Qantas has given a nod to the A350-1000 after a detailed evaluation of both it and the B777X, saying Airbus’ offering will be the aircraft of choice, pending board approval.
The decision comes as part of the carrier’s Project Sunshine ultra long haul study, ahead of a final go/no go decision, which will now take place in March 2020.
No orders have been placed but Qantas says it will work closely with Airbus to prepare contract terms for up to a dozen aircraft ahead of a final decision by the Qantas Board.
Airbus has agreed to extend the deadline to confirm delivery slots from February 2020 to March 2020. Qantas notes this provides additional time to negotiate an industrial agreement with pilots without impacting the planned start date of Project Sunrise flights in the first half of calendar 2023.
The last of three Project Sunrise research flights (New York to Sydney) will be conducted on 17 December. Once complete, Qantas will have almost 60 hours of ‘Sunrise flying’ experience and thousands of data points on crew and passenger well-being.
The data for crew will be used as part of final discussions with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to approve an extension to current operating limits required for these ultra long haul services. Based on detailed information already provided by Qantas on its fatigue risk management system, CASA has provisionally advised that it sees no regulatory obstacles to the Sunrise flights.
Among the reasons cited by Qantas for selecting the A350-1000 as the preferred aircraft was the fact it uses the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine, which has a strong reliability record after being in service with airlines for more than two years. Airbus will also add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required for Sunrise routes.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce says the national carrier’s support for Project Sunrise was stronger than ever, particularly after the success of recent ‘dry run’ research flights.
“Between the research flights and what we’ve learned from two years of flying Perth to London, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia.
“The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.
“The aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it’s thoroughly proven after more than two years in service. This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to.
Thanking both Airbus and Boeing for the “tremendous effort” they put into Project Sunrise, Joyce says, “it was a tough choice between two very capable aircraft, made even harder by innovation from both manufacturers to improve on what they had already spent years designing.”