and maybe then only twice a week. As for SYD LHR SYD direct, to me at first the flights would be for extreme interest and must go urgent situations only, sure it would be an option but in the long term I doubt positive public acceptance of such a flight. I note the recent announcement by Air New Zealand as to the ECY config on their ULR flts, clearly they have listened and the travelling public will be impressed with the ECY options available. I also note that recently the Manchester United football team and their support crew travelled direct ex Manchester to Perth on a chartered B777-200LR. To me,it would be commercially and financially beneficial for QF to investigate chartering such an aircraft for say a twice/weekly service directly to and from the UK, maybe even to New York as well and operate it like they did with say Martinair or similar.Crewing (nos of), feeding and watering of the customers, galley capabilities and of course the health of all concerned,to me, well there are many questions to be answered. Someone once said, hasten slowly.

    • James


      Based on the commitment that Qantas is putting into this, plus how much they’ve been talking about wanting to do this for years, I’d say there is a massive demand for it.

      They use LA because it’s reachable easily from the east coast of Australia. How many of those pax continue onto other places in the USA? Especially along the US East Coast? Probably heaps.

      I’m betting the service will be immensely popular.

    • Scott


      I have to disagree.
      There was a lot of speculation as to whether Qantas could make Perth-London viable, it now has the highest load factor on their entire international network. A daily service from an even bigger city (Sydney, Melbourne) to either destination will no doubt pack them in as well..

  • Ray E


    “The weekend felt like it flew by!”

  • Rodney Marinkovic


    Ultra long distance fligh is most achivement since time of Kingsford Smith. In ten days will be my eighty tird return flight between Australia and Serbia in last fifty years. As passanger I do missing that first ULF
    berween JFK and SYD. All so vas my privildge to flay on firstt flight on board of A380, with Nancy Bird Walton and Alan Joyce. As retired seventi three year yung, still my belif and msybe chance to be on B787 Dreamliner
    On flight to London or Newyork. With over 7.000 hours flights as pasanger maybe I am not far to be qualifyed . Qantas is far away, exept in
    my memory and heart.
    Rodney Marinkovic Kings Park 2148 NSW.

  • PaulE


    Rod. You make some very valid points here. Firstly, currently a daily connecting flight from LAX to JFK is a 787-9 which seats 236 pax and with 3 flights feeding into it. It does seem difficult to imagine that a 300 passenger plane daily from SYD could be viable. Perhaps 3/week could work to start with.Secondly, the bottom line for economy passengers has to be the ability to move around both in the seat and the cabin.

  • Craigy


    I think these direct flights will be popular and will achieve load factors similar if not better than the MEL – PTH – LHR route. The people who I have spoken to have said that the long hours in the aircraft was not an issue for them which supports why there are high load factors.

    The compelling offer Boeing has made sounds interesting. According to Flightglobal, Boeing have offered the B779 as an interim aircraft until the B778 is ready. I wonder what kind of compensation Boeing will pay for higher fuel consumption due to a heavier aircraft and other costs.

    Based on the comments made by Airbus in the past, I have previously suggested that Airbus would offer the A350-1000 as their solution. Singapore Airlines may well be interested in what has been offered to Qantas.

  • Well it,is a long time to stay elevated for such a length.
    I have no doubt that either or the two Boeing or Airbus can and will meet the challenge.
    The othe challenge of course is keeping the human cargo,in good condition without having to call on amdrug induced journey.
    Little research, unaware as I am, has been made as to the value of music, on long haul journeys.
    A point to consider in the elevation of the spirit.
    Up at Angels 40 with a choir of Angelic voices may work better that caviar and vintage Krug?
    Thank you.

  • Red Cee


    I think both routes from SYD and MEL will be a success. As PER to LHR has been such a success, it has been a great precedent.

  • Graham.H


    Sadly, I would expect that Qantas will most likely choose the B787-10 as the winner, the commonality with their other Dreamliners suggests this, but I would prefer to see the A350-1000.

Comments are closed.


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