In 2017, now a lifetime ago in aviation, Qantas set Airbus and Boeing a challenge.
They were asked to design an aircraft capable of breaking one of the last frontiers of civil aviation: non-stop flights between London Heathrow and the East Coast of Australia.
Five years, a lot of PR hype, and a global pandemic later, Qantas has confirmed it has ordered 12 Ultra Long Range Airbus A350-1000 aircraft capable of flying from London Heathrow to Sydney non-stop.
This will cut the journey time from London to Sydney from 23 hours to around 20 hours.
The first aircraft are expected to be delivered between 2025 and 2028. This is some 90 years after the first passenger flights between the UK and Australia which took 12 and half days.
The Airbus A350-1000 Aircraft
Qantas’ Airbus A350-1000 aircraft will accommodate 238 passengers across four classes of travel.
This will include 6 First Suites, 52 Business Suites, 40 premium economy seats and 140 economy seats. Premium economy and economy passengers will benefit from a 40″ and 33″ seat pitch respectively.
Qantas has released CGI renders of the proposed First Suite as well as a dedicated “Wellbeing Zone”.
The First Suite will include a separate bed and lounge chair, a personal wardrobe and a 32″ TV screen.
How Many Routes Will Operate From London?
The first route is expected to be London Heathrow – Sydney from 2025.
This is expected to replace its existing one-stop service via Singapore.
Qantas has four daily slot pairs at Heathrow. Two of these are currently leased to BA. It is likely that Melbourne will follow. Qantas will maintain its existing Boeing 787 route to Perth. This leaves scope for non-stop routes to other cities on the East Coast of Australia such as Brisbane.
Why Is Qantas Doing This?
Put simply, competitive advantage.
Qantas was once the dominant international airline between Europe and Australia.
Over the past two decades it has lost market share to airlines in the Middle East. It cannot compete with the number of one-stop options between Europe and Australia they can offer.
After the success of its non-stop Boeing 787 London Heathrow – Perth route, Qantas is betting that passengers will be prepared to pay a premium to fly non-stop.
Airlines in Asia and the Middle East do not have the traffic rights to fly non-stop between Australia and Europe. Qantas does not expect European airlines such as BA to be prepared to invest in a relatively small sub-fleet of ultra long range aircraft.
Whilst the overall proportion of passengers flying to Australia on these non-stop routes will be small, as the sole operator Qantas hopes it will have pricing power.