Qantas has postponed indefinitely plans to order aircraft capable of flying from London Heathrow to Sydney non-stop.
Project Sunrise was the name given to one of the most hyped aircraft tenders by an airline in history.
After receiving bids from Airbus and Boeing Qantas had selected an ultra long-range variant of the Airbus A350-1000 as its preferred aircraft. Qantas was due to confirm its order with Airbus by the end of April 2020 to secure delivery of aircraft by 2023.
This project has now been postponed indefinitely. That is not to say it won’t ultimately happen. Qantas viewed the ability to operate non-stop flights between Europe and Australia as a significant source of competitive advantage. Its rivals in Asia and the Middle East do not have the traffic rights and European airlines do not have the inclination to operate a small sub-fleet of ultra long-haul aircraft. Like all airlines, Qantas simply doesn’t know how long it will take for demand to recover and what restrictions will be remain on international travel.
Qantas has announced significant network wide changes as part of its response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
These apply to the entire international network of Qantas and its sister airline Jetstar until mid-September 2020.
The overall effect of these changes is to reduce the international flying of Qantas Group by a quarter over the next six months.
At London Heathrow, Qantas will continue to fly to Australia twice daily.
However, Qantas plans to ground 8 of its 14 Airbus A380 aircraft until mid-September. As 2 A380 aircraft are undergoing scheduled heavy maintenance, just 2 aircraft will continue to fly.
As such, Qantas will replace its service from Sydney to London Heathrow (Flights QF1 & QF2) with a Boeing 787-9 aircraft.
It will also be re-routed operating from Sydney to Perth and then non-stop from Perth to London Heathrow.
At the time of publication this is not reflected in Qantas’ online timetables. However, it will apply to Sydney – London from 20 April 2020. It should apply to London – Sydney a couple of days’ later.
This will operate in additional to Qantas existing non-stop service between London Heathrow and Perth (Flights QF9 & QF10), meaning that Qantas will fly non-stop from London Heathrow to Perth twice daily.
Whilst Qantas claims the non-stop service to Perth has been well received by passengers, this will disappoint those would prefer a stop-over in Singapore. There is also no First Class cabin on Qantas’ Boeing 787-9 aircraft.
In terms of the broader Qantas network, the most significant changes include Qantas suspending Melbourne – San Francisco and Brisbane – San Francisco from 18 April 2020. The launch of Brisbane – Chicago has also been postponed.
It is no exaggeration that the scope of breadth of the changes, whilst no doubt made sensibly, is unprecedented. A full summary is available from Qantas.
The changes were announced today as Qantas and Emirates are to extend their partnership for a further five years. However, due to regulatory reasons Emirates will not be able to codeshare on Qantas operated services from London to Singapore and London to Perth.
Qantas announced its annual financial results in Sydney today. The airline posted a healthy profit before tax of AUD$1.4bn. This is a sharp turnaround in fortunes for Qantas after it reported a record loss of AUD$2.8bn three years ago. Much of the turnaround has been achieved through a restructuring of its international network.
Qantas has also today given a firm expression of interest in launching non-stop flights between London and Sydney by 2022.
Qantas has tasked aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing to produce new aircraft under development, the Airbus A350 Ultra Long Range and the Boeing 777X respectively, with sufficient range to operate London to Sydney non-stop with no restrictions on passenger loads.
Qantas claim that a non-stop flight between London and Sydney could shave four hours off the journey time.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce commented:
“From next year we’ll be flying direct from Perth to London, which is a huge leap forward. We believe advances in technology in the next few years will make Sydney to London direct a possibility and Qantas is well placed to be the airline to do it.
“Any aircraft purchase would have to meet strict financial thresholds, but these direct flights would be revolutionary for air travel in Australia.”
Airlines do not ordinarily give away commercial decisions on route launches away years in advance, and this is a very public message aimed squarely at aircraft manufacturers to sharpen their pencils.
It is also axiomatic that the viability of non-stop flights from London to Sydney will depend on how non-stop flights to Perth are received, both in terms of cabin comfort and whether passengers, particularly those at the front of the aircraft, are willing to pay a premium for non-stop services.
Personally, we would love to see non-stop flights to Sydney and for Qantas to rebuild its presence in London back to four flights a day.
This week’s Australian Financial Review magazine carries an extensive feature on Qantas. It is well worth a read. Much of the feature focuses on the work Qantas is doing to prepare for non-stop flights between London Heathrow and Perth.
These flights are due to go on sale in April 2017 in advance of the route’s launch in March 2018. Whilst Qantas is still keeping some details under wraps, such its new premium economy seat, it has given the AFR some insight into its preparations for the new route. Specifically, Qantas is looking at the whole “ultra long-haul” in flight experience. This includes the design and timing of in flight meals, cabin lighting and in-flight announcements.
Qantas Airways has just announced it is to open a new dedicated lounge for first and business class passengers flying on its daily services to Sydney and Melbourne from London Heathrow Terminal 3, which will open in 2017.
Currently, Qantas does not have its own lounge at London Heathrow and eligible passengers have to make use of the British Airways Galleries Club and First lounges at London Heathrow Terminal 3.
The lounge will occupy two levels of the airport terminal with capacity for 230 passengers. The new lounge is expected to be modelled on recent Qantas lounges in Hong Kong and Singapore. Construction will commence later this year.
Features of the new lounge will include:
• Australian chef Neil Perry’s Rockpool menu and dining experience;
• Full-service bar with Rockpool cocktails;
• Full bathroom facilities including showers;
• Business facilities; and
• Children’s zone.
Eligible members of Oneworld alliance frequent flyer programmes will also have access to the lounge and with Cathay Pacific also refurbishing its lounges at London Heathrow Terminal 3, Oneworld passengers will have a good choice of lounge facilities at London Heathrow.
This is also a welcome investment by Qantas in London. Qantas has previously reduced its daily services from London Heathrow from four to two daily. It also ended its partnership with British Airways in favour a partnership with Emirates with all services to Sydney and Melbourne routed via Dubai as a consequence. There have been question marks over its long term commitment to London which can be allayed by the news of this investment.
If there’s one route from London where travellers have an unrivalled choice of routes and airlines, it has to be London – Sydney.
Sydney is a destination that cannot be reached non-stop from London requiring a stop-over en route (hence the name the “The Kangaroo Route”).
Not long ago, it was typically a choice of a stop-over in Singapore or Bangkok. Now there is not only a vast choice of stop-overs in Asia, but also the Middle East with Emirates in particular soaking up significant volumes of traffic between Europe and Australia.
Qatar Airways is one of the Middle Eastern airlines that, to date, has not served Sydney. However, a relaxation of the bilateral treaty that governs flights between Qatar and Australia has allowed Qatar Airways to launch a new route from Doha to Sydney from Tuesday 1 March 2016.
Flights will be operated with a two class Boeing 777 aircraft and are well timed for connections to and from London Heathrow. The early evening arrival in Sydney will be welcome to those who prefer to avoid an early morning arrival.
Virgin Atlantic has today announced that it is to suspend its daily London Heathrow-Sydney service from 5 May 2014. The airline will continue to fly to Hong Kong, where the Sydney flight currently stops en-route.