The world's longest flight could take off soon with Qantas

The Australian carrier hopes to roll out a 20 hour and 20 minute offering from Sydney and Melbourne to London by 2022

A Qantas Airbus A380 takes off from the airport in Sydney on August 25, 2017.
Australia's Qantas unveiled plans for the world's longest non-stop commercial flight on August 25, 2017 calling it the "last frontier of global aviation", as it posted healthy annual net profits on the back of a strong domestic market. / AFP PHOTO / PETER PARKS
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Pretty much everyone prefers a nonstop flight - business people, especially. And they are more likely than most to be in a position to afford the premium. But right now, all the money in the world won’t get you from Sydney to the Big Apple or UK without a pit stop, because commercial planes just don’t have that kind of range.

That may soon change. For many years, executives at Australian carrier Qantas Airways have coveted a nonstop offering from Sydney and Melbourne to London. Now, as technology has matured, Qantas executives finally see the potential to realise that dream. Two new models planned by Airbus and Boeing, they hope, will be able to make the nonstop trip to London - 20 hours and 20 minutes - from Sydney. This new model would also jet across the Pacific Ocean to New York in about 18 hours.

On Friday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce issued a public “challenge” to the companies to extend the range of Boeing’s new 777X, which is slated for 2020, and the planned “Ultra-Long Range” version of Airbus’s A350, which rolls out next year. Qantas hopes to take delivery of such a plane and begin its Sydney to London service in 2022, the company said as part of its full-year income results.

The announcement came as the airline posted healthy annual net profits on the back of a strong domestic market.

The firm announced a 17.2 per cent slip in annual net profit of Aus$852 million (US$673 million) after record results last year.

The airline's underlying profit before tax - its preferred measure - was the second-highest in its history at Aus$1.4bn in the year to June 30, matching forecasts.

The results came after the completion of an aggressive three-year restructuring process that saw it slash jobs and reduce its fleet.


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Qantas noted that both Boeing’s new 777X and Airbus’s A350 “can get close” to the requirements needed for London and New York missions. The public prodding is designed to make one or both manufacturers revisit technical schemes to edge out even greater range.

A nonstop flight from Sydney to London would shave almost four hours off current travel times that involve a stopover; for New York, travellers could save nearly three hours. Airbus, in an emailed statement, said it was equal to the challenge.
"We'll have the A350-900 ULR in service next year for ultra-long range flights of up to 20 hours," the company said. "We'll look forward to working with Qantas to see how we can meet its requirements for Sydney-London non-stop."

Boeing didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Long-range flights have become far more common in recent years, as lighter composite aircraft, combined with more durable and fuel-efficient jet turbine technology, have opened a range of new routes with long-haul models from Airbus and Boeing. “You know from what they have done on other aircraft that Sydney-London and Melbourne-London has real possibility,” Mr Joyce told the Sydney Morning Herald in April.

Earlier this year, Qantas said it would commence nonstop flights to London from Perth in March 2018, using a Boeing 787-9.

Singapore, for example, plans to use the Airbus A350-900ULR next year to restore its nonstop flights to Los Angeles and New York, five years after it quit the flights due to fuel costs. United Continental Holdings flies nonstop from San Francisco to Singapore daily, while Qantas flies from Dallas to Sydney nonstop. Both flights can top 16 hours.

Qantas flew its first so-called “Kangaroo Route” from Sydney to London in December 1947, flying a Lockheed Constellation. The trip took four days. In a few years, the kangaroo-flagged carrier hopes to do it in just over 20 hours.