Qantas is set to face the next stage of its 2022 requirement for Project Sunrise, the demand for an aircraft that can fly non-stop from Sydney Kingsford Smith to London Heathrow.
There are just two contenders the A350 and the new 777-8/9. Each has its advantages and Qantas is being fairly open that some seriously novel concepts are being suggested to make the day-long flight bearable for passengers.
There’s growing acceptance that it’s going to be a large heavy aircraft. In order to make the most money, it’s weight that really matters. In that alone it’s already looking like the Boeing 777-9 is the looser. Airbus is claiming that a fully loaded A350 weighs less than an unloaded 777-9.
Weight is everything. The heavier anything is, the more power it takes to move it, more power requires more fuel to ensure it can make its range target, which weighs more, and every kilo of fuel takes a percentage of its own weight to lift itself off the ground and move it. The fuel burn curve is obviously at its lowest efficiency at take off and climb, and the more fuel burnt lightens the weight, making the end of the flight vastly more efficient than the start.
Passengers are not going to be able to sit still for 24 hours, they’re not going to want to sit and watch movies for 24 hours. They’re going to need at least three sets of decent catered meals – a weight that never changes for the duration of the flight as even when the food and drink is consumed it never leaves the aircraft, absorbed by humans or into the on board waste systems, a closed loop environment until landing.
Then there are flight crew requirements, it’s going to take at least 30% more crew to man one of these aircraft and cycle rest patterns. Three sets of pilots are a minimum as I understand it. That mans bigger rest areas, away from passengers.
The solution to some of these problems lies in the cargo holds. They won’t be cargo, or at the least that will be a minimal operational concern.
Lower deck bed capsules, booked in advance, a lightweight gym/exercise area, and potential communal meeting place are all seriously being considered, along with bigger, better bathrooms and a shower. Some of these aren’t new, because the A380 was full of promise in this area and for the most part, never delivered as airlines didn’t see the need.
What is new is the potential for VR gaming headsets with intra-seat connectivity, children’s play areas, with an on-board child minder, and a number of suggestions the airline says are truly imaginative.
The direct flight range is 10,753 statute miles (that’s 9,188 nautical miles or 17,016km) – and an aircraft will need a +10% margin above that. Flight times are estimated on the SYD-LHR leg to be around 20-22 hours because you’re flying against the jet stream, and around 20-21 hours on the return leg.
Personally, my opinion is that Airbus can deliver this sooner, more cheaply and are well ahead in the development stakes. However, Boeing could decide to do a ground up design for the market, which European airlines will be eyeing very closely.
British Airways would almost certainly want the aircraft that could make this route viable, they’re the only European airline still flying to Australia via Singapore which takes 22hrs 40mins. KLM, Lufthansa, Air France would all like to see a viable way of making it happen. Then there’s the New Zealand route that is entirely serviced by Air New Zealand to Heathrow via LAX. It would bring that route back into viability for BA and others. Project Sunrise goes far beyond just what Qantas wants and Airbus and Boeing know it. That’s why they’re looking to make it happen. Ten aircraft for Qantas is the least of their worries, it’s the dozens of other potential sales that keep them interested.
Qantas is about to be presented with the two manufacturers ideas, they’ll then decided what they want, and Airbus and Boeing will come back with a price. From then Qantas will have a couple of months to decide, determine the number of aircraft and make an order. By this time in 2020, we should all know who won what could be the defining aircraft type of the next 30 years.
Even then it won’t be the end for both types. Whoever wins, the others aircraft might suit another airline better, but have no doubt, in-service experience and proof of concept is vital, and the winner will have a huge advantage for years to come.