Has Airbus already won Qantas’ Project Sunrise?

Airbus are having quite possibly – and quite wisely aren’t celebrating it out loud – their biggest year ever over Boeing.

With Boeing in crisis over the 737MAX and ongoing issues with the 787 Charleston plant, delayed engines and flight testing for the 777-8/9 it had to make another announcement yesterday.

777-9’s under construction

Boeing is formally delaying the long range 777-8/9 programme – and the 777-8 generally. This comes just weeks before Airbus is set to reveal the A350-1000ULR that’s widely tipped to be its solution to Qantas’ Project Sunrise.

Qantas wants to fly non-stop to London and New York from Sydney and Melbourne. Both flights will need an aircraft capable of carrying a viable passenger load while flying 11,000+ miles non stop.

It’s been done – in a nearly empty over-fuelled 747-400 some years ago, but only now is it becoming viable.

The A350-900ULR already flies the Singapore-JFK route, but with only 161 seats in premium economy and business only. The A350-1000ULR should be able to deliver the range and a passenger mix that makes the grade for a nearly 24 hour flight gate to gate.

If Boeing can’t make it happen – and Airbus are way ahead, it looks like they may have won a unique prize.

The market for viable Australia routes is suppressed by distance and the need for a stopover. It makes flights that might work if permanently high load factors are available viable, but where they fall below 90% it’s not worth it.

An A35K-ULR would enable all of those airlines who gave up on Australia years back- KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic for example – never mind BA who are the only European carrier flying there – a means of return with direct flights.

Airbus yesterday, thanks to the problems at Boeing, may have just leapt ahead in the long-range race.

It could also potentially open up New Zealand to direct flights in future.

It’s true that high volumes of such aircraft are unlikely. The global market probably doesn’t exceed 60 aircraft, if that. But it’s 60 $400m aircraft with low discounts and that’s a chunk of revenue anyone would want. Emirates and Qatar will also be likely contenders, never mind South African, Singapore and other airlines who’ll have a viable means of reaching places they never dreamed of with direct flights before.